MONTPELIER, Vt. – The Vt. Attorney General’s Office and the Orange County State’s Attorney’s Office today announced the conclusions of their independent reviews of the fatal officer-involved shooting incident that occurred on Aug. 15, 2022, in Ludlow, Vt. Attorney General Susanne Young and Orange County State’s Attorney Dickson Corbett have declined to prosecute Ludlow Police Officer Zachary Paul for charges related to the fatal shooting of Michael Mills. State’s Attorney Corbett agreed to conduct an independent review of the investigation, as the Windsor County State’s Attorney’s Office recused itself.
Based on the facts and circumstances and consistent with Vermont law, Attorney General Young and State’s Attorney Corbett have independently concluded that the use of force by Officer Paul was objectively reasonable and justified. Under the totality of the circumstances, during and leading up to the discharge of his firearm, a reasonable officer in the situation of Officer Paul would have concluded that there was no alternative but to use deadly force to prevent the death or serious bodily injury of himself and his field training officer, Corporal Jeffrey Warfle. In reaching their decisions, the Attorney General’s Office and State’s Attorney’s Office reviewed all materials provided by Vermont State Police, who conducted the investigation.
On Aug. 15, 2022, between 6:44 p.m. and 8:04 p.m., Mr. Mills contacted Vermont State Police directly or via E-911 a total of 28 times. During those calls, Mr. Mills stated he wanted to die and requested to speak with his parole officer. Cell tower data placed Mr. Mills’ cell phone in Ludlow at the time of these calls.
At approximately 7:48 p.m., a black SUV was reportedly driving erratically on West Hill Road in Ludlow. Shortly after, Officer Paul and Corporal Warfle received a report from members of Ludlow Rescue that a black SUV had sped into the parking lot of the police station, went into reverse, and then sped back out. Multiple people were in the parking lot at the time, including members of Ludlow Rescue who were helping a patient; the erratic operation of the SUV scared them and placed them in danger. Officer Paul and Corporal Warfle entered their cruiser and drove into town, looking for the vehicle.
At approximately 8:08 p.m., the black SUV drove behind Officer Paul and Corporal Warfle’s police cruiser and started laying on the horn, speeding up to the cruiser only to then slam on the brakes while revving its engine. The SUV continued driving erratically and eventually sped past their cruiser up High Street while speeding past stop signs. Officer Paul and Corporal Warfle activated their lights and siren and tried to stop the SUV, but lost sight of it and discontinued their pursuit. Numerous pedestrians reported seeing the SUV traveling at a high rate of speed through the town.
While back at the station, Officer Paul learned that the license plate on the SUV belonged to Michael Mills, and that there had been prior police calls involving Mr. Mills.
Between approximately 8:17 p.m. and 9:29 p.m., Mr. Mills contacted police 6 times. During these calls, Mr. Mills made multiple suicidal statements, both asking and daring the police to put a bullet in his head. Mr. Mills intimated multiple times that he had a gun and stated he had ammunition in his hand, daring police to challenge him. Mr. Mills advised he was not alone and challenged police officers to a duel. Officer Paul and Corporal Warfle both stated that they received the information gathered during these calls prior to their final confrontation with Mr. Mills.
At approximately 9:28 p.m., dispatch notified Officer Paul and Corporal Warfle that they pinged Mr. Mills’ cell phone to 92 Main Street in Ludlow. Officer Paul and Corporal Warfle subsequently located Mr. Mills’ SUV in the nearby Shaw’s parking lot and were able to identify Mr. Mills as the operator of the SUV. As they approached, Mr. Mills fled in his vehicle at a high rate of speed, nearly hitting the officers and refusing their commands to stop. Officer Paul and Corporal Warfle activated their lights and siren, attempting to stop Mr. Mills, but he continued to flee at a high rate of speed and drove in both lanes of travel.
