BENNINGTON — A man accused of attempting to shoot a state trooper during an armed standoff pleaded guilty Wednesday to aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer.
Bernard Rougeau, 50, admitted to threatening the trooper with a loaded firearm, which took place outside his home in Pownal nearly three years ago.
Vermont State Police earlier said Rougeau pointed a shotgun at a trooper in the evening of Oct. 18, 2018, after law enforcement officers responded to a 911 call that reported Rougeau as acting suicidal.
The trooper, Thomas Sandberg, shot Rougeau after he refused to follow commands to drop the shotgun, according to a sworn police statement. It states that Rougeau would not drop the firearm even after he fell to the ground; an assisting Bennington police officer used a stun gun to disarm him.
Rougeau pleaded guilty in Bennington Superior criminal court under a deal with the county state’s attorney’s office, in which prosecutors would recommend a 2-1/2 year prison sentence. He appeared via video link from Southern State Correctional Facility, in Springfield.
Because he has been detained since 2018 — with credit for time served — he could be released immediately after sentencing.
Rougeau and his attorney were expecting him to be sentenced on Wednesday, after he’d given his guilty plea. But Judge Cortland Corsones instead ordered a presentence investigation when he learned that Sandberg didn’t agree with the prosecution’s sentence recommendation. Aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer has a maximum potential sentence of six years in prison.
A presentence investigation, or PSI, gathers information about a defendant’s background and the circumstances of his offense, which helps the judge determine the appropriate sentence.
As part of Rougeau’s plea agreement, the prosecution would also dismiss his three other charges in the case: second-degree attempted murder, a felony punishable by up to 20 years in prison, as well as the misdemeanor charges of reckless endangerment and interfering with access to emergency services.
The court said it would set Rougeau’s sentencing hearing within two to three weeks. The exact date is pending.
2018 POWNAL INCIDENT
State police said the armed confrontation stemmed from a 911 call that Rougeau’s sister made in the evening of Oct. 18, 2018, when she said Rougeau was suicidal and had cut himself.
Rougeau reportedly went into the woods behind his home, at 52 Short Drive, before police arrived and later emerged from the woods, carrying a double-barrel shotgun.
Rougeau began to walk toward Sandberg, with the shotgun, according to the state police affidavit. It said Rougeau initially pointed the gun toward the ground, but as he was ordered by police to drop the weapon and show his hands, he raised the gun and pointed it at Sandberg.
Sandberg then fired two rounds of buckshot at him, injuring him in the abdomen. Due to the severity of his injuries, he was airlifted to Albany Medical Center, in New York. He was arrested the following month after being discharged from the hospital. The state inmate database shows he has been detained since Nov. 15, 2018.
The Vermont Attorney General’s Office and the Bennington County State’s Attorney’s Office, which each investigated the shooting, found Sandberg’s use of force justified. They declined to prosecute him, and he returned to work from paid leave.
FEDERAL CHARGE, CONVICTION
The shooting incident also resulted in a federal conviction for Rougeau. In 2019, the Vermont District Court sentenced him to a year in prison after he pleaded guilty to possessing a firearm despite being a convicted felon.
An investigation by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives determined that Rougeau could not legally possess firearms due to his criminal history: Bennington County convictions for arson, in 1993, and third offense driving while intoxicated, in 2000.
The presiding federal judge had said he wanted Rougeau’s federal prison sentence to run concurrently with any state prison time, should he be convicted in state court.