2017-09-13 / Front Page

Man shot by Windsor detective testifies on 3rd day of trial


WHITE RIVER JUNCTION — In November 2014, Jorge “Puerto Rican George” Burgos didn’t have a job, didn’t have a private bank account, and didn’t even have a permanent home address.

Making his financial matters worse, Burgos still owed a year of back child support for his eight biological children from two different women.

The reputed heroin dealer and alleged victim in the wrongful shooting trial of Windsor police detective Ryan Palmer also testified in court on Tuesday he couldn’t remember the last time he filed a tax return.

Being strapped for money, however, isn’t why he offered to drive his now ex-girlfriend, Brittany Smith, from her home in Claremont to Windsor on Nov. 16, 2014, he testified.

Although he didn’t have a driver’s license, Burgos said he drove Smith in a borrowed car because he didn’t want her to have to walk in the rain.

On the third day of testimony in Vermont Superior Court, Burgos, 35, testified that “the plan” was to drive Smith to Ferguson’s Automotive in Windsor. In the parking lot she would meet her friend “Veronica,” who would then hand her $800 from a previous loan.

Veronica, as it turned out, was a complete stranger who had seen Smith featured on WMUR’s “Fugitive of the Week.” While posing as Veronica, the woman was able to locate Smith on Facebook in order to lure her into a trap the woman helped set up with Windsor police.

Both Smith and Burgos had active arrest warrants.

Through a series of Facebook messages the two women agreed to meet at Ferguson’s Automotive at 4 p.m. As the car driven by Burgos pulled into the parking lot at 4:15 p.m., Veronica was nowhere to be seen, Burgos testified.

“There was another vehicle with somebody in it. She [Smith] said that’s not her. I said, ‘Oh, I’m not going to sit here’” waiting, Burgos said.

Prosecutor Matthew Levine asked Burgos to draw a diagram for the jury on a whiteboard that represented his best recollection of the incident in the parking lot.

Burgos said that when Veronica didn’t show up, he made a U-turn. At that moment, a black pickup truck drove into the car’s path and stopped, blocking the exit with both vehicles facing each other nearly bumper to bumper.

Two men in hunting jackets jumped out of the pickup truck and approached Burgos’s vehicle with handguns drawn.

Burgos testified he wasn’t sure the men had been sent to collect $4,000 he still owed or that a former hostile landlord in Chester, or even a vengeful husband, had arrived to do him physical harm.

Burgos said he threw the gear into reverse and the car rolled backwards — to the very edge of the parking lot near the tree line — so that he could “get a better glimpse of who was coming at my car.”

He said the car windows had remained shut and the radio was on at a comfortable volume. Because of this, Burgos said he didn’t hear either of the men shouting at him to stop.

He also said he had no idea that they were police officers, since their truck also was unmarked.

Burgos said he kept his focus on Smith, who sat terrified in the passenger seat and was shouting that one of the men “had a gun.” Burgos said he then noticed a “black silhouette” positioned outside near the driver side door.

It was at that moment the driver side window shattered into pieces, he said.

“I didn’t see him [Palmer] at the front of the vehicle at all. I didn’t move my car until the window broke. I went to lift my [left] arm up and it didn’t want to come up,” Burgos said, not yet realizing he had been shot in the arm through the window with Palmer’s Glock 22 service weapon.

Palmer managed to fire off three rapid shots into Burgos’s vehicle before it sped out of the parking lot southbound onto Route 5 with two Windsor cruisers in close pursuit.

The officer later told state police investigators that he shot at Burgos in self-defense because the vehicle had veered left and accelerated toward him.

“I wasn’t trying to run him down, like he says,” Burgos testified.

A police witness testified on Tuesday that Burgos led police on a chase at speeds approaching 100 miles per hour before the vehicle was “boxed in” by cruisers and stopped on North Street in Claremont.

“It happened too fast. She [Smith] was shifting for me” during the police chase, Burgos said.

The incident in the parking lot lasted about 10 seconds and was captured on the auto dealership surveillance camera.

Palmer’s defense attorney, Dan Sedon, pointed to a number of apparent inconsistencies in Burgos’ testimony, both in court and in statements given to state police investigators.

If Burgos had been in fear of potential assailants, “why didn’t you just pull over and report this crime at that point? Why not say some dude shot me?” Sedon asked the witness.

“How many minorities are being killed by police officers in the United States?” Burgos responded. “I wasn’t going to stop even if my mother told me to stop.”

Burgos said his injuries had required surgery at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon and that his medical bills now total around $77,000. He said he has retained an attorney hoping to reduce the amount he owes.

Gary Apfel, a Lebanon traffic law attorney who was present in the courtroom on Tuesday, refused to discuss his client’s case.

While in the hospital, Burgos told state police in a taped interview that Palmer “must have felt threatened [to have shot him], or whatever it was.”

Sedon played the tape recording on a laptop computer for the 14-member jury.

Megan Place, a victim’s advocate for the Vermont State Attorney’s Office, described herself as a longtime personal friend of Palmer, who had contacted her shortly before the incident asking her to pose as a “decoy.”

Place said she agreed to the officer’s request and that she was instructed to wait inside a pickup truck in the auto dealership parking lot while pretending to be Veronica.

Place said she remained in contact with Palmer by cell phone and with text messages and that when Smith and Burgos arrived, she nodded at them and looked down at her cell phone, so as to “lay low.”

In her passenger side mirror Place said she observed the black pickup driven by Windsor detective Christopher Connor enter the parking lot from the northbound lane of Route 5 and immediately block Burgos’s vehicle at the entrance.

“I can see Palmer and Connor approaching with their weapons out shouting ‘Stop, police, get out,’ or something to that effect,” Place testified. “I see Officer Palmer kind of coming in diagonally around the [Burgos] vehicle … Once the vehicle is in motion, I hear [Palmer] say, ‘I will f*****g shoot you.”

“It all felt like one fluid motion to me. I hear a pop, then a pop-pop. I didn’t even know they were shots at first,” Place testified.

The trial resumes on Wednesday at 9 a.m., followed by closing arguments. Palmer, 30, is charged with aggravated assault and battery with a dangerous weapon and reckless endangerment. He is currently on suspension pending the outcome of the trial.

Judge Timothy B. Tomasi is presiding.

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