Police Call Shooting of Escapee Justified

Staff Writer

Cape Cod Times
February 22, 2007

The Barnstable police officer who shot Anthony Roberts to stop his escape through Barnstable Village on Tuesday followed proper procedure, a department spokesman said yesterday.

''Everything that these guys did was absolutely right by the book,'' said Barnstable police Sgt. Sean Sweeney, the public information officer.

Roberts, 22, was shot just before 9 a.m. Tuesday after he slipped one hand out of his handcuffs, bolted from a police van at Barnstable District Court, ran down the hill to Route 6A and carjacked a Honda Accord in the parking lot of the Barnstable General Store.

As police officers yelled at him to stop and began to bash in the car's windows, Roberts backed into a Cape Cod Times delivery van and drove toward Route 6A. A Barnstable police officer then fired a shot through the driver's window into Roberts' chest, under his left arm, Sweeney said.

Last night, Roberts was listed in fair condition at Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital in Boston.

Roberts is the son of Howard ''Tony'' Roberts, a former Barnstable County Sheriff's Deputy. Attempts to reach his mother and father were unsuccessful yesterday.

Roberts' attorney, J. Drew Segadelli, said yesterday that his client had been stabilized and was no longer in critical condition. ''My first concern right now, and main focus, is my guy's well-being,'' he said.

Segadelli said Roberts did not intend to harm the officers when he attempted to escape, and he urged authorities to ''take a sober look at all the evidence.''

The lawyer also said he is concerned about ''a ton of misinformation'' related to the escape, including an erroneous report by an official in Boston that Roberts died. The bogus report led to charges briefly being dropped yesterday in Barnstable District Court.

There was no further information available yesterday on the report.

The escape incident is under investigation by the Plymouth County District Attorney's Office but a spokeswoman would not release any details yesterday.

''We're going to take a thorough look at this, and it will take as long as it takes,'' Assistant District Attorney Bridget Norton Middleton said. The Plymouth office is handling the case because Cape and Islands District Attorney Michael O'Keefe was a witness to the shooting.

Barnstable Police were equally tight-lipped about details yesterday, including the names of the officers involved. Two, including the officer who shot Roberts, were placed on paid administrative leave after the shooting, following department procedure.Police are in a ''fact-finding, cooling off time,'' Sweeney said.

After the shooting, officers were immediately contacted by the department's critical incident peer support group to make sure they received any psychological counseling they might need, he said.

''Officers will not use deadly force except in situations where the officer reasonably believes that the action is needed to protect himself, herself or another person from imminent death or serious bodily injury,'' Sweeney said, quoting from police department policy.

Shooting out the car's tires was not an option, he said.

''You have to know what the backstop is,'' he said. If a bullet were to ricochet off the ground or tire rim and hit someone, ''you would just be absolutely culpable.''

And, damaging a tire or other part of a car will not necessarily bring it to an immediate halt, said Tom Aveni, a researcher and police trainer for The Police Policy Studies Council based in New Hampshire. A car with blown tires can plow ahead for many miles at speeds fast enough to kill others, he said.

Police in Western states have begun limiting or eliminating policy that allows officers to shoot at moving vehicles. ''What you see is agencies saying that in effect, under no circumstances [do you] shoot at a moving vehicle unless someone in the car is firing,'' Aveni said.

However, he called that policy ''an extreme knee-jerk reaction,'' because cars sometimes have been used as deadly weapons.

''When an officer uses deadly force, they're supposed to use it not against the object but against the person that's trying to kill him,'' Aveni said.

At a press conference Tuesday, Barnstable Police Chief Paul MacDonald said witnesses described Roberts as driving ''like a maniac'' and that it appeared he was trying to run over police officers.

Roberts had been going to court to face forgery, motor vehicle, drug possession and other charges. He has several other open cases in Barnstable District Court, including allegations of assault and battery on police officers, resisting arrest, unarmed burglary and property destruction, according to court documents. All charges are slated to be heard on March 21.

He was also out on $30,000 bail from drug trafficking charges in Plymouth County, Sweeney said.

Staff writer Patrick Cassidy contributed to this report. Hilary Russ can be reached at hruss@capecodonline.com