Sheriff Unwittingly Hired St. Albans Officer Involved in Brutality Incident | Off Message

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Thursday, August 8, 2019

Sheriff Unwittingly Hired St. Albans Officer Involved in Brutality Incident

Posted By on Thu, Aug 8, 2019 at 5:36 PM

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The St. Albans Police Department did not disclose that former officer Michael Ferguson was under internal investigation for his role in a police brutality incident to the Franklin County Sheriff's Office, which subsequently hired him last month.

Ferguson was one of two junior officers who helped subdue an intoxicated woman in the police station in March, seconds after Sgt. Jason Lawton punched the handcuffed woman in the face.

Lawton was fired, but only after the American Civil Liberties Union of Vermont asked for video of the incident months later, Seven Days reported this week. Chief Gary Taylor said he opened an investigation into whether the other officers seen in the video were culpable in the abuse.

Ferguson, who'd been on the force for just three months, resigned June 4, one day after the chief said he opened an investigation, Taylor said.
Shortly after resigning, Ferguson approached the Franklin County Sheriff's Office looking for work, Lt. John Grismore said Thursday. The sheriff's office contacted St. Albans as part of a background check, but Ferguson's former employer did not mention the Connelly incident or that he'd resigned while under investigation, Grismore said.

The sheriff's office hired Ferguson on July 29 as a full-time deputy assigned to courtroom security. The office only learned of his involvement in the March event on Wednesday, when Seven Days published a story about his resignation.
Grismore said St. Albans police should have disclosed that information to the sheriff's office, as he believes is required under state law.

"When we made the request for details on it, this was never shared. I'm not sure why. This, to me, would have been the primary conversation, I would think," he said.

The fact that St. Albans police didn't mention the incident, Grismore said, leads him to think Ferguson's departure may not have been related to Connelly. Ferguson "shared to us that there's a lot more to the story as to why he left," Grismore said.

In a news release late Thursday, the St. Albans Police Department said it turned over all legally required information to the sheriff's office, which included "other documented issues surrounding Ferguson's performance that were more serious than his failure to report misconduct regarding the Connelly incident."

The sheriff's office placed Ferguson on administrative leave Thursday, pending the ongoing probe into the St. Albans officers' conduct by Vermont State Police. But Grismore said his initial impression is that Ferguson's involvement in the incident was "minimal, at best."

"Based on my review of the video, he wasn’t in the room when the punch was thrown," Grismore said.

Taylor, the St. Albans chief, told Seven Days that the junior officers should have intervened if possible, or notified other department supervisors of what they'd witnessed.

Thursday's news release stated that the St. Albans internal review was complete and that both Ferguson and a third officer, Zachary Koch, had "minimal" involvement in what happened.

Koch had remained employed pending that review, and his chief had described him as the "least culpable" of the three. Police have not said whether Koch will be disciplined.

Lawton joined the St. Albans force despite a high-profile incident in Shelburne in which he testified falsely that a motorist ran a red light.

Grismore said the sheriff's office was "disturbed" by Lawton's conduct towards Connelly.

"It’s a black eye on our profession," he said.

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About The Author

Derek Brouwer

Derek Brouwer

Derek Brouwer is a news reporter at Seven Days, focusing on law enforcement and courts. He previously worked at the Missoula Independent, a Montana alt-weekly.

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