Law Enforcement

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Bill to Curb Police Militarization Is Planned

Posted By on Tue, Dec 16, 2014 at 11:35 AM

Vermont State Police obtained an MRAP armored vehicle through the 1033 Program. - MATT MORRIS
  • Matt Morris
  • Vermont State Police obtained an MRAP armored vehicle through the 1033 Program.
Updated at 2:15 p.m. to include comments from Attorney General Bill Sorrell.

An influential state lawmaker will introduce a bill to restrict police agencies' use of the Pentagon's surplus equipment program, which Vermont agencies have used to obtain an arsenal of assault rifles, Humvees, night-vision goggles and other military gear.

Janet Ancel (D-Calais), chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, told Seven Days she is concerned that police are obtaining military gear through the federal 1033 Program with little oversight or public debate. Ancel expects the House Government Operations Committee to hold hearings on her bill in the upcoming legislative session.

"I want public discussion and legislative focus on the program," Ancel said. "I have concerns about the use of military hardware, particularly by some of our smaller law-enforcement agencies. It's a subject we need to discuss. The bill is a vehicle for the discussion."

Currently, police apply directly to the state's 1033 Program coordinator, an official with the Vermont National Guard. Often citing the war on drugs, agencies ranging from the Vermont State Police to the Middlebury Police Department have obtained 158 assault rifles, 14 military Humvees, one mine-resistant vehicle, and scores of scopes, sights and other equipment, according to a Seven Days review of nearly 4,000 pages of documents. Law-enforcement agencies have requested, but been denied, more than twice as much stuff.

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Tuesday, December 2, 2014

State Initially Missed 911 Outage Alert

Posted By on Tue, Dec 2, 2014 at 4:27 PM

State workers on government holiday initially overlooked an alert from FairPoint Communications after the 911 system failed last Friday, the first in a series of communications lapses that exacerbated the crisis, a state official told Seven Days.

Enhanced 911 Board Executive Director David Tucker said in an interview that his agency is responsible for many failures that left Vermont emergency workers unaware for hours that residents could not use 911 to reach them.

"Those notifications didn't get to everybody that should have seen them," Tucker said. "We can't have people out there with no idea it's down. You know what people say about the fog of war? It got very confusing very quickly."

Additionally, Tucker said, the number of 911 calls that did not make it through to dispatchers during the outage is almost twice as high as has been widely reported. In total, 83 people tried to call 911 but couldn't get through, Tucker said. The earlier tally of 45 calls was based on information gleaned from FairPoint Communications, only one of the two private companies with that information. The other company, Intrado, reported their missing calls later, Tucker said.

As of this morning, the state finished checking back with most callers, and none had suffered ill effects, Tucker said.

Around 3 p.m. on Friday, network problems caused by a fiber cut in key FairPoint infrastructure prevented many Vermonters from being able to place outbound calls, including to 911. FairPoint provides the fiber infrastructure for Vermont's 911 system, which is run by Colorado-based Intrado.

One hour later, FairPoint, following protocol for outages affecting more than 25 customers, sent an email to state Enhanced 911 staffers notifying them of the outage, Tucker said. (Intrado did not notify the state, Tucker said.)

Until that moment, the 911 system had been down without any emergency official in Vermont being made aware of it.

But for the next 45 minutes, nothing happened. Friday was a government holiday. No one was in the Enhanced 911 office and no one was required to check email, Tucker said.

At 4:45 p.m., Tucker said, he happened to check his email, and saw a message from dispatcher in St. Albans, who was beginning to detect that something was amiss. The dispatcher hadn't  been receiving any 911 calls, which he found alarming. "He said, 'I think we've got a problem,'" Tucker said.

That email prompted Tucker to scroll through his inbox and see the earlier alert from FairPoint, he said.

"There was a 45-minute period between when we got the first notice and when we were aware of it," Tucker said. "We missed it. It's our fault. There were few people looking at email because it's a day off. We made mistakes in the communications process."

The outage alerts sent by FairPoint are usually for small events — a car knocking over a telephone pole — that knock out 911 and other services to 25 customers or more, Tucker said.  FairPoint should have done more to underscore the severity of this outage, he said. "This wasn't a typical outage," Tucker said. "I can make an argument the notice should have been clearer, or [there should have been] a follow-up phone call."

Information belatedly in hand, the Enhanced 911 Office set about calling Vermont's eight regional dispatch sites, which serve as hubs for their local areas across the state.

