BRATTLEBORO -- The Vermont State Police investigation report into the April 4 fatal police shooting of Michael Santiago in Brattleboro has been turned over to the Vermont Attorney General’s Office and the Bennington County State’s Attorney’s Office for official review.
Both agencies will independently review the report and both have the authority to file charges if they find the shooting was unjustified.
On April 4, Santiago, 35, of Brattleboro, was shot and killed by Brattleboro Police Department Sgt. Mark Carignan during the service of a search warrant on Room 301 of America’s Best Inn on Putney Road. The search warrant was obtained as the result of an ongoing drug investigation and authorized police to search the room for drugs and Santiago.
During the initial entry, Carignan discharged his duty weapon, striking Santiago. Rescue personnel were staged nearby and responded immediately to the scene. Santiago was pronounced dead by medical personnel at the scene. The Vermont Office of the Chief Medical Examiner confirmed that Santiago died of gunshot wounds.
Carignan, who has been with the Brattleboro Police Department since 2002, was placed on administrative leave shortly after the shooting. After six weeks on leave, Carignan was returned to full duty, said Brattleboro Police Chief Gene Wrinn.
"He’s a good, hard-working officer and I am glad to see him back on full duty," said Wrinn, who had no comment on the process that went into evaluating Carignan’s fitness for service.
Following the April 4 incident, detectives from the Vermont State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation began an investigation. The review of the investigation report was initially assigned to the Windham County State’s Attorney’s Office, but on April 8, State’s Attorney Tracy Shriver announced she was stepping aside due to her office’s close relationship to the Brattleboro Police Department. The review of the report was then assigned to Erika Marthage, State’s Attorney for Bennington County.
Marthage did not return a phone call for comment about receiving the report, but John Treadwell, the chief of the Criminal Division of the Vermont Attorney General’s Office confirmed he had received the report and was in the process of reviewing it. Treadwell said he did not know how long it would take to complete the review, but when done, the public would receive more information on what happened the day Santiago was shot and killed.
"In any case, public release depends ultimately upon the conclusion reached by the review. There may be portions of any investigation that are not made public because they are confidential."
For instance, said Treadwell, in past investigation reports released to the public, documents such as autopsy photos or those containing the names of victims or witnesses are often withheld from the public.
"Records are presumed to be public, however they will not be disclosed if there is some harm that could come from disclosure," he said.
If charges are filed against Carignan or any other officer involved in the April 4 incident, certain portions of the report may not be available to the public pending court proceedings as well, according to Vermont statutes related to access to public records.
Santiago, who lived in Brattleboro for 18 years, had previous run-ins with the law. On Nov. 12, 2013, he was arrested and cited with aggravated assault on a police officer, theft from a motor vehicle and credit card fraud. An investigation led police to Santiago and when police attempted to speak with him, he attempted to flee and a struggle ensued. During the struggle, Santiago assaulted a police officer, according to a press release. He was one of three people suspected of committing a rash of thefts from motor vehicles in late October and early November.
According to court documents, Santiago had just been released from jail two-and-a-half weeks before the shooting and was scheduled to appear in court on April 14 on the theft and credit card fraud charges. Santiago also had one heroin conviction in Windsor County and one possession charge pending in Chittenden County.