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BELLOWS FALLS — A new, 18-year-old deputy in the Windham County Sheriff’s Department is the focus of the investigation by both his own department and the Bellows Falls police into the unintentional discharge of his service weapon last week into a neighbor’s home.

The bullet pierced and broke a storm door, a window, cut through two walls and lodged in the wall directly above a bed. A man and woman who were in the house at the time were not injured. The case has raised questions by neighbors about not just the incident, but the policies behind hiring an inexperienced deputy and giving him a high-powered weapon. Jonathan Wright, who lives in the School Street neighborhood and within sight of the damaged home, said this week he had many concerns, and on a variety of levels.

“Though it might be legal to hire an 18 year old and give him a gun, my question is... Is it the best or even a responsible choice? I expect our state leaders, and sheriff to make better decisions when it comes to the operation of public safety and there seems to be a failure in judgment by many,” said Wright, a former village trustee.

“I would not want this to linger on for this young individual. I’m sure the dreams of being a law enforcement officer have been with the deputy for years and being a Windham County deputy sheriff is his stepping stone to a career path. Unfortunately, actions have consequences and the consequences here ended up being a best-case scenario,” he wrote in an email.

“This would have been a completely different discussion had an individual in the home been injured or worse the bullet not been stopped by the interior walls of the home and had passed beyond to the neighboring Bellows Falls Middle School. Imagine what this discussion would be like if a child had been injured or killed,” he added.

Ozzee Haskell, a 2021 graduate of Bellows Falls Union High School, has been identified as the deputy who discharged his service weapon. Haskell is a new provisional member of the department, and had recently completed a course for part-time officers at the Vermont Police Academy, according to a source. Neighbors invariably described Haskell as “a good kid,” who has wanted to be a police officer. Haskell discharged his department-issued weapon and a bullet entered the house next to his parents’ home on School Street, next door to Bellows Falls Middle School.

The Bellows Falls Police Department is conducting a criminal investigation into the incident and the sheriff’s department is conducting an internal investigation into whether department policies were followed.

The couple in the home did not want to be interviewed for this story. Haskell’s attorney, Evan Chadwick of Brattleboro, declined to comment about the case.

The deputy, according to a release from the sheriff’s department on Saturday, has been suspended without pay. Under Vermont law, 18-year-olds are not legally able to purchase weapons, unless they are members of law enforcement, the National Guard, or have completed gun safety training.

Under Vermont’s juvenile laws, people under the age of 21 can be charged in adult court but only if they are charged with one of eight serious felony charges, which include murder, manslaughter, arson with death resulting, armed robbery and aggravated assault.

Haskell is also a student at Southern New Hampshire University, and recently achieved the dean’s list, according to the school.

Neither Anderson, the sheriff, nor Bellows Falls Police Chief David Bemis, nor Windham County State’s Attorney Tracy Shriver would identify the deputy involved in the shooting, although Haskell’s involvement in the case is widely known in the community.

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Anderson issued a follow-up statement this week, and said he was attempting to address concerns about the shooting and the lack of information about the case.

Wright said the Vermont Legislature “shoulders some of the burden here by making carve outs in Vermont law about the age restrictions to purchase firearms.”

“Our state believes an 18-year-old is not old enough to buy a handgun until 21 and considers an individual at 18 to not be mature enough to realize the consequences of their actions and therefore their name is to not be released to the public for fear of stigmatizing the individual and unjustly punishing them. However, the same 18-year-old is mature enough to be given a firearm by a law enforcement agency and with as stated minimum training be expected to act in a mature and responsible manner to protect the citizen of the community,” Wright said.

Without directly confirming that the deputy in the case was 18 years old, Anderson said that he himself was 18 when he was first hired by the Windham County sheriff’s department and that to treat anyone 18 differently than other, older deputies amounts to age discrimination.

“Some people have requested that my office confirm the identity of the deputy. I ask the community to trust that I will do a diligent, thorough, and proper job in working on this. I have every vested interest that a reasonable, rational solution results from our investigation,” Anderson wrote.

“When a Windham County deputy is involved in an incident involving the discharge of a weapon, our ‘Deputy Involved Shooting’ policy/procedure is initiated. This policy necessitates summoning a department supervisor to the scene who will make notification to the Windham County State’s Attorney, and physically secure the involved-deputies weapon,” Anderson wrote, in response to questions from the Reformer.

“Our policy demands a ‘complete, thorough, and factual investigation,’ and directs that criminal investigation to be conducted by the Vermont State Police and/or any agency tasked by the Windham County State’s Attorney. It requires that I provide a news release with as much information as possible without being prematurely judgmental or compromising the legal and personal considerations of the deputy.”

Wright, the former Bellows Falls village trustee, said Anderson’s latest statement raised additional questions about both the situation and his department’s handling of it, and the laws surrounding juvenile offenders and possession of firearms.

“The minimum standards for being a law enforcement officer is just that minimum, there is considerable room for improvement, and not limited to this incident. Currently these standards do not provide many in the community the confidence Sheriff Anderson is hoping for. This goes beyond this incident involving an inexperienced deputy and to the root of many issues in policing today. Training is critical to law enforcement and to much focus is seems to be justifiable use of force and not enough on community interactions, proactive policing strategies and common sense.

“The double standard seems to need some considerable thought by the Legislature, governor and departments when they hire inexperienced youths and expect them to be held to a higher standard within the community,” Jonathan Wright said.

The village of Bellows Falls would have liked more information and in a timely fashion, said Village President Deborah Wright (no relation to Jonathan Wright).

“I have serious concerns over the lack of timely notification to the public on this type of incident,” she said.

Contact Susan Smallheer at ssmallheer@reformer.com.