Update: Names, details released in fatal Hartford police shooting

By ANNA MERRIMAN

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 08-06-2021 5:23 PM

HARTFORD VILLAGE — Investigators have identified the man who was shot and killed by a Hartford police officer Thursday as 35-year-old Joseph John Howard, of Bradford, Vt.

The officer who killed Howard is Cpl. Eric Clifford, a member of the force for 12 years who is also the department’s K-9 handler, according to the Hartford police roster.

The shooting occurred around 1:30 p.m. Thursday outside a home at the end of Paula Street, a short, dead-end road in Hartford Village, according to a news release from Vermont State Police on Friday. The homeowner, Mike Martin, told police that shortly after he returned home Thursday afternoon Howard, whom he doesn’t know, showed up at his house, confronted him and refused to leave the property, the release said. The interaction made Martin “fear for his safety” and prompted him to call police, according to the news release.

When Clifford arrived at the scene, Howard ignored his commands and instead ran at him, prompting the officer to spray him with pepper spray, the release said. Undeterred by the spray, Howard got into a physical altercation with Clifford, punching and choking him before the officer fired his weapon, killing Howard, the release said.

Clifford received treatment for injuries at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center and was released later Thursday. He has been placed on paid administrative leave following the shooting.

An autopsy confirmed that Howard died from two gunshot wounds to the chest, the release said. Hartford police have not had previous interactions with Howard, the release said.

When state police complete their investigation the case will be turned over to the Vermont Attorney General’s Office and the Washington County State’s Attorney’s Office for officials to review whether Clifford’s use of deadly force was warranted.

Messages to Hartford Police Chief Brad Vail seeking comment and copies of the police report were not returned Friday. A message to Clifford was not returned Friday and family members of Howard could not be reached for comment.

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Police stayed at the scene for over four hours Thursday afternoon, investigating a yard around the front of a house at 67 Paula St. Police cars and crime scene investigation vehicles lined the driveway of the house, and officers flew a drone overhead as they collected evidence.

At the beginning of the driveway, a silver, two-door Acura was parked with Vermont license plates and several dents in the trunk. Police set up an evidence marker on the hood of the car and wrapped police tape around the mirror and doors.

The crime scene tape was taken down by Friday morning, and firefighters were speaking with a man standing outside the house. The man declined to discuss the incident with a Valley News reporter.

Following the shooting, a group of around 15 Hartford residents drafted an open letter to Hartford Town Manager Tracy Yarlott-Davis and Vail requesting the release of all footage of the incident, including body cam footage. The letter also called on the town to fire Clifford and launch an external investigation into the Hartford Police Department and “how it has failed to prevent this police brutality.”

The letter is signed “Hartford Residents for a Resilient Community.”

Hartford resident Ashley Andreas, one of organizers of the group, said residents are concerned about what they perceive as a lack of transparency from police as well as the use of force.

Andreas, who lives blocks from the incident, said she is concerned that when Hartford residents call 911 for help, armed police are usually the first to respond.

“There’s no alternative to just calling police and having an armed officer arrive, which often triggers people who have addictions or a mental illness,” she said. “There needs to be an alternative.”

Messages to Yarlott-Davis and Vail were not returned Friday afternoon.

The group of residents planned to meet for an “Anti Police Brutality Rally and Vigil” outside the Windsor District courthouse in White River Junction on Friday night in response to the shooting.

Anna Merriman can be reached at amerriman@vnews.com or 603-727-3216.

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