Law Enforcement

Monday, June 20, 2016

Arizona Attorney to Take Charge of Vermont ACLU

Posted By on Mon, Jun 20, 2016 at 7:04 PM

Allen Gilbert is retiring after 12 years leading the ACLU of Vermont. - FILE: JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR
  • File: Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
  • Allen Gilbert is retiring after 12 years leading the ACLU of Vermont.
An attorney from the Arizona chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union will take charge of the Vermont chapter this summer, the organization announced Monday.

James Duff Lyall, of Tuscon, Ariz., will replace Allen Gilbert as executive director of the ACLU of Vermont on July 25. The state chapter is based in Montpelier.

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Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Sorrell Suffers Supreme Court Loss in Controversial Pollution Case

Posted By on Wed, Jun 1, 2016 at 6:35 PM

Attorney General Bill Sorrell - FILE: JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR
  • File: Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
  • Attorney General Bill Sorrell
In a unanimous opinion, the Vermont Supreme Court ruled last week that the state had missed its chance to sue a slew of oil refiners over generalized claims of groundwater contamination. 

The ruling was a significant setback for Attorney General Bill Sorrell, who two years ago accused ExxonMobil and 28 other companies of knowingly polluting state waters with the gasoline additive MTBE. A similar lawsuit filed a decade earlier in New Hampshire won that state a $236 million jury verdict from ExxonMobil and a $90 million settlement from two dozen other companies.

In the Vermont case, the oil companies argued that the state had known about the perils of MTBE since at least 2005, when the legislature banned the chemical, and therefore had exceeded a six-year statute of limitations. A trial court judge agreed and dismissed the blanket claim in January 2015. The state appealed, but in Friday’s decision the Supreme Court upheld the dismissal. 

Sorrell’s suit drew significant scrutiny last year due to the unusual manner in which it came to be filed. By the attorney general’s own admission, representatives of the Texas law firm Baron & Budd handed him an envelope filled with $10,000 worth of checks directed to his reelection campaign at a December 2013 fundraiser. They subsequently asked him to sue the oil refiners over MTBE contamination and offered their services to the state.

Within months, Sorrell’s office assented. It hired Baron & Budd and three other firms as outside counsel, guaranteeing them 25 percent of any verdict or settlement — potentially tens of millions of dollars. Another of the outside firms, the Law Office of L. Michael Messina, brokered the deal between Sorrell and Baron & Budd, according to the New York Times, and also contributed to the attorney general’s reelection campaign.

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Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Prosecutors: Burlington Police Shooting of Mentally Ill Man Was Justified

Posted By on Tue, May 10, 2016 at 1:25 PM

Chittenden County State’s Attorney T.J. Donovan speaks at a press conference announcing he will not file charges against a Burlington police officer for shooting and killing a knife-wielding man in March. - MARK DAVIS
  • Mark Davis
  • Chittenden County State’s Attorney T.J. Donovan speaks at a press conference announcing he will not file charges against a Burlington police officer for shooting and killing a knife-wielding man in March.
This post was updated at 3:15 p.m. on May 11, 2016.

A Burlington police officer’s decision to shoot a knife-wielding mentally ill man in March was legally justified, authorities said Tuesday.

Ralph “Phil” Grenon, 76, who was killed, suffered from paranoid schizophrenia and had stopped taking his medication. Police and his family questioned how treatment providers allowed him to deteriorate without being hospitalized in the months before he was killed.

Police were called to his apartment on College Street on March 2. Grenon was yelling and threatening people. After five hours of attempted negotiations, Grenon approached a team of heavily armed officers inside his apartment swinging two large knives, and was shot.

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Friday, May 6, 2016

Lawmakers Shake on $592 Million Transportation Bill

Posted By on Fri, May 6, 2016 at 11:30 AM

House and Senate negotiators go over their compromise before shaking hands on a $592 million transportation project bill. - NANCY REMSEN
  • Nancy Remsen
  • House and Senate negotiators go over their compromise before shaking hands on a $592 million transportation project bill.
House and Senate negotiators shook hands Friday morning on a $592 million transportation project bill, after overcoming their differences on bicycle safety provisions.

House negotiators won concessions from their Senate counterparts for new guidelines governing how motorists and bicyclists interact on roads. The House had proposed new rules for sharing the road following four cyclist fatalities last year, but the Senate preferred to rely on education to improve safety.

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Thursday, May 5, 2016

The Road to Adjournment Is Always Bumpy

Posted By on Thu, May 5, 2016 at 7:01 PM

Sen. Dick Sears (D-Bennington) and Sen. Peg Flory (R-Rutland) negotiate with Rep. Chip Conquest (D-Newbury), with his back to the camera, on driver’s license-suspension legislation. - NANCY REMSEN
  • Nancy Remsen
  • Sen. Dick Sears (D-Bennington) and Sen. Peg Flory (R-Rutland) negotiate with Rep. Chip Conquest (D-Newbury), with his back to the camera, on driver’s license-suspension legislation.
With dozens of bills still in play Thursday and the deadline for a Saturday adjournment looming, talks on some priority legislation turned testy, as lawmakers abandoned pleasantries and pressed their positions.

In morning talks on the transportation project bill, negotiators went back and forth over the new restrictions that the House wanted to add to improve safety for bicycle riders. “That is a huge issue for the House side,” Rep. Tim Corcoran (D-Bennington) told the senators across the table.

Senators countered that bikers and motorists need to share the road. “I’m reluctant to put all the responsibility on the motorists,” said Sen. Peg Flory (R-Rutland). 

