Editorial: Exemplary Police Work; Corinth Standoff Handled Well

What happened during a police action in the town of Corinth on Dec. 4 was the exact opposite of what happened in Corinth in 2006.

Somebody should get a medal for the work.

Six years ago, a phalanx of officers entered the Corinth woods in pursuit of a mentally ill man who, his father advised, was armed and harbored a deep fear of police. Police found the young man, Joseph Fortunati, who was acting in a confused and agitated manner. Within just a few minutes, Fortunati was dead from a police bullet, and his father was under arrest for refusing to obey a police order.

Fast forward to Dec. 4, when state troopers, aided by members of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, faced a situation that appeared even more threatening. A fugitive on the lam, Michael J. Hoehl, led pursuing officers into the woods. Once there, he turned toward the troopers and displayed a handgun. He indicated the gun was loaded and the safety was off. He dared the police to kill him.

What followed, however, was not a volley of shots and a dead suspect. What followed was a negotiation session that lasted an hour until Hoehl surrendered and was taken into custody.

“No one was injured as a result of this case,” the police report says pointedly.

Were the officers in the more recent incident better trained, or better led, than the ones who cornered Fortunati in 2006? Were the circumstances greatly different? Did the outcry about the Fortunati killing have an impact? It’s hard to tell. What’s certain is that the outcome was far better, and that it was due to exemplary police work.

We hope this message gets through to the Vermont Attorney General’s office, which has consistently found no fault with the police action in the Fortunati case.

Just recently, a federal court found that a criminal case against the police should not go ahead. Assistant Attorney General David Groff responded with a grotesque overstatement about the decision.

“We think it justifies the troopers’ conduct in the case,” he told the Valley News. “As we said all along, we think they took proper action.” But though the strategies and actions of enforcement officers in 2006 may have been technically legal, the brave officers who faced down Michael Hoehl in the woods found a better, far better, way to enforce the law and protect the public.

As we said, somebody should get a medal.

The Herald of Randolph