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Video of 2021 Worcester Officer-Involved Shooting Released

By Tom Marino | March 22, 2023
Last Updated: March 22, 2023

In response to a public records request by This Week in Worcester, the City of Worcester released video gathered in the investigation of a fatal officer-involved shooting nearly two years ago on Grafton Street.

This Week in Worcester is releasing these records, as described below, in the public interest. These records belong to the public. Each individual should have the opportunity to make their own decision to review such records for themselves, especially when the loss of life occurs involving the administration of government.

This Week in Worcester also consulted with a use of force and policing expert for an independent review of the case.

Viewer discretion is advised.

A Man in Mental Health Crisis

A man, later determined to be Phet Gouvonvong Jr., 31, of Worcester, dialed 911 on April 20, 2021, at 10:40 PM, as he walked on Grafton Street towards Billings Square. He declined to provide his name, but told Worcester Police dispatcher Christine Barbale that he had a bomb strapped to him and an AR-15 rifle at his side. He added that there was a second bomb elsewhere and that if he dies, that bomb will go off.

“I’m scared,” Gouvonvong told Barbale. “I don’t want to blow up, and I don’t want anyone to get hurt, at all.”

In response to many questions, Gouvonvong said he couldn’t answer. When asked if he was being listened to, he said, “I don’t know.”

As the call carried on, he became incensed that police hadn’t arrived yet. “I didn’t want this, this is what’s happening,” he said shortly before ending the call. “This is what was put on my plate today.”

Barbale kept Gouvonvong on the phone for over 20 minutes. The full recording of the call, which has been previously released, is below.

Soon after the call was ended, police located Gouvonvong on Grafton Street.

Just after midnight, around 82 minutes after Gouvonvong dialed 911, Worcester Police officer Paul Cyr discharged his firearm four times. The last shot struck Gouvonvong in the upper lip and travelled into his skull, killing him instantly.

Worcester Country District Attorney Joe Early Jr. released a report on the shooting on September 17, 2021. He found the use of deadly force justified and that Officer Cyr, “acted reasonably and lawfully.” The report revealed some details about Gouvonvong, including a previous diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder and schizophrenia. Gouvonvong also experienced seizures.

Over 5 Hours of Video

In the investigation that led to Early’s report, police gathered video footage from street cameras, private security cameras and video taken by witnesses in the area during the the police interaction with Gouvonvong that night.

The City of Worcester released what it says is all the video released to them by the Early’s office. That included more than five hours of footage. Early’s office did not release the footage for more than a year after the shooting, although the footage is a public record according to Massachusetts law.

The majority of that footage was not relevant. For example, footage from one camera included in the release captures over 30 minutes of a city street. Gouvonvong appears momentarily, walking through the frame. Other footage only showed vehicles or police.

After review of the video released by the city, This Week in Worcester compiled over 52 minutes of footage that Gouvonvong appears in or is otherwise relevant to understanding the events that lead to Gouvonvong’s death, which can be found below.

Independent Review by Use of Force and Policing Expert

After reviewing and compiling the relevant footage, This Week in Worcester requested review of Early’s report and the video footage by Dr. Andrew Scott, an expert in police practices and procedures. According to Scott, he has no prior interaction with the Worcester Police Department.

Since retiring from law enforcement in 2006, Scott has provided consulting and expert testimony in over 1,600 cases, mostly as a defense witness. He began in law enforcement in 1978 at the North Miami Beach Police Department, where he rose through the ranks to Assistant Chief. He left North Miami Beach to become Chief of Police of the Boca Raton Police Department in 1998. After retiring from law enforcement, Scott earned a Doctorate in Criminal Justice (D.C.J) in 2021 at Saint Leo University in Saint Leo, Florida.

After reviewing the video evidence and the district attorney’s report, Dr. Scott found the “use of deadly force objectively reasonable, given the totality of the circumstances.”

“This is something straight out of a movie,” Scott said. “It is as difficult a situation as I’ve ever seen an officer in.

Scott found a number of factors made the use of deadly force reasonable. Gouvonvong is clearly in mental health crisis, his level of irritation is escalating, and he’s refusing to stay seated and instead moving around the scene. “This is a dangerous situation with any armed individual, and more so with an individual who claims to have a bomb.”

While the District Attorney’s report discusses Gouvonvong’s stated desire to go to the store within the Cumberland Farms gas station, at 263 Grafton St., Scott found his changing the distance between himself and other officers, and changing the line of sight between himself and officers taking cover at the scene that presented an escalating threat.

When the shots were fired, Scott described shot distribution as unusual. “The shots were measured and aimed,” he said. “There was no panic,” which he said provides credibility that the decision was made based on an assessment of the situation, not a hasty or rapid reaction.

At least one officer received high praise from Scott, saying he likely prevented the use of force earlier. “The officer removed himself from cover to engage and try to calm the situation, directly putting himself in harms way in front of an armed man who claims to have a bomb.,” Scott said. “He deserves credit. He tried.”

Without evidence to suggest there was not a bomb, contrary to Gouvonvong’s claim, Scott said police had little other option. “If police could stop a bomb from detonating on a city street and didn’t, the public would be rightfully outraged.”

Police said that during the interaction with Gouvonvong, they believed they saw something that appeared like it could be a detonator near his wrist. He is seen in the video footage wearing a large backpack. When Gouvonvong’s body was examined  by Massachusetts State Police bomb specialists after the shooting, they found two road flares and batteries, with wires attached to a wrist watch that was attached to Gouvonvong’s arm with a wrap.


Editors Note: All audio is presented as received, with the exception of chatter by those recording video.. This will be obvious, as the audio will suddenly go silent. This was done at the discretion of This Week in Worcester to protect the privacy of those who provided the footage to police. Great care was taken to only cut audio of that chatter.

Viewer discretion is advised.

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