But there was one big problem with that plan — the phones were down. The protocols apparently didn't factor that in.

"We couldn't get through to them," he said. "That plan doesn't survive when you can't pick up the phone and call somebody."

Tucker's office was reduced to sending e-mails to those dispatchers, and hoping amidst the chaos that they would be read promptly. Like the dispatcher in St. Albans, many were beginning to suspect something was wrong. 

Additionally, Tucker said his office reached out to the Vermont Emergency Management Center, which can send out alerts that run on the bottom of residents' televisions, and, in extreme cases, via cell phone. They were planning to send the alert when suddenly, around 5:45 p.m., FairPoint sent Enhanced 911 a new email —the problem had been fixed. Officials dropped the planned alert.

"We thought it was done," Tucker said.

It wasn't.

An hour later, Tucker said, FairPoint reversed course, and announced the 911 system was still down. It wasn't until 8:45 p.m. that the system was finally fixed.

Tucker acknowledged that some emergency departments never learned that 911 was down. Regional dispatchers used radios to contact agencies within range. Tucker said that some police and fire departments learned off the outage via television reports.

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Monday, December 1, 2014

Inmates' Advocates Say They Have Little Access to Private Prisons

Posted By on Mon, Dec 1, 2014 at 3:44 PM

From left, Vermont Defender General Matthew Valerio and Vermont Prisoners' Rights Office supervising attorney Seth Lipschutz testify before the Joint Corrections Oversight Committee. - MARK DAVIS
  • Mark Davis
  • From left, Vermont Defender General Matthew Valerio and Vermont Prisoners' Rights Office supervising attorney Seth Lipschutz testify before the Joint Corrections Oversight Committee.
Advocates for Vermont inmates housed in private out-of-state prisons told lawmakers today that they have little access to the facilities and limited ability to respond to inmates' concerns and conduct investigations.

Defender General Matt Valerio and Prisoners' Rights Office supervising attorney Seth Lipschutz said that they rarely visit prisons in Kentucky and Arizona that are owned by Corrections Corporation of America and house nearly 500 Vermont inmates. 

Whereas investigators from the Defender General's Office are inside Vermont prisons daily, they visit CCA's prison in Beattyville, Ky., where most of CCA's Vermont inmates are held, two or three times a year, usually in response to assaults or other critical incidents.

"They’re constantly visiting [Vermont] facilities, talking to inmates, talking to the staff, kind of being the watchdog," Lipschutz said. "We don’t have that in Kentucky. We don’t go down there often and it’s harder to solve problems. That is a legitimate issue that I have tossed and turned in bed over. The place is 1,000 miles away. It’s really hard to keep tabs on it.”

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Monday, November 3, 2014

Burlington Police Describe Violent Incident After Video Posted Online

Posted By on Mon, Nov 3, 2014 at 1:41 PM

Burlington police reviewed the incident in this video, which was captured by a witness. - YOUTUBE VIDEO
  • YouTube Video
  • Burlington police reviewed the incident in this video, which was captured by a witness.
Story updated 2:52 p.m. on 11/3/14 to include the police version of the event.

Burlington police gave a detailed account of a struggle that led to two arrests and accusations of police brutality after a video of it was posted online Sunday, saying a man assaulted officers.

In 38 seconds of video footage captured by a witness near the intersection of Main Street and South Winooski Avenue early Sunday, two officers are confronted by bystanders as they grapple with a man lying face-down. One of the officers strikes the man on the ground, who appears to have his hands underneath him. Some bystanders yell at the cops, with one saying, "You can't do that!"

Monday afternoon, police said that the officers’ strikes were “consistent with officer training and are referred to as ‘distractionary strikes.’”

Burlington police issued a lengthy statement describing the incident as follows:

Around 2 a.m. Sunday, officers Ryan Rabideau and Ethan Czyzewski responded to a report of a man climbing a telephone pole. On the way there, they saw Shane Langevin, 20, of Winooski, hit another man on the head, causing him to fall to the ground, police said.

As they tried to take Langevin into custody, he refused to put his hands behind his back. A struggle ensued. After officers brought him to the ground, he tried to stand up, and “delivered a blow with his elbow to the right eye of [Rabideau]” according to the police statement.

“Langevin also struck [Czyzewski] in the jaw during the struggle,” police said.

Langevin briefly broke free, police said, before he was hit with a Taser shot, which caused him to fall to the ground. (The statement did not say which officer fired the Taser.) While lying on the ground, Langevin continued to struggle, and officers were unable to get his hands from under his body, leading to what police called the "distractionary strikes."