Neither side was ready to budge at this stage in their talks.

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Monday, May 2, 2016

Sens. Patrick Leahy, Cory Booker Talk Criminal Justice Reforms

Posted By on Mon, May 2, 2016 at 6:13 PM

Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) talks with Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger as Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) looks on. - MARK DAVIS
  • Mark Davis
  • Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) talks with Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger as Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) looks on.
Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) touted their efforts to reduce incarceration and reform the criminal justice system during a forum at Burlington City Hall on Monday.

The senators led a panel featuring Gov. Peter Shumlin, Chittenden County State’s Attorney T.J. Donovan, U.S. Attorney Eric Miller, Burlington Police Chief Brandon del Pozo, Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger and others. 

Booker, a former mayor of Newark and a darling of the left, introduced a bill last year that would reexamine federal sentencing laws and reduce mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent offenders. Leahy cosponsored the bill.

“If you really look at the data of who we imprison, we are painfully moving away from our values,” Booker said. “We are a nation that treats you better if you are rich and guilty than poor and innocent. Our prison population is overwhelmingly poor ... It is overwhelmingly addicted … It is overwhelmingly mentally ill, and [it includes] victims of trauma and sexual abuse. And it is disproportionately minority.”

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Thursday, April 28, 2016

Drone Debate in House Judiciary Balances Privacy, Public Safety

Posted By on Thu, Apr 28, 2016 at 6:18 PM

Rep. Maxine Grad, chair of the House Judiciary Committee, which voted out a privacy protection bill addressing the use of drones and license-plate readers. - JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR
  • Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
  • Rep. Maxine Grad, chair of the House Judiciary Committee, which voted out a privacy protection bill addressing the use of drones and license-plate readers.
The House Judiciary Committee walked a tightrope Thursday in recommending its version of a bill to protect personal privacy.

The legislation sets guidelines for how and when the police may use drones, and it reauthorizes police use of cameras that capture photos of license plates and establishes the procedures that law enforcement agencies must follow to gain access to electronic communications.

“What is important is the balance between protecting individual privacy and enhancing public safety,” said Rep. Maxine Grad (D-Moretown), chair of the committee.

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Monday, April 25, 2016

Former Alburgh Selectman Pleads Guilty to Drug Distribution

Posted By on Mon, Apr 25, 2016 at 4:46 PM

Bernard Savage - COURTESY OF ELODIE REED/ST. ALBANS MESSENGER
  • Courtesy of Elodie Reed/St. Albans Messenger
  • Bernard Savage
A former Alburgh selectboard member pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court on Monday to drug trafficking charges and agreed to forfeit $75,000, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.

Bernard Savage pleaded guilty to conspiring to distribute powder cocaine and oxycodone between 2014 and June 2015, when his home was raided by investigators. Savage, who faces a maximum of 20 years in prison, will be sentenced at a later date.

After his July arrest, Savage told Seven Days that he had no intentions of resigning his seat on the Alburgh Selectboard, even after fellow board members pressured him to step down. He resigned in October.

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Friday, April 22, 2016

ICE Detains Local Migrant Worker and Activist at Stowe Restaurant

Posted By on Fri, Apr 22, 2016 at 3:33 PM

Victor Diaz, center, after discussing the “Milk with Dignity” campaign with a Ben & Jerry’s representative. - COURTESY OF MIGRANT JUSTICE
  • Courtesy of Migrant Justice
  • Victor Diaz, center, after discussing the “Milk with Dignity” campaign with a Ben & Jerry’s representative.
Updated at 1:00 p.m. on 4/25/2016 with information from Immigration and Customs Enforcement

Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents detained a Mexican farmworker and prominent migrant rights activist in Vermont Thursday, according to a friend who was with him at the time.

Victor Diaz was about to enter Green Goddess Cafe in Stowe for a Mexican food event when two officers in plainclothes asked for his name. After he complied, they apprehended him, said Enrique Balcazar, a fellow organizer also from Mexico.

ICE released a statement late Friday saying that 24-year-old Diaz became an “enforcement priority” after he was convicted for a DUI last November. It described him as a citizen of Mexico and noted that he “will remain in ICE custody pending removal proceedings.”

Balcazar said the agents, who showed badges, did not question him. 

Members of Migrant Justice walk towards Sen. Patrick Leahy's Burlington office. - ALICIA FREESE
  • Alicia Freese
  • Members of Migrant Justice walk towards Sen. Patrick Leahy's Burlington office.
On Friday, members of the group Migrant Justice and other supporters crowded into the foyer of Sen. Patrick Leahy’s Burlington office, demanding that he intervene on Diaz’s behalf.

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Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Vermont's Arrangement to House Inmates in Michigan Could Be at Risk

Posted By on Tue, Apr 19, 2016 at 12:42 PM

MICHAEL TONN
  • Michael Tonn
Updated at 8:46 a.m. with a statement from The GEO Group.
The Vermont Department of Corrections' contract to house overflow inmates in a private prison in Michigan could be in jeopardy.

A plan gaining momentum in the Michigan Senate would see that state's DOC close two of its oldest prisons, and send inmates to North Lake Correctional Facility in Baldwin, Mich., which is privately owned by The GEO Group. The state of Michigan would lease the entire prison and run North Lake as a state facility, according to various media reports.

Currently, 230 Vermont inmates are held in North Lake under a two-year, $30 million contract inked by the Vermont DOC and GEO last year. That contract allows either party to void it with five months notice.

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