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Burlington, VT Police Department
Friday November 11th, 2011 :: 03:07 p.m. EST


City Hall Park Updates - 2 messages


On November 10, 2011, at 2:07 pm Burlington Police received a report of a person who had been shot inside a tent in City Hall Park. Police and Emergency Medical Services from the Burlington Fire Department responded to the scene and discovered the male had sustained a gunshot wound to the head. He was transported to Fletcher Allen Hospital in Burlington where he passed away around 5 p.m. The male is identified as Joshua Pfenning, 35, transient from the area. Our thoughts are with his family and friends during this difficult time. Mr. Pfenning has ties to the Northeast Kingdom.

Preliminary information from witnesses at the scene indicates that the gunshot wound was self-inflicted. However, this is an ongoing investigation and all investigative avenues will be explored. Besides Mr. Pfenning, there were 3 others inside the tent when this occurred. We remain in search of another person who we believe was a direct witness to this event.

At the moment the investigation has revealed that prior to the fatal event, Mr. Pfenning had been consuming a large quantity of alcohol. At some point just prior to the fatal shot, Mr. Pfenning had pointed the gun and threatened another person inside the tent where this occurred. The gun that is believed to have been involved in this event was found at the scene and is in our custody. The handgun was determined to have been stolen from a dwelling in Derby, Vermont in 2009.

There were early unconfirmed reports Mr. Pfenning was a military veteran, it has been learned that he was discharged from the Army after approximately 2 weeks into boot camp for medical and other reasons.

The autopsy was conducted this morning and we await a final report from the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner which generally takes several weeks.

We ask that anyone that has any direct information relative to this investigation to contact Detective James Trieb, 802-540-2251.


Informational Release
November 11, 2011
City Hall Park Occupation Status

Deputy Chief Higbee has discussed the current status of the investigation. I would like to simply reiterate our condolences to the family and friends of Mr. Pfenning in the wake of this tragedy.

Regarding the current status of the City’s position regarding the Occupy Burlington protesters.

Last night Mayor Kiss and I met with the group’s general assembly for some time discussing the current state of the issues and answering questions. As you know at one point the group became fragmented and we spent time continuing the dialog with the group even as conditions in the park were becoming contentious.

The message relayed yesterday holds true today as well.

First and foremost, it is important to give due respect to the victim of this tragedy, and the investigation that must occur. As such the police department has serious and complicated work to do to ensure that all aspects of this investigation are conducted thoroughly and professionally. Among the issues this raises is the need to maintain control of the “crime” scene while preliminary investigation is in progress. This is complicated by the nature of the scene here – a park in which a makeshift encampment exists. Until we are fully confident that all possible investigative avenues have been expended we must maintain control of that area of the park and it will be closed until further notice.

We are able to release property/tents from that area after they have been cleared of any possible involvement. This has been done several times today on request of the property/tent owners. Please note that it is only done, at this time, at the request and with the consent of the owners. Anyone with property or a tent in the crime scene area is encouraged to remove it. To do so, please go to the park and meet with the officers stationed there. It is also important to note that the Street Outreach Team has been present in the Park throughout the last two weeks offering services to those who may be in need. That has continued through this morning.

As you know, the City took a wait and see approach to the occupation of City Hall Park. Yesterday at 2:07 p.m. the safety landscape was altered substantially. Prior to yesterday afternoon there was no way to reasonably foresee that this level of risk would occur in the encampment. Now there is. As a result of this investigation we know that at least one weapon has been present in the encampment and we are now clear that there has been extensive consumption of alcohol and some use of drugs by some of those present in the camp. The presence of structure/tents creates an enhanced risk by virtue of the activity that can and is occurring inside them. This risk simply cannot be managed by the encampment facilitators or police under the current circumstances. These challenges, as underscored by events in other parts of the country, are not unique to Burlington.

We have communicated that we believe the tents will need to be removed to ensure the safety of those involved in the protest, the public, and our law enforcement officers. We will continue conversations late today with the occupy Burlington general assembly in hopes of resolving these concerns swiftly.

It is important to note that this is about balance. We fully recognize the need to foster an environment in which lawful protest can occur. As such, since the outset the City has clearly offered to make the Park available for lawful protest activities between 6 am and midnight, when the Park is open. That offer continues. We must now balance the safety issues that have become so vivid in the last 24 hours with the need to enable free speech. Our assessment, is that, absent an option that no-one has brought forward, the presence of tents is no longer safe.

To date, save for a few issues that arose last night, the relationship between the City/police and the protest movement has been mutually respectful. We are committed to maintaining that respectful relationship in an effort to balance these issues.

It is important to note, however, that while the vast majority of those in the occupy movement in Burlington seem committed to this balance and have been a valued partner through this shared experience, there are a few that have now demonstrated a willingness to incite the larger group to impede lawful actions on the part of the police, and even seeded conversations about occupying buildings, taking over the current crime scene, or becoming intentionally antagonistic toward law enforcement. For those who impede lawful actions by law enforcement to include making physical contact with police officers in an effort to incite violence, that conduct will not be tolerated and you will face felony level criminal charges. Police presence is to ensure the right of some to protest and the safety of those present in the park and the larger community. We have been and will continue to be transparent in our operations. We will not, however, put officers at risk and allow conduct to deteriorate as a result of the actions of a few people.

We are hopeful that we will successfully balance the need for safety with the presence of the movement in City Hall Park in the very near term.

Burlington, VT Police Department
1 North Ave
Burlington, VT 05401

Emergency: 9-1-1
Non-emergencies: 802-658-2704

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