BENNINGTON - The Attorney General has ruled that a Bennington Police officer who shot a knife-wielding man in the lobby of the police department was justified in doing so.
On April 22, Gregory Filo, 42, of Safford Street, entered the police station lobby carrying a steak knife. According to Assistant Attorney General John Treadwell, Filo went to the dispatcher window and forcefully demanded that Sgt. Michael Plusch, a 14-year veteran of the force, come out and speak to him. He kept his right hand in his pocket and would not tell Plusch his name.
While Plusch consulted with two other officers outside the dispatcher area, one of the dispatchers witnessed Filo make a stabbing gestured towards another man, identified later as Charles "Chuck" Coppolino, a friend of Filo's.
Filo had his back to the dispatcher, who told officers via radio that he had stabbed the other man.
It was later determined there had been no stabbing. Plusch and the other officers, Thomas Bull and Keith Diotte, entered the lobby. Plusch told Filo to show him his hands, then to drop the knife when he saw he held the weapon.
"Filo did not comply with commands but instead raised his hand, with the knife still in it, and lunged towards the officers from a distance described varyingly as by the officers as somewhere between seven feet and six yards," wrote Treadwell.
Plusch shot Filo once in the abdomen, which brought Filo to the ground. Plusch and the other officers immediately rendered first aid. Filo survived after being taken first to Southwestern Vermont Medical Center then to Albany Medical Center in New York. Filo has pleaded not guilty in Vermont Superior Court to two counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. Issues regarding his sanity and competency to stand trial have been raised.
"Under the facts of this case, the Attorney General's Office concluded that Sgt. Plusch was reasonable in his belief that he was in imminent danger of death or serious bodily injury when he fired at Gregory Filo," wrote Treadwell. "Given what reasonably appeared to be a serious threat to his life and to the life of the other two officers, Sgt. Plusch's response of using deadly force was reasonable and justified."
Bennington County State's Attorney Erica Marthage has already reviewed the matter and said no charges will be filed against Plusch.
Bennington Police Chief Paul Doucette said he still has to complete his own administrative review of the incident, but knew the evening it happened that Plusch acted appropriately, along with the entire staff.
Doucette said the dispatchers, Elizabeth Zwinenburg and Christina Gabrus, remained calm and continued to perform their duties as the situation unfolded.
While the lobby is monitored by cameras, they do not record. They were installed to let dispatchers view the lobby without exposing themselves to possible danger, and they allow them to view other parts of the building, said Doucette. He has spoken with Town Manager Stuart
Hurd about the possibility of getting them recording capability, but there are few issues in the lobby that require it.
Doucette said this is the first time in the department's 150-plus year history that an officer has used deadly force.
Plusch, as per protocol, was placed on administrative leave immediately following the incident. He returned to work a week later and did plainclothes detective work. He has returned to his position as night-shift supervisor, said Doucette.
According to Coppolino, who gave the Banner an interview, Filo was trying to commit "suicide by cop."
Vermont State Police, who investigated the incident because of where it happened, said Filo had been to the police department earlier that morning and asked to be killed because he was in pain.
Doucette said he knows Filo was taken to SVMC and screened by the United Counseling Service before the shooting. What happened between then and Filo's return to the department is unknown. SVMC and UCS officials have said privacy laws prevent them from releasing certain information.
Coppolino told the Banner that he never thought Filo was going to hurt him and disputed the police account that Filo lunged at them.
According to the State Police affidavit, however, Coppolino was in fear of his life. Doucette said Coppolino referred to Filo as "the perpetrator" that evening when he spoke to him.
Contact Keith Whitcomb Jr. at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @KWhitcombjr.