Law Enforcement

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Jurors Go Home Without Returning Verdict in Bosnian Refugee Trial

Posted By on Thu, Jan 22, 2015 at 4:05 PM

Updated at 9 p.m. 1/22/15.

The case against a Burlington man charged with concealing violent crimes he allegedly committed during the Bosnian War was littered with false accusations and contradictory testimony, his attorney said in closing arguments today
  • Courtesy of Beth Tailer
  • Edin Sakoc
Jurors began deliberating the fate of Edin Sakoc at 2:15 p.m. after hearing from attorneys for the final time in the two-week trial.  After nearly six hours of deliberations, jurors went home shortly before 8 p.m. without reaching a verdict. They were scheduled to return in the morning.

Sakoc, 55, faces several years in prison and possible deportation if convicted of lying to immigration officials about his conduct during the Balkans conflict. 

Sakoc is accused of kidnapping and raping one woman and assisting a soldier who murdered two other women in 1992. He is a Muslim, and the women he is accused of targeting are ethnic Serbs. The two groups clashed violently during the early 1990s war.

Sakoc won refugee status in 2001, settled in Vermont, and eventually obtained citizenship. 

During a nearly 90-minute closing statement, defense attorney Steven Barth said that Sakoc had not lied to immigration officers because nothing he did in Bosnia qualified as a crime that he was required to disclose. Barth told jurors that Sakoc never committed a rape, and was acting on orders when assisting a fellow soldier who murdered two women. 

"In order to lie you have to know and believe that what you are saying is not true," Barth told a U.S. District Court jury in Burlington. "The government simply cannot prove its case because their narrative of what happened is based on testimony that is so full of inconsistencies, changing statements and outright fabrications made by [people] with ingrained prejudices."

But prosecutors said witnesses had supplied "overwhelming" evidence that Sakoc engaged in heinous crimes that he knowingly concealed. 

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Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Jury to Get Case Against Bosnian Refugee Thursday

Posted By on Wed, Jan 21, 2015 at 2:33 PM

  • Aaron Shrewsbury
  • Edin Sakoc
On the eve of closing arguments, federal prosecutors this afternoon dropped one of two charges against a Burlington man on trial for allegedly concealing violent acts he committed during the Bosnian War to gain U.S. citizenship.

The decision came after U.S. District Court Judge William Sessions III persistently questioned whether prosecutors had supplied enough evidence to support their two charges, which were very similar, against Edin Sakoc, who obtained refugee status in 2001 and settled in Vermont. The judge said the charges seemed to be for the same alleged conduct and were repetitive. Authorities say Sakoc, a 55-year-old father, participated in two murders and raped a woman during the 1990s conflict, and hid those acts from immigration officials.

Jay Bauer, a prosecutor from the Justice Department's Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section, tried to fend off Sessions’ criticisms.

The first charge against Sakoc, Bauer said, was for checking “no” to questions on immigration forms that asked whether he had committed crimes or other acts of “moral turpitude,” in Bosnia. The second charge, Bauer said, was for proceeding with his quest for citizenship knowing his application was falsified.

Bauer previously characterized the differences between the charges as a “subtle, but simple,” distinction.

But Sessions called Bauer’s argument “extraordinarily confusing.” The judge said that bringing two similar charges to a jury might prompt an appeals court to overturn a verdict and grant Sakoc a new trial.

“You’re basically saying they’re identical crimes,” Sessions said. “In light of the facts in this case, it’s a significant concern that the defendant is being prejudiced by the multiplicity of charges.”

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Friday, January 16, 2015

'Burn, Burn': Balkans Killings Described in Court

Posted By on Fri, Jan 16, 2015 at 1:35 PM

U.S. District Court in Burlington - MARK DAVIS
  • Mark Davis
  • U.S. District Court in Burlington
Prosecutors this morning began their final day of presenting evidence against a Burlington man charged with concealing his involvement in a rape and two murders in Bosnia when he applied for U.S. citizenship.

Prosecutors played video testimony from another Bosnian who claims to have witnessed a kidnapping and two murders in 1992, when brutal ethnic fighting roiled Bosnia. Authorities say that Edin Sakoc, who settled in Vermont more than a decade ago, and a fellow soldier identified only as "Boban" stormed a home where a family was sheltering three Serbian women.

