Police report in Santiago shooting released
BRATTLEBORO -- Before Michael Santiago was shot and killed by Brattleboro Police Department Sgt. Mark Carignan, he was described as having a "'thousand yard stare' in his eyes and his face was completely emotionless," according BPD Sgt. Chad Emery.
With his right arm behind his back, Santiago took "an aggressive step towards the door," Emery told Vermont State Police investigators.
It was then that Carignan fired his shotgun twice at Santiago, who crumpled to the ground and died.
"By the way that Santiago had his hand behind his back and the fact that there was intel about firearms having been purchased by the female occupant of the room, it was my belief that Santiago was reaching for a firearm that he had in his back waistband," said Emery.
Following a review of the police investigation into the events of April 4 at America's Best Inn on Putney Road, both the Vermont Attorney General's Office and the Bennington County State's Attorney's Office concluded Carignan was justified in the use of deadly force.
On Monday, new details about the case emerged in 240 pages of heavily redacted documents supplied by the Attorney General's Office to the Reformer following a public records request.
The report says Carignan several times ordered Santiago to get down on the floor and show his hands before firing.
"Santiago kept his right hand behind his back in an area of the back where a handgun could be concealed," BPD Officer Ryan Washburn told investigators. "Santiago took one step forward in the direction where Sgt. Emery, Sgt. Carignan and I were standing ... I heard two shots go off from my right side, which was Sgt. Carignan's side."
Police were at the hotel on the morning of April 4 to serve a no-knock search warrant related to an investigation into the sale of heroin by Santiago.
Officer Ryan Belville told investigators that, after the door was knocked open with a ram and prior to Santiago's death, he heard Carignan clearly shout at least twice, "Mike, stop, you're gonna get shot, Mike!"
Lt. Robert Kirkpatrick told investigators he heard an officer shout, "Police. Show me your hands" and "Mike, stop. I will shoot you. Mike, stop." In a separate interview, Lt. Robert Perkins confirmed Kirkpatrick's statement.
Police were led to Santiago's hotel room after a suspect was arrested on April 2 and found to be in possession of several packets of heroin. The suspect, whose name was redacted from the documents supplied to the Reformer, told police he purchased the heroin from a man named Mike, who was later identified as Michael Santiago, 35, of Brattleboro. The next day, Det. Jonathan Whiteman learned that Amanda Piermarini, who was sharing a hotel room with Santiago, had been seen "purchasing several handguns for a group of unknown black males."
That same day, Whiteman received more information that Piermarini was being investigated for the straw purchase of at least seven handguns.
"I advised Sgt. Carignan of the information and advised him that, knowing Santiago and Amanda's New Jersey gang ties, and that firearms change hands quickly, we should proceed as if there were handguns in the room," Whiteman wrote in his incident report.
After the door was knocked in, Whiteman wrote that he heard Carignan delivering verbal commands "to include, but not limited to, 'show me your hands, come to us, get on the ground, and don't make me shoot you.'" Santiago then turned around and put his right arm behind his back. His hand was positioned high in the middle of his back, his elbow was at a 90 degree angle. ... Santiago was scowling at us ...(and) then rolled his right shoulder forward quickly ... He did not do this slow and calm-like. I feared in that moment that Santiago had a weapon and was prepared to use it on us. I thought Santiago was going to try and kill us."
Carignan told investigators that he knew of Santiago since the summer of 2013, when police attempted to arrest Santiago, who fled on foot. Police chased him down and, during the arrest, Santiago pulled a knife on officers. He was eventually charged with aggravated assault on a police officer. Carignan said he had also learned that Santiago and Piermarini had been arrested in Burlington in late 2013 for possession of heroin.
The day prior to the shooting, Carignan learned from Whiteman that Piermarini had been involved in the straw purchase of several firearms. Emergency responders were positioned near the hotel on the morning of April 4 due to this information.
Police initially tried to open the hotel room door with an electronic key, but it was on a door chain and was quickly slammed shut in their faces. It was then that a ram was used to knock open the door.
"Sgt. Carignan said the man was standing at the dresser with his back to him," wrote Det. Sgt. David Petersen of the Vermont State Police, who conducted separate interviews with Carignan and Piermarini. Even as Santiago turned to face officers, Carignan told Petersen, he kept his right hand hidden from view.
"Sgt. Carignan said Santiago's look and position of his head changed, and he cantered forward a little bit," wrote Petersen. "Sgt. Carignan said that was when Santiago took a step forward towards them. Sgt. Carignan said that was when I fired my shotgun."
Carignan told Petersen that, because of the information he received about the straw purchases of firearms by Piermarini and the Brattleboro Police Department's previous run-in with Santiago, he was concerned that Santiago might pull a weapon on police officers.
"I remember having the thought in my head that I may have to use deadly force to stop him from doing that," Carignan said.
Despite his ordering Santiago to show his hands, he took a step toward the officers while moving his right arm, which resulted in Carignan shooting him from approximately 15 feet away. Carignan recalled that, from the time the door was knocked in until the time he pulled the trigger, about 15 seconds passed.
No guns were found in the hotel room. However, more than $2,400 and a large amount of heroin was discovered.
Later that day, Petersen interviewed Piermarini, who said Santiago retreated to the dresser after police attempted to open the door because that's where he kept his drugs.
"Piermarini said the police pushed through the door. She said Santiago wasn't listening and ‘wouldn't put his hands up or anything' and then he was shot twice."
Piermarini told investigators she didn't know why Santiago didn't respond to police commands, adding "Cause that's how he is."
Piermarini also told investigators that police first shot Santiago in the leg and then, when he was on the ground, they shot him in the chest. However, according to a statement from the Attorney General's Office, "Piermarini's statement is not consistent with the evidence."
Piermarini also told investigators that Santiago had expressed concerns to her about being sent back to jail if he was found in possession of heroin again.
"Santiago made a statement to the effect of 'When I get out, if I get caught with anything, he's like, I'm gone,'" noted investigators. "Piermarini attributed Santiago's behavior earlier that morning at (the hotel) to this belief."
Bob Audette can be reached at email@example.com, or at 802-254-2311, ext. 160. Follow Bob on Twitter @audette.reformer.
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