Meanwhile, a crowd gathered and began yelling at the officers. Staff from nearby bars and restaurants helped officers keep the crowd back, police said.

Michael Mazza, 34, of St. Albans approached the officers “with clenched fists,” police said, as the officers struggled with Langevin. One of the officers pepper-sprayed Mazza, which stopped him.

Langevin and Mazza were not together, police said.

Czyzewski was treated and released from Fletcher Allen Health Care for bruises to his face, police said.

Langevin, who has convictions for disorderly conduct, assault, and domestic assault, was on probation for violating an abuse prevention order and other charges, police said. He was held on $5,000 bail on two charges of assault on a law enforcement officer, resisting arrest, disorderly conduct and simple assault.

Mazza was charged with impeding a police officer, police said.

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Friday, October 31, 2014

Leader of Rutland Heroin Ring Sentenced by Federal Judge

Posted By on Fri, Oct 31, 2014 at 3:10 PM

A 21-year-old New York City man was sentenced yesterday to 75 months in prison on charges of dealing heroin in Rutland. Federal prosecutors spent two years unraveling his six-person distribution ring.

Joshua Rose trafficked between 400 and 700 grams of heroin from New York to Rutland in 2012, U.S. Attorney Tristram Coffin said. Rose was arrested by New York police in September 2012 with 100 grams of heroin that was bound for Rutland, authorities said.

A week before the arrest, Rutland resident David C. Blanchard III fatally overdosed on heroin sold by Rose's network.

For several months afterward, two of Rose's New York-based lieutenants, Devon Cruz, 29, and Charles Hercules, 23, continued to run the operation, authorities said. According to prosecutors, they used several heroin addicts in Rutland as middle men. 

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Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Church Street No-Trespass Ordinance Survives Legal Challenge

Posted By on Tue, Oct 7, 2014 at 5:10 PM

  • Matthew Thorsen
  • Church Street
A lawsuit challenging the Church Street no-trespass ordinance was dismissed today by a judge who concluded that the two plaintiffs did not have legal standing to pursue their case.

Judge Dennis Pearson expressed sympathy with argument that the ordinance, which allows police officers to banish repeat troublemakers from the downtown street, is an unconstitutional overreach.

But Pearson ruled that the plaintiffs, Burlington attorneys and social justice advocates Jared Carter and Sandy Baird, could not bring the case because neither has been issued a citation ordering them to stay away from Church Street.

"No matter how strongly Plaintiffs Carter and Baird feel about the arguably legitimate questions raised concerning the ordinance, they simply do not have the concrete and personal stake in the outcome or controversy that entitles them to be the proponents of such a lawsuit," Pearson wrote in a 15-page opinion.

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Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Goddard's Commencement Speaker Is Controversial Mumia Abu-Jamal

Posted By on Wed, Oct 1, 2014 at 3:29 PM

Goddard's Plainfield campus. - JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR
  • Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
  • Goddard's Plainfield campus.
Twenty-three students graduate from Goddard College this Sunday. The school will hand out diplomas in a small, intimate ceremony — one of 20 held each year — at the Haybarn Theatre on its Plainfield campus. The graduates chose for a speaker a 1996 alumnus who has written six books and has been an outspoken advocate for racial justice and prisoners' rights. 

Yesterday, Vermont cops requested that Goddard rescind its invitation. 

The commencement speaker, Mumia Abu-Jamal, is a convicted murderer who is sending his speech, prerecorded, from the Mahanoy State Correctional Institution in Frackville, Penn. That's causing a stir — in Vermont and beyond. 

Jamal was originally sentenced to death for killing a police officer in Philadelphia in 1981. The sentence was later amended to life in prison without parole. While behind bars, Abu-Jamal, 60, who claims to be innocent, has been speaking and writing extensively about his experience on death row and the criminal justice system in general. While in prison, he earned his bachelor of arts from Goddard in 1996.

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Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Men Arrested in South Burlington Prostitution Bust Won't Be Prosecuted

Posted By on Wed, Jul 2, 2014 at 4:29 PM

Chittenden County State's Attorney T.J. Donovan will not file charges against seven men arrested for allegedly soliciting sex from an undercover South Burlington police officer, and instead will require them to take a class on the ills of prostitution.
Chittenden County State's Attorney T.J. Donovan
  • Chittenden County State's Attorney T.J. Donovan

Of the seven men who went to a local motel after responding to a sex ad placed by South Burlington police, one man lost his job when word of his arrest spread, another was kicked out of his house and others been devastated by the public shaming, Donovan said.