The men kidnapped a woman whom Sakoc later raped, prosecutors allege, and then Boban fatally shot the other two women.

Nilokina Ljubic, who lived with her parents in the home, recalled that Boban was more aggressive, while Sakoc consoled her.

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Thursday, January 15, 2015

Victim of Alleged Rape in Bosnia Testifies in Burlington Man's Trial

Posted By on Thu, Jan 15, 2015 at 2:00 PM

U.S. District Court in Burlington. - MARK DAVIS
  • Mark Davis
  • U.S. District Court in Burlington.
Updated at 5:53 p.m. with additional testimony.

A Bosnian Serb woman testified via a pre-taped video in federal court today, saying that she was raped in 1992 by a masked man during an ethnic conflict. 

Prosecutors allege that man is Edin Sakoc, a Burlington resident who is on trial this week on charges he lied about his actions in wartime Bosnia when he applied for American citizenship.

The woman, 49 years old at the time she says she was assaulted, was one of a few ethnic Serbs who remained in her tiny village of Pocitelj as brutal fighting broke out across Bosnia. Other Serbs, fearing violence from ethnic Croats and Muslims, had fled, but the woman's mother didn't want to leave.

In July 1992, she said, two armed men stormed the house where they were staying. They took the woman, saying they would interrogate her and bring her back. Instead, they took her to a prison camp.

One of the men raped her twice, once inside a home where they stopped, and again in the backseat.

"He cursed my mother, pushed me down, and raped me," the woman testified. "Did whatever he wanted, and that's it."

After the first assault, she said, the man kicked her, leaving a scar below her right knee that she showed to the attorneys.

As a general practice, Seven Days does not identify the victims of alleged sexual assaults.

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Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Trial Continues for Burlington Refugee from Bosnia

Posted By on Wed, Jan 14, 2015 at 2:34 PM

U.S. District Court in Burlington. - MARK DAVIS
  • Mark Davis
  • U.S. District Court in Burlington.
Updated at 5:53 p.m. to reflect additional testimony. 

Jurors heard more testimony Wednesday that a Bosnian refugee who settled in Burlington stood idly by while his comrade murdered two elderly women during the early 1990s Balkans war.

Edin Sakoc, on trial for allegedly concealing his involvement in a rape and two murders in Bosnia in his application for U.S. citizenship, stood quietly by while a friend gunned down two elderly women, Nadia Djuraskovic said in testimony shown to jurors in U.S. District Court this morning. Like all Bosnian witnesses in the trial, Djuraskovic testified last year in her home country, when American attorneys in the case flew over to conduct examinations and cross-examinations. 

In the summer of 1992, Djuraskovic and her family were sheltering three Serbian women. Prosecutors allege that Sakoc raped one of the women after he removed her from the Djuraskovic home.

Then Sakoc and another soldier identified by authorities only as “Boban” returned to the home, according to court documents filed by prosecutors. [Sakoc and Boban were part of ethnic groups that were warring with the Serbs.]

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Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Burlington Refugee Accused of Bosnian War Crimes Goes on Trial

Posted By on Tue, Jan 13, 2015 at 3:07 PM

Federal court in Burlington - MARK DAVIS
  • Mark Davis
  • Federal court in Burlington
Updated, 8 p.m., 1/14/15, with testimony from witnesses.

A trial opened in federal court in Burlington this morning in the case of a local refugee from Bosnia who is accused of concealing his involvement in a rape and two murders during ethnic cleansing in the Balkans in the early 1990s.

Edin Sakoc faces deportation if convicted. He is charged with two counts of lying to obtain refugee status and full citizenship.

Sakoc, who arrived in Vermont in 2001, was part of a wave of more than 1,000 Bosnian refugees who settled in the state, mostly in the Burlington area.

Prosecutors allege that he hid a dark past from federal immigration officials in order to obtain his green card and eventual citizenship. While serving as a soldier, prosecutors charge in an indictment, Sakoc abducted, assaulted and raped a young woman before dropping her in a prison camp, and then helped his friend murder two of the woman's relatives.

"Citizenship is a special privilege. People from all over the world come to the United States seeking that special privilege," Jay Bauer, a prosecutor from the Justice Department's Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section, told the jury. "The defendant piled lies upon lies upon lies to get that ultimate privilege."

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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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