Pownal, Vt., felon shot by police gets prison term

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BURLINGTON — A Pownal man, who state police wounded as he wielded a shotgun outside his mother's home, was sentenced Monday in federal court to one year and one day in prison for possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.

Bernard D. Rougeau Jr., 49, was shot twice by Vermont State Police as he ignored repeated demands by officers to put it down the loaded 12-gauage double barrel shotgun during the Oct. 18, 2018 incident, officials said. Bennington Police then had to Tase him as he continued to ignore commands and still held the firearm.

Rougeau is still facing state charges of aggravated assault on law enforcement and reckless endangerment. Jury selection is planned for March 10 in Vermont Superior Court in Bennington. Plea negotiations in the state case had stalled, his lawyer told the federal court.

Senior Federal Judge William K. Sessions III said he wants the federal sentence to run concurrently with any state prison time should Rougeau be convicted in state court. It was unclear how much credit Rougeau will receive toward his federal sentence. He was never indicted in the federal case until March 28 and appeared in court for arraignment April 15.

Investigation by the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives determined Rougeau could not legally possess firearms due to his criminal history, which includes felony convictions in Bennington County for arson in 1993 and third offense driving while intoxicated in 2000.

Rougeau could have been sentenced to up to 10 years in prison and up to a $250,000 fine.

The federal sentencing guidelines, which are advisory, proposed a penalty between 24 and 30 months.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Spencer Willig suggested the 366-day sentence. "Rougeau jeopardized not only his own life, but the lives and safety of the law enforcement officers who were compelled to disarm him," Willig wrote in his sentencing memo.

There was some dispute whether Rougeau had raised the shotgun in a threatening way toward police, or if he just moved it from one hand to the other.

Sessions said he was concerned that if he tagged on time for the possible threat to police that it could be seen as possible double jeopardy since Rougeau faces the aggravated assault charge in state court. Sessions said he would need to conduct his own trial in federal court to make any judgment about a threat to police.

Assistant Federal Public Defender Steven Barth said he was prepared to show in court the police video to prove there was no threat, but it was never played. Sessions said he had reviewed it before the hearing.

Barth suggested the court consider imposing a possible six months in prison.

Sessions declined, noting that was too lenient. The judge did note that by getting an extra day on a one-year sentence, Rougeau would be eligible for 1 months of good time.

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Also by eliminating any enhancement for the threat, Sessions said the federal sentencing guidelines proposed a potential 12 to 18 months for Rougeau.

Sessions also disclosed that Rougeau is facing an unrelated charge of simple assault on a prison guard for an incident at the Northwest State Correctional Facility in St. Albans. He has denied that charge.

Rougeau, a longtime local resident, told the court on Monday that his alcoholism has been a problem since he was 15 years old. He said he has given up driving and moved closer to work so he could keep working. He worked first shift at Kaman Composites for 13 years in Bennington.

The incident

Vermont State Police were summoned to 52 Short St. in Pownal about 9:22 p.m. for a report that Rougeau was intoxicated and had intentionally cut himself. When state troopers arrived about 9:45 p.m., Rougeau fled the house with a shotgun and headed into nearby woods. Police remain at the scene with family and about 10:40 p.m. Rougeau emerged from the woods carrying the gun. He was ordered to drop the gun and surrender, police said.

Rougeau opted to ignore the orders and he advanced toward Trooper Thomas Sandberg, police said. Sandberg fired his state police-issued shotgun to wound Rougeau, police said. While on the ground Rougeau continued to hang onto the shotgun, but Bennington Police Sgt. Jason Burnham activated his Taser to disarm the suspect, police said.

Sandberg said he was in fear for his life when he opened fire, police noted.

Rougeau was airlifted to Albany (N.Y.) Medical Center for treatment for his gunshot wounds to the abdomen and was released Nov. 13, 2018. He appeared briefly at Albany City Court and was jailed for two days until he could voluntarily return to Vermont. He eventually plead not guilty to his state charges and was ordered held for lack of $100,000 bail.

Bennington County State's Attorney Erica Marthage described the incident as a significant mental health break where a "disqualified person was in possession of, and apparently owns, a firearm, was threatening to harm himself."

Marthage and Attorney General T.J. Donovan announced on Jan. 3 that they had concluded their independent reviews of the non-fatal police shooting and believed it was justified. Sandberg, who was hired by state police in July 2017, returned to work from paid leave.

Mary Rougeau, the defendant's mother, told responding troopers that her son was "going out of his mind." She said she was in fear for her life and was going to flee to a neighbor's home. When her son obtained the shotgun, she warned him not to go outside because the police could shoot him. "Good, that's what I want." He then left and went into the woods

State Police Detective Sgt. Tyson Kinney said a review of dash cam video from a cruiser showed Rougeau exiting the wood line and approaching Trooper Sandberg. He initially had the shotgun in his left hand and pointing to the ground and refused orders to drop the weapon, Kinney wrote.

Kinney said a review of the video showed Rougeau raised the weapon pointing in the direction of the trooper, who fired two shots. When Rougeau hit the ground, he refused to give up his weapon until Burnham deployed his Taser so the suspect could be taken into custody safely, police said. State and Bennington Police provided medical aid before he was transported by Pownal Rescue to the Hoosac School in Hoosick, N.Y. where the medical helicopter picked him up

Trooper Justin Walker seized the shotgun and secured it in the trunk of a cruiser until a search warrant could be obtained to check it, Kinney said.


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