During the pursuit, Mr. Mills stopped his vehicle, but when Officer Paul and Corporal Warfle exited their cruiser and ordered him to show his hands, Mr. Mills fled once again. Mr. Mills continued to drive erratically, slamming on his vehicle’s brakes, and slowing down to a nearly complete stop before continuing to flee.
A second time, Mr. Mills stopped his vehicle and appeared to make obscene gestures. Officer Warfle used the cruiser’s public address system to tell Mr. Mills to stop his vehicle and explained that the officers “just want[ed] to help” him. In response, Mr. Mills reversed his vehicle, nearly striking the occupied police cruiser before continuing to flee.
At approximately 9:32 p.m., Mr. Mills stopped his vehicle and initially appeared to be compliant until he aggressively reversed his SUV into the police cruiser occupied by Officer Paul and Corporal Warfle. The intentional crash caused damage to the police cruiser and the engine started smoking.
Mr. Mills then fled again until he lost control of his vehicle and ultimately went off the road and into a ditch. Mr. Mills crashed into a tree near a residence on South Hill Road.
After Mr. Mills crashed, Officer Paul and Corporal Warfle approached his SUV with their guns drawn. Corporal Warfle commanded Mr. Mills to exit the vehicle and show his hands. In response, Mr. Mills said, “Go ahead, kill me,” and continued to rev the vehicle’s engine. Corporal Warfle told Mr. Mills, “No, I don’t wanna kill you, Michael. I want you to get out,” and Mr. Mills shouted, “No.” Corporal Warfle continued attempts to deescalate the situation, telling Mr. Mills, “Come on man, we’re just here to help you. We don’t want to hurt you,” and asked him to show his hands, to which Mr. Mills again shouted, “No.”
When Corporal Warfle asked Mr. Mills if he had any weapons, Mr. Mills replied, “You’re safe. I promise” but still did not show his hands or exit the vehicle. Mr. Mills then became dramatically more emotional and erratic: He howled in apparent distress, aggressively revved the vehicle’s engine, and shouted “I would rather die” repeatedly in a fatalistic manner. Mr. Mills refused Corporal Warfle’s multiple commands to turn off the vehicle and get out of the car. Mr. Mills also appeared to be moving while inside the vehicle.
During the confrontation, Corporal Warfle exchanged his firearm for a less lethal taser and directed Officer Paul to provide cover with his firearm. Corporal Warfle opened the front passenger side door and told Mr. Mills to “get out of the car” twice, and Mr. Mills said, “No.” Corporal Warfle observed a firearm pointed toward him and yelled “gun” four times as he recoiled out of the direct line of fire.
Officer Paul, who provided cover from an elevated position about 5 to 8 feet away, observed Mr. Mills with a firearm on his lap as he repositioned it towards Officer Paul. Officer Paul then discharged a single round striking Mr. Mills in the head.
Immediately after the shot, Corporal Warfle is seen on AXON video removing a firearm from Mr. Mills’ lap area. Mr. Mills was transported to the hospital but ultimately died from the gunshot wound on Aug. 24, 2022.
Pursuant to 13 V.S.A. § 2305(3), under the totality of the circumstances, Officer Paul reasonably believed he and Corporal Warfle were in imminent danger of being killed or suffering great bodily harm at the hands of Mr. Mills, and he was justified in using deadly force to defend himself and Corporal Warfle.
Under Vermont law, an officer may use deadly force to repel an imminent threat to cause death or serious bodily injury when the officer objectively and reasonably believes that a person has the present ability, opportunity, and apparent intent to immediately cause death or serious bodily injury. 20 V.S.A. §§ 2368(a)(4) and 2068(c)(1)(A). Furthermore, the use of deadly force is deemed necessary when, given the totality of the circumstances, an objectively reasonable officer in the same situation would conclude that there was no reasonable alternative to the use of deadly force that would prevent death or serious bodily injury to the officer or another person. 20 V.S.A. § 2368(c)(2).
Under the totality of these circumstances during and leading up to the shooting, a reasonable officer in the position of Officer Paul would have concluded that there was no other alternative to using deadly force to prevent death or serious bodily injury.