The South Burlington Police Department issued a press release with mug shots, which garnered significant media attention after the misdemeanor arrests earlier this month.

None of the men had criminal records. They would have likely only paid fines had they been convicted, Donovan said.

"One of the purposes of sentencing is deterrence, and that purpose has already been achieved," Donovan said in an interview. "They have all been publicly shamed. What's more important is general deterrence. What best achieves that is educating these men that prostitution is complex, dangerous, violent against women — many are young, have issues, and are addicted to drugs."

Earlier this month, an undercover female officer from the South Burlington Police Department posted a notice on a website known to be used by prostitutes. Within six hours, 40 men had responded to the ad via email or phone, police said.

The men were arrested when they arrived for their liaisons at the Anchorage Inn. Only two of the seven men were from South Burlington. One came from Manchester, N.H.

The men will be charged if they don't complete the class, Donovan said. The class will be taught by Edith Klimoski, director of Give Way to Freedom, a foundation that supports victims of human trafficking and offers educational programs for the public.

Donovan said he has seen cases in recent months in which local teenage girls, hooked on drugs, have been working as prostitutes to support their habit.

"I'm trying to raise awareness that it's not just about sex," Donovan said. "You have to look at the context, and the context is the heroin epidemic in the state. We have 16, 17-year-olds prostituting themselves to feed their addiction. It provides us an opportunity to raise awareness of the larger issue here."

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Friday, June 20, 2014

DCF Announces Shake-Up in Troubled Rutland Office

Posted By on Fri, Jun 20, 2014 at 5:05 PM

Gov. Peter Shumlin's administration announced some tweaks to operations at the Department of Children and Families today in the wake of a report that found flaws with the agency's handling of an abuse case involving a Poultney girl who was killed after social workers allowed her to return home.

The current head of the DCF Rutland office, John Zalenski, is being replaced on an interim basis by a higher-up from the Agency of Human Services, field services director Lynne Klamm. 

Zalenski has been reassigned to the DCF central office, pending a review of his actions that could last one month, DCF Commissioner Dave Yacovone said in an interview.

Zalenski will not be involved in case work, Yacovone said. Zalenski, who could not be immediately reached for comment, is a member of the Vermont State Employees Association and has due process rights, Yacovone noted.

Klamm formerly worked at the Rutland DCF office. The AHS is the umbrella organization that encompasses DCF.

“We are immediately implementing several actions to help keep children safer,” said AHS Secretary Doug Racine. “Paramount is ensuring the district office in Rutland has strong supervision and staff, and has comprehensive procedures in place to protect Vermont’s children.”

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Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Wrongful Death Suit Filed in State Police Taser Case

Posted By on Wed, Jun 18, 2014 at 1:52 PM

From left, Allen Gilbert, director of the Vermont chapter of the ACLU; Rhonda Taylor, her husband, Ken Taylor and attorney Robert Appel announce outside U.S. District Court in Burlington the filing of a  wrongful death lawsuit against the Vermont State Police for the 2012 death of Rhonda Taylor's son, MacAdam Mason. - MARK DAVIS
  • Mark Davis
  • From left, Allen Gilbert, director of the Vermont chapter of the ACLU; Rhonda Taylor, her husband, Ken Taylor and attorney Robert Appel announce outside U.S. District Court in Burlington the filing of a wrongful death lawsuit against the Vermont State Police for the 2012 death of Rhonda Taylor's son, MacAdam Mason.

The mother of a Thetford man who died in 2012 after a Vermont State Police Trooper shot him with a stun gun has filed a federal lawsuit accusing the trooper of using excessive force and ignoring protocols.

In a 34-page lawsuit, Rhonda Taylor alleges a trooper who responded to the home of her son, MacAdam Mason, to check on his medical condition never should have fired a Taser into his chest. State law enforcement officials cleared Trooper David Shaffer of wrongdoing, returned him to active duty and released little information about the incident to the public.

"This is a very sad day, not only for Rhonda, but for the state of Vermont," her attorney, Robert Appel, said during a press conference this morning outside U.S. District Court in Burlington. "This is the only way people can hold police accountable. Left to their own devices, supervisory law enforcement officials have not done well in holding accountable the police when they break the law or protocols. It's important that these cases be filed so that people know how the police work and fail to work in a lawful way."

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