Quechee man ordered held without bail after being grazed in police shooting

  • Hartford Police Sgt. Karl Ebbighausen, left, and Trooper Michael Green help with an investigation on Quechee West Hartford Road between Winding Brook Lane and Howard Road on Monday morning, May 6, 2019, following a Sunday night incident where they say a trooper shot at a suspect in a domestic assault who had been carrying a shotgun. The suspect was then subdued him with a stun gun, police said. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Vermont State Police investigate a section of road along the Quechee West Hartford Road in Hartford, Vt., on Monday, May 6, 2019. James Luce, 19, of Quechee, is being held without bail after an incident on Sunday night. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • James Luce during his arraignment in Windsor County District Court on Monday, May 6, 2019 in White River Junction, Vt. Luce was involved in a shooting by state police Sunday night in Hartford, Vt. With him is attorney Nikki South. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Trooper Eric Vitali (Vermont State Police photograph)

Valley News Staff Writers
Published: 5/6/2019 7:15:36 AM

WHITE RIVER JUNCTION — A Vermont Superior Court judge on Monday ordered a 19-year-old Hartford man held without bail in the wake of an “officer-involved shooting” that followed a domestic dispute on Sunday night near Quechee-West Hartford Road.

At his arraignment at the Windsor County courthouse, James Luce pleaded not guilty to six charges, including resisting arrest and three counts of aggravated domestic assault with a weapon. Police said they responded to the area after receiving a report that Luce had fired a shotgun at an occupied house.

Judge Timothy Tomasi denied public defender Nikki South’s request to release Luce on bail and into the care of his grandmother after Windsor County State’s Attorney David Cahill said Luce had suffered “some form of mental-health disturbance” on Sunday.

Cahill said that during a previous incident in March, Hartford police had talked Luce down from threats “to commit suicide via firearm … or an overdose of drugs.”

Late Monday, Vermont State Police identified Trooper Eric Vitali, of the Royalton Barracks, as the officer who shot at Luce.

State police said that after troopers ordered Luce to drop his weapon, Vitali fired his shot gun one time, grazing Luce and causing minor abrasions. Police said at one point Luce did set his gun down but then picked it back up prior to being shot.

​​​​​​Vitali, who was hired in 2005, has been placed on administrative leave for at least five days.

In an affidavit, Hartford Police Officer Mitchel Cable, one of multiple officers to respond to the scene on Sunday, reported hearing a single shot while police were confronting Luce, and that Luce subsequently “grabbed in the area of his groin as if he had been hit.”

After Vitali fired his weapon, Lebanon Police Officer Tyler Hewes shot Luce with a stun gun and several other officers helped handcuff him, according to Cable’s affidavit.

The affidavit cites follow-up interviews with Luce’s housemates conducted by Hartford police.

Christina Dea, 41, told police that “Luce had been living at the residence with ... a number of other individuals for the past two weeks.”

Another resident of the house, 19-year-old Megan Keirstead, said that when she and another housemate, 29-year-old Jaimie Bowser, returned to the home at about 7:30 on Sunday night, Luce started swearing at them, according to the affidavit.

Keirstead told police that Luce “punched me in the right arm, left wrist, and on my left cheekbone,” according to the affidavit. After Bowser separated Luce and Keirstead, Luce retreated to a basement.

Keirstead told police that Dea later arrived home and tried talking to Luce, who was now outside the home, according to the affidavit.

After hearing a gunshot from outside, Keirstead told Dea to call police, according to the affidavit.

Dea told police she offered to drive Luce to his grandmother’s house, to which Luce responded by “yelling and screaming,” and then picked the shotgun off the ground “and fired toward the house,” where Dea and a another occupant of the house were standing outside.

Dea reported that Luce then “disappeared down the hill and fired again, and then a few minutes passed and we heard another shot,” according to the affidavit.

Cable wrote that after responding to the call from the residence, he and a Hartford colleague located Luce, who was on foot, and were following him in their patrol car and had a rifle trained on him while ordering him to stop and drop his weapon.

Lebanon police officers and Vermont state police also began to respond to the scene.

According to Cable, the shotgun blast came from the direction of the state police troopers.

After the shot, Luce “continued to move around the road, swinging his arms around and grabbing his groin area until finally getting down on the road face first with his hands behind his back,” according to the affidavit.

After he was subdued by police, Luce told Hartford emergency-medical technicians who evaluated him, “that he was not injured and did not need further treatment,” according to the affidavit.

On a bail form accompanying the affidavit and the charging documents, Luce reported having moved from Maine to the Quechee-West Hartford area about three months ago, and stayed with a friend and his grandmother, “doing chores for room and board.”

After the arraignment, a woman whom the public defender identified as Luce’s grandmother declined to comment.

Sunday wasn’t the fire time Vitali has fired a weapon while on duty. Vitali shot and killed a man following a lengthy standoff in Poultney, Vt., in 2017; prosecutors found that shooting to be justified.

David Corriveau can be reached at dcorriveau@vnews.com and at 603-727-3304.

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