BRADFORD, Vt. (AP) – Called to a home on a report of shots fired, two Vermont State Police troopers shot a man to death after he pointed an assault rifle at them, authorities said Wednesday.

Darren Tufts, 41, of Bradford, died late Tuesday after police – responding to a third noise complaint that evening – arrived at his apartment to find him outside with the rifle in hand and shot him when he raised it and pointed it at Sgt. Michael Manley and Trooper Hugh O’Donnell, according to Col. James Baker, director of the Vermont State Police.

“As a result of this imminent threat of danger, Sgt. Manley and Trooper O’Donnell fired their service weapons. Mr. Tufts was hit multiple times,” Baker said.

Tufts – who never fired on the officers – had the rifle and a large-caliber handgun on him when he died, according to Baker.

Manley and O’Donnell realized after he was dead that the multiunit apartment building he lived in was on fire.

An autopsy was to be held late Wednesday to determine cause and manner of death, according to Baker.

“At this point, there is nothing to indicate Sgt. Manley and Trooper O’Donnell acted outside the scope of their authority,” said Baker.

Both have been placed on administrative leave, which is standard procedure in fatal shootings and not a form of punishment, he said.

The cause of the fire, which was in Tufts’ apartment, was not immediately known, nor was it clear when it started. Neighbors said they saw smoke before hearing any gunshots.

The building, a neatly kept two-story house with several apartments inside, was blackened on one side from fire damage.

Columns of burnt siding rose up from a pair of first-floor windows, and yellow crime scene tape surrounded the scene Wednesday, as State Police and fire investigators continued their examination into the incident. No one was in the apartment with Tufts, and none of the occupants of the other apartments – who were home at the time – were hurt, authorities said.

Tufts’ family members declined comment before and after an hourlong sit-down with Baker and other troopers at the Bradford municipal building.

In it, Baker said, he assured Tufts’ girlfriend, 22-year-old daughter and siblings that he would release no information about Tufts’ background. “I have the deep belief I should protect their privacy and their rights,” he said.

The first two calls by neighbors complained of noise. Police got no answer at the door when they arrived the first two times, and they couldn’t reach Tufts by telephone.

The third call, also by an unidentified neighbor, reported hearing shots fired.

Katrina Short, 41, who lives in an apartment building across the street, said she heard two sets of gunshots after noticing the sky lit up above the house.

Her 18-year-old son was about to walk across the street to see what had happened when they heard the first round of gunfire, she said.

“We heard the gunfire,” she said. “It was bang, bang, bang, bang,” she said.

About 15 minutes later, she said, a second set of shots rang out that sounded as if they came from a shotgun or some other weapon, Short said.

Tom Gray, 52, who lives next door to the building, said he asked one of the troopers who parked in front of his house what was happening.

“He said “You’ve got a neighbor who’s off his rocker. He has guns. We’re going to be here awhile,” said Gray.

Later, he heard Bradford Police Chief Gene Martin try to talk Tufts into surrendering.

“He said “C’mon down, we just want to talk to you,”‘ said Gray, who soon after that heard what he described as a “volley of shots” that he didn’t count.

Tufts didn’t respond, according to Baker.

Gray said Tufts had lived next door for 12 years, but that he rarely spoke to anyone. “I could be mowing my lawn and he could be two feet away and he wouldn’t wave, he wouldn’t say “Hi,’ he wouldn’t talk. He was basically a loner,” said Gray.

Baker said he couldn’t give an opinion about whether deadly force was justified because it was early in the investigation. He also balked at saying what weapons the troopers used to fire, pending the results of ballistics tests.

The state Attorney General, the Orange County State’s Attorney and State Police will investigate Tufts’ shooting. In such cases, troopers are trained to shoot at the center of the body, Baker said.

“We shoot to stop the situation. We train our troopers to shoot to center (body) mass,” Baker said.

He said there was no reason for police to do more on the first two visits to the apartment.

“Those first two calls were noise complaints,” Baker said. “We get dispatched to hundreds of noise complaints a month in the state. There was no reason for us to take any other action besides trying to make contact with the people who were making the noise. We didn’t make contact and the officers cleared the scene.”

He said Manley and O’Donnell were handling the emotional strain of the shooting “remarkably well.”

“They’re both obviously upset by this,” Baker said.

AP-ES-04-23-08 1819EDT


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