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Friday, October 30, 2020

State Officials Defend Response to Controversial Firearms Training Center

Posted By on Fri, Oct 30, 2020 at 7:33 PM

  • Gov. Phil Scott
Vermont law enforcement officials have been monitoring a weapons training center in southwestern Vermont for at least a year, state leaders said Friday, responding to questions about a story published a day earlier revealing how neighbors of the property live in a constant state of fear.

A story posted to the online news website Thursday evening said that neighbors of a West Pawlet facility known as Slate Ridge have experienced a number of confrontational exchanges with property owner Daniel Banyai and his associates.

The neighbors, who requested anonymity out of fear of retribution, told VTDigger that they are terrified Slate Ridge's trainees may one day act on the threats they've made on social media. One quote from the report summarized their fears: “You’re gonna pick up the paper someday, and it’s going to be mass murder up on Briar Hill Road," one of the neighbors said.

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Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Two With Law Enforcement Ties Charged in Separate Incidents

Posted By on Tue, Oct 20, 2020 at 4:15 PM

  • Alain Lacroix |
Two men with law enforcement ties, including a current Burlington cop, face criminal charges in separate incidents.

Cpl. William Drinkwine of the Burlington Police Department was charged Friday with illegally entering a Swanton woman's home in July, Vermont State Police announced Tuesday morning. State police offered few details about the incident, saying more information would be available upon Drinkwine's November 2 arraignment in Franklin County.

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Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Vermont House Passes Three Racial Justice Reform Bills

Posted By on Tue, Sep 22, 2020 at 9:13 PM

  • Daniel Fishel
The Vermont House passed a trio of bills Tuesday meant to dismantle the racism built into Vermont institutions. The bills would change an array of police and corrections practices — including ones regarding the use of deadly force, body camera footage and the hiring of new police officers.

Following the votes, House Speaker Mitzi Johnson (D-South Hