Woman jailed for alleged murder attempt against city cop
By Brent Curtis
STAFF WRITER | December 29,2012
In a video recorded in a booking area at the Rutland City Police Department, investigators say they have all the evidence they need to show that a transient woman addicted to heroin intended to kill an officer assigned to guard her in an interview room Thursday evening.
That video, which allegedly shows 39-year-old Jennifer Berube sneaking up on and then attempting to cut the throat of patrolman Damon Nguyen, wasn’t released by police or prosecutors Friday.
But the video and other evidence in the incident could be put on display next week when Rutland County State’s Attorney Marc Brierre tries to prove why holding Berube without bail is warranted in the second-degree attempted murder case against her.
“It is a life-sentence case and we’re asking that she be held without bail pending a weight-of-the-evidence hearing,” Brierre said Friday during Berube’s arraignment. “We have complete videotaped evidence of the offense.”
But public defender Nelson Floyd, who came to court with copies of the same video, said he planned to contest jailing the woman until trial.
“The present state of the evidence doesn’t meet the standard,” Floyd said after entering an innocent plea on Berube’s behalf.
While the tape wasn’t aired in the courtroom Friday, the contents were discussed at length by investigators in an affidavit filed in the case.
In the video, Berube, who told police she is a nurse, can be seen exiting an interview room in the booking area while Nguyen looks away briefly to focus on paperwork, according to an affidavit written by police Detective Cpl. David LaChance.
When she enters the frame again, LaChance wrote, she is holding a knife which she puts to Nguyen’s throat with one hand while trying with her other arm to put him in a choke-hold.
The attack left the second-year patrolman with only a minor cut to his neck, police said. But if not for the officer’s quick reaction, the attack could have been fatal, police said.
“If it wasn’t for the officer’s skill set, it would have been a totally different outcome,” said Rutland police Sgt. John Sly. “The minute she laid hands on him, he responded and neutralized the situation.”
But according to the video, it took more than a minute and more than one officer to subdue the woman. LaChance said she could be seen fighting with the officer and making attempts to stab him while he tried to wrestle the blade away from her.
After a struggle that allegedly left both Nguyen and Berube bleeding from nicks and cuts, Officer Jennifer Czachor responded to Nguyen’s call for help and the two officers managed to handcuff Berube, LaChance said.
Berube and her husband, John Maclean III, were arrested about two hours earlier after police received calls from merchants on North Main Street and Woodstock Avenue who complained about three people walking from business to business trying to use an inactive credit card.
Police who responded only found two people — Berube and Maclean. After talking to the pair — who allegedly provided false names — police decided to issue them citations for fraudulent use of a credit card.
At that point, husband and wife tried to flee on foot in opposite directions, police said, but were quickly chased down.
The attempted flight led to charges of resisting arrest and the discovery of what police said were stolen items in a backpack that Berube flung into a snowbank when she tried to run.
The pair were brought to the city police station on Wales Street where they were separated, with Maclean being placed in a holding cell while Berube was taken into an interview room.
Nguyen said he propped the door to the interview room — which has no lock — open with a trash can so he could see and hear what she was doing while he split his time between watching her and doing paperwork.
He said it was moments after he looked in on her that he realized she was right behind him with her arms dropping over his head.
During the attack, the patrolman said Berube said something like “I’m getting you out of here, babe” to her husband in a nearby cell.
Officer Edward Dumas, who accompanied Berube to Rutland Regional Medical Center, where she was treated for cuts to her hand, said that as he was leading her out, Berube told Maclean “I was trying to make you proud of me, babe.”
Dumas also said that while at the hospital Berube was caught reaching for a tray of sharp surgical tools.
But Berube, who told police she was addicted to heroin and had last used the drug a day earlier, allegedly said she stabbed Nguyen but had no intention of killing him.
“She advised that she had observed that the officer had his keys hanging on his back and she was going to get those keys and unlock her husband’s cell,” LaChance wrote.
While the case against Berube moves forward, city police are have launched an internal review to determine how a person under arrest inside the police department came to be armed with a folding knife.
Police said Berube claimed she found the knife on the floor of the interview room. Police Chief James Baker said police are doing a thorough review of the search of Berube and her husband, as well as security in the holding area to determine how the weapon came into her possession.
Baker said after the hearing Friday that he has directed an administrative review of the incident to be completed within two weeks.
“This was a traumatic event for the officers involved, but we’re thankful today that Officer Nguyen is OK,” Baker said.