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Tuesday, May 12, 2020

As Controversies Mount, St. Albans Police Chief Gary Taylor to Retire

Posted By on Tue, May 12, 2020 at 5:29 PM

St. Albans Police Chief Gary Taylor - FILE: DEREK BROUWER
  • File: Derek Brouwer
  • St. Albans Police Chief Gary Taylor
Longtime St. Albans Police Chief Gary Taylor plans to retire following a series of misconduct allegations involving his officers and a recent no-confidence vote by the officers' union.

Taylor, who is also the chief of the city fire department, will retire from both positions on December 31. The transition plan calls for division commanders to begin assuming some leadership duties in the months ahead, city manager Dominic Cloud told Seven Days on Tuesday. If the city is able to hire a new chief before the end of the year, Taylor will assume other duties until his retirement date.

"This was very much a voluntary transition on the chief's part," Cloud said. "I think in his gut, he began to see it was time to bring in new leadership."

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Friday, April 24, 2020

Prison Outbreak Leads to Skate Shop Owner's Release

Posted By on Fri, Apr 24, 2020 at 3:21 PM

Ridin' High skate shop - MATTHEW ROY
  • Matthew Roy
  • Ridin' High skate shop
"Big John" is free.

Ridin' High owner John Van Hazinga, jailed for dealing pot from his Burlington skate shop, was released this week over concerns about the coronavirus outbreak at the prison where he was confined.

Van Hazinga was awaiting sentencing on a federal drug charge at Northwest State Correctional Facility in St. Albans when signs of outbreak emerged on April 1. He asked a federal judge to release him pending sentencing the following day.

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Thursday, April 23, 2020

After Officer's Arrest, St. Albans to Examine Police Hiring, Training

Posted By on Thu, Apr 23, 2020 at 6:32 PM

St. Albans Police Chief Gary Taylor - FILE: DEREK BROUWER
  • File: Derek Brouwer
  • St. Albans Police Chief Gary Taylor
City officials in St. Albans will review its beleaguered police department's hiring practices in light of the arrest this week of an officer.

In a lengthy statement released Thursday, Mayor Tim Smith continued to defend the department and longtime Chief Gary Taylor, who he said has "transformed" the force in recent years. Smith also detailed the existing "recruitment gauntlet" that would-be cops must pass. But the weekend arrest of officer Zachary Pigeon for sexual assault, kidnapping and other charges suggested that further changes are needed, Smith wrote.

"The Pigeon allegations indicate that we also need to increase the effectiveness of our recruitment and selection programs and ensure we are providing the training that reflects our values," the statement said. 

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Tuesday, April 21, 2020

'Dark Cloud' Over St. Albans PD After Officer Charged With Rape

Posted By on Tue, Apr 21, 2020 at 6:13 PM

  • Vermont State Police
  • Zachary Pigeon
A police officer with the scandal-ridden St. Albans Police Department is accused of repeatedly raping a family member when they were children, then assaulting her this month as the victim began speaking up about the abuse.

Zachary Pigeon, 29, and his 56-year-old father Allen Pigeon were arrested Sunday and pleaded not guilty in state court Monday to charges of kidnapping, unlawful restraint, obstruction of justice, burglary and simple assault. Zachary Pigeon will be arraigned again Wednesday on charges of sexual assault and aggravated sexual assault, prosecutors said.

 A Vermont Superior Court judge released both men on Monday pending trial. They each face up to life in prison.

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Friday, March 27, 2020

Advocates Fear Surge of Domestic Violence Cases in Vermont

Posted By on Fri, Mar 27, 2020 at 3:41 PM

  • © Tinnakorn Jorruang |
Mass layoffs and home confinement orders prompted by the coronavirus outbreak could create a toxic brew for domestic violence, according to those who work to prevent it.

"We're really worried about people stuck in these households with their abusers and no other outlet," said Karen Tronsgard-Scott, executive director of the Vermont Network Against Domestic and Sexual Violence.

Prior to the pandemic, according to Steps to End Domestic Violence interim executive director Ana Burke, "If an abuser was off at work, it would give someone several hours of reprieve to do some safety planning — possibly to leave. But now that everyone's at home, some people may be in situations where their abuser is home all day, all night."

Burke's Burlington-based organization and 14 others that serve survivors throughout the state remain open. But each has had to adapt to public health regulations to ensure that staff and clients practice appropriate social distancing. In some cases that has involved moving residents of the shelters they run to hotels and motels, according to Sarah Robinson of the Vermont Network.

Serving those who are stuck inside with their abuser "has proven to be very complicated," according to Nadia Lucchin, executive director of the Bennington-based Project Against Violent Encounters. "We are increasing our outreach efforts via social media and checking in much more frequently with survivors in emergency shelter," she said.

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Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Vermont Senate Votes to Restrict Sentences of Life Without Parole

Posted By on Wed, Mar 11, 2020 at 3:52 PM

Sen. Dick Sears - COLIN FLANDERS
  • Colin Flanders
  • Sen. Dick Sears
The Vermont Senate on Wednesday gave preliminary approval to a bill that would prohibit life-without-parole sentences for most murder cases. The vote was 21 to 9.

Sen. Dick Sears (D-Bennington), the bill’s sponsor, said the idea is part of a nationwide movement toward a criminal justice system that recognizes the "risk of the individual rather than the offense."

"As horrible as murder is, and certainly consequences should be severe, there are certain folks that do commit murders who may not be [as much of] a risk to reoffend as other people who commit other heinous crimes," Sears said.

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Thursday, February 20, 2020

Winooski Cop Denies a Slew of Domestic Violence Charges

Posted By on Thu, Feb 20, 2020 at 9:09 PM

Winooski detective Christopher Matott, right, and attorney Robert Katims, left, in Grand Isle County Courthouse on Feb. 20 - DEREK BROUWER
  • Derek Brouwer
  • Winooski detective Christopher Matott, right, and attorney Robert Katims, left, in Grand Isle County Courthouse on Feb. 20
Updated on February 21, 2020.

A Winooski police officer pleaded not guilty Thursday to charges that he strangled, assaulted and repeatedly threatened his girlfriend.

Christopher Matott, 31, faces seven charges, including two felonies for aggravated domestic assault and unlawful restraint. Other charges include three counts of domestic assault and two counts of criminal threatening.

Matott did not speak during his brief arraignment in Vermont Superior Court in North Hero. Attorney Robert Katims entered pleas on his behalf and told Judge Samuel Hoar that his client had entered counseling.

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Friday, February 14, 2020

Man Who Lit City Hall Fire Committed Despite Mental Health Department's Objection

Posted By on Fri, Feb 14, 2020 at 6:19 PM

Almost everyone in a Chittenden County courtroom on Thursday agreed that Dennis Phillips belonged in a psychiatric hospital.

On Monday, after twice going to the University of Vermont Medical Center for treatment and being discharged, the 62-year-old homeless man headed to Burlington City Hall. Inside, he lit newspapers on fire and broke historic windows with a hammer. He asked police who arrested him to take him to a hospital.
He wound up jailed on arson and felony criminal mischief charges. There, his behavior seemed to worsen, Chittenden County Sheriff's Department employees would later report. He smeared feces around his cell and, when sheriff's deputies attempted to take him to court, made animal-like sounds.

Those details were enough to convince prosecutors and his public defender, Sara Puls, that Phillips needed inpatient psychiatric care.

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Monday, February 10, 2020

Homeless Man Lights Fire in Burlington City Hall, Demands Hospital Treatment

Posted By on Mon, Feb 10, 2020 at 6:36 PM

Burlington City Hall
  • Burlington City Hall
A homeless man with documented mental illness walked into Burlington City Hall on Monday, lit a newspaper on fire and damaged windows with a hammer, police said.

It happened Monday morning, shortly after Dennis Phillips, 62, was released from the crisis center at the University of Vermont Medical Center, according to an affidavit filed in criminal court. He'd visited the emergency department twice since the previous evening and was released both times.

Around 9:45 a.m. Phillips allegedly called 911 from inside the building and threatened to burn it down. He told the police dispatcher that he was lighting a fire because "the fucking hospital lets me go every time to [sic] go up there they won't help me," the affidavit said.

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Thursday, January 23, 2020

Legislators to Fast-Track Vermont Prison Release Reforms

Posted By on Thu, Jan 23, 2020 at 1:07 AM

Cassondra Warney, David D'Amora and Ellen Whelan-Wuest of the Council of State Governments at the Statehouse on Wednesday - PAUL HEINTZ
  • Paul Heintz
  • Cassondra Warney, David D'Amora and Ellen Whelan-Wuest of the Council of State Governments at the Statehouse on Wednesday
Updated at 12:44 p.m.

The Vermont Senate is poised to pursue an ambitious overhaul of the state's system for returning prisoners to the community.

Senate Judiciary Committee chair Dick Sears (D-Bennington) said Wednesday that he'll seek to enact a series of reforms recommended earlier that day by a national research group charged with studying incarceration in Vermont. The proposals include replacing the state's complicated furlough system with one that would automatically release many nonviolent offenders upon serving their minimum sentence.

Such an overhaul could cut the state's prison population by up to 135 people and save as much as $14 million over five years, according to the Council of State Governments' Justice Center, which issued the recommendations.

"They're gonna be tough to implement, but my committee is ready to get going," Sears said. "We'll try to implement as much as we can."

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