BRATTLEBORO — A man who was shot while allegedly burglarizing a local business was arraigned on Monday.
James W. Crocker, 34, of Brattleboro, pleaded not guilty to burglary in Windham Superior Court, Criminal Division. The felony charge carries a potential 15-year prison sentence.
Police responded to Strange Brew Tattoo on Elliot Street on Friday at about 8:20 p.m. after receiving a report that three people had broken into the business. Kenneth Murphy, 59, had called 911 after firing several shots at the burglars, Brattleboro Police Det. Greg Eaton wrote in an affidavit.
Murphy told police he was lying on a couch inside the studio and watching television when he heard some "commotion" in the hallway.
"He stated that he got up off the couch, grabbed the gun off the table and backed into a corner inside the room," the affidavit said. "He described that he heard a crash and then two men came rushing through the locked door."
The men were said to be wearing black clothing and black masks completely covering their faces. Murphy told police he feared for his life and felt threatened.
The main door downstairs was locked at the time of the incident, according to Murphy, who believed he had also locked the door to the shop.
"Murphy felt that the males were on 'a mission,'" police wrote. "He stated that he fired two shots at the males, at which point they fled into a back room inside the studio. He explained that the shots were fired towards the interior of the studio, opposite from the entrance. He then observed another male, also dressed in all black, appear in the entrance and he fired a single shot in that direction as well. That male also fled, however, he did not see where he went. Murphy did not believe that any of the shots struck the subjects."
Murphy told police he called 911 after backing up to the couch, believing that the suspects were still inside the shop. He said he could not identify any of the suspects but described one of the men as being about 5 foot 8 inches tall with an average build.
Murphy claimed he was not trying to hit anyone when he fired the shots. It "was more to get them away," he told police.
Police also interviewed Strange Brew co-owner Johnathan Whitman, who believed Crocker and his ex-girlfriend had been responsible for the burglary. Whitman told police Crocker had previously burglarized his residence and had intimate knowledge of the business.
Murphy agreed to be locked in the shop for the night to stand guard and was given a gun for his protection, according to Whitman.
Strange Brew co-owner owner Rachel Brown told police she had seen Crocker and a man she did not know walking up stairs inside the building when she was closing up. The two men looked like deer in headlights and froze, Brown said. They both turned around and left.
Crocker's mother told police her son is addicted to heroin and she thought he was responsible for the burglary. She said Crocker had just come to her home in Brattleboro and was limping.
Crocker told his mother that the police were likely looking for him and that he had just been shot while at the tattoo shop, according to the affidavit.
"She observed golf ball size (about two inches) swelling in the area of his left hip that had a scrape in it," police wrote. "There was some fraying on the outside of his jeans. She stated that a projectile definitely hit him. She wasn't sure what to believe since he makes up stories. Then she saw the incident being discussed on Facebook. She asked Crocker if he would turn himself in or go with her to do it. He declined and left the house."
Crocker's mother told police she saw him on Flat Street when she was on her way to speak with police.
"She thinks that he was at the tattoo shop to rob them," police wrote. "She thinks he was going after money. He has been getting into a lot of trouble lately, so if he got enough then he could 'run off.'"
In a press release, the Brattleboro Police Department said multiple suspects have been identified and the investigation will continue. A "special thanks" was given to the Brattleboro Fire Department, Rescue Inc., Vermont State Police, Chesterfield, N.H., Police Department and Hinsdale, N.H, Police Department for assisting at the scene.
Crocker, who was arrested on Sunday afternoon, has had other run-ins with police. He was convicted of several felonies in Virginia such as grand larceny, and breaking and entering with the intention to commit a felony in 2003. He was found guilty of possessing and transporting firearms as a convict in Virginia in 2006.
In 2014, Crocker was stopped while driving in Brattleboro. He was charged with larceny, unlawful mischief and possession of heroin.
Last year, Crocker was arrested for charges stemming from retail theft and escaping the Vermont Department of Correction.
Reach staff writer Chris Mays at 802-254-2311, ext. 273, or @CMaysBR.