by Doug McClure
NEWPORT – Police released the affidavit describing their interviews and investigation after the Monday arraignment where 51-year-old Greensboro resident Darryl Johnson pled “not guilty” to two counts, one for second-degree murder and the other for manslaughter, in the shooting death of 27-year-old East Hardwick resident Robert Chaplin.
The sixteen-page affidavit describes the events that led up to the shooting as investigated by the Vermont State Police, Orleans County Sheriff’s Department (OCSD), and Hardwick Police Department (HPD). The police investigation was aided by surveillance video from the Hardwick Convenience and Deli store and cameras at Johnson’s house.
The initial altercation at the convenience store was responded to by Hardwick Police Department’s Officer Joseph Rossi on October 20, just before 7 p.m., and Chaplin arrived by car at Johnson’s residence just past 8 p.m. No video of the shooting itself was discovered. Chaplin was pronounced dead at 9:54 p.m. at Copley Hospital.
Hardwick Police Officer Joseph Rossi responded to the initial incident at the Hardwick Convenience and Deli. Police say the clerk told Rossi that Chaplin tried to purchase beer. He didn’t have enough cash, so he put part of it on a credit card. But the clerk told Rossi that he “noticed Chaplin appeared intoxicated and he told Chaplin he was going to refund his money because it was illegal for him to sell beer to someone intoxicated.” The clerk said they put the beer aside and began the process to credit Chaplin’s card, but then Chaplin “became angry and grabbed the case of beer.” A tug-of-war ensued, resulting in the box breaking and cans of Bud Lite spilling into the floor.
Rossi at the time interviewed the customer who intervened, Johnson, who said he “went to the aid of Phelps and pushed Chaplin out the front door.” According to the affidavit, Johnson told Rossi “Chaplin shoved him back a couple of times. During this time, Chaplin told Johnson he knew where Johnson lives, and he was going to go to his house tonight and deal with him.”
Chaplin had left prior to Rossi’s arrival. As Rossi was leaving, the affidavit said he turned off his body cam, and “Johnson told him that if Chaplin showed up at his house he would ‘****ing kill him.’ Rossi told Johnson that he would have to be in fear for his life and could not just shoot him.”
Police reviewed the surveillance video over a week later and found inconsistencies between the surveillance video and Johnson’s account, primarily over Chaplin’s actions as described by Johnson. “Chaplin and Phelps can be seen briefly pulling on the 12 pack. Chaplin appears to let go of the 12 pack and stands in the area of the door with his back to the doors. After letting go of the 12 pack Darryl Johnson shoves Chaplin hard through the closed doors with two hands.
“The video shows that Johnson is much larger than Chaplin in stature and easily moves him from one spot to another. Johnson can be seen shoving Chaplin on three different camera angles of the store’s security system… It should be noted Darryl was in the store for 45 seconds before shoving Chaplin hard out of the store. At no point can Chaplin be seen on the security video acting in a physically assaultive manner.”
That “distinct difference in size Johnson has over Chapin” would be noted again in the affidavit.
What happened at Johnson’s property was described through interviews with Johnson and his wife, police body-cam footage, and Johnson’s own surveillance cameras, which did not provide an angle on the actual shooting but did provide clues for police as well as a timeline.
At 7:17 p.m., Johnson arrived back at his house from the convenience store, and police say on the video he stopped at the store for cigars and “****ing Robert Chaplin” was there and drunk and threatening the clerk. Separately, both Johnson and his wife describe moving their vehicles closer to the house, thinking Chaplin might come by and smash their windows.
After moving his truck, at 7:39 p.m. “Johnson is seen walking around outside with spotlight/flashlight and the .22 revolver.” He was alone outside at the time. The affidavit said Johnson described his weapon as a .22-caliber magnum revolver with a 16-inch barrel.
Chaplin arrived in his vehicle at 8:08 p.m. and on the video “you can see Chaplin’s vehicle rock to a stop and at three seconds you heard the door slam and at five seconds you see Johnson enter the frame with the revolver in his right hand, with his arm extended out, pointing it at Chaplin’s vehicle.” Johnson’s wife is heard saying “Darryl don’t!” and “Darryl stop it!” Next, Johnson is heard saying “you see that barrel?… Get the **** out of here… Drill it right into your ****ing head, right now. You’ve already threatened me.”
There was a gap in the video at that point, but when it resumed at 8:12 p.m. Johnson’s wife is “hysterically crying.” A minute later “camera triggered by Johnson walking out of the house – he still has his gun in his hand – walking back over to Chaplin.” During this timeframe, Johnson’s wife called 911.
Speaking to dispatch, she said “He shot him, my husband shot him, he tried to get out of the car to fight, my husband shot him.” Dispatch asked if Chaplin was alive, and according to the 911 transcript, his wife asked Johnson if Chaplin was “okay” at which point Johnson responded “still alive for now.”
The transcript recorded Johnson’s wife, referring to Chaplin as “Robby,” saying “they’re coming, Robby, stay with us. Stay with us! Oh my God. You shouldn’t have come here, Robby.”
According to the affidavit, Johnson told police he knew Chaplin from working together at a construction company “years ago” and “stated he has not associated with Chaplin since that time.” Both Johnson and his wife referred to Chaplin as “Robby.”
OCSD’s Sgt. Wells arrived on the scene nine minutes after Hardwick Rescue, per the camera’s timeline. It is unclear whether HPD was on scene already. “Sgt. Wells is now on scene and asks about the gun and tells H. Johnson to leave it there for a minute. H. Johnson says ‘I carried it up to the house for him.’ Wells says he just wants to see it.”
HPD Officer R. J. Caldwell was on scene in the same time-frame, though it is unclear whether this preceded Hardwick Rescue or not. Johnson “was offered to sit in Caldwell’s vehicle while Caldwell and Wells conducted the investigation. While seated in the vehicle, Johnson was not handcuffed, and the rear passenger side door remained open. Johnson was also asked if he was okay and was offered to have medical personnel check his wellbeing and he declined.”
Bodycam footage from Officer Rossi showed while seated in the vehicle, Johnson told Rossi “‘I told ya.’ Rossi replies back, ‘hey, you feared for your life’… Johnson said, ‘he just bolted out at me because I was going to take his keys and keep him here until the cops came.’ Rossi stated to him, ‘if I remember correctly when we were at the store for the prior incident you told me, he said was gonna come to your house and kill you, right?'”
In a subsequent interview at HPD by Orleans County Sheriff’s Department Sgt. Wells, Johnson told Wells he “confronted Chaplin and put the pistol to his temple.” Johnson had told HPD Officer R. J. Caldwell at the scene he felt threatened and “I told him to get the **** outta here or I was going to shoot him.” When asked about the threats in Sgt. Wells’ HPD interview, “Johnson stated, ‘He kept saying that he knew where I lived and he would come to my house.’ Sgt. Wells asked did he say what he was going to do, and Johnson stated, ‘He did not.'”
While Sgt. Wells and HPD Officers Caldwell and Joseph Rossi worked the scene, Johnson was allowed to change into sneakers and the work boots he had been wearing “were not collected by the officers at the scene that evening.” He was allowed to smoke a cigar. Johnson later asked about Chaplin’s condition, stating “I don’t want him to die, that’s all I need is a murder charge.” He added “It was totally self-defense, I was in fear for my life, especially from what happened earlier. He’s lucky I didn’t bring my shotgun. It’s just squirrel shot but it would of made a lot bigger mess of him.”
The fatal shot that struck Chaplin was sustained under the left armpit. Police say Chaplin was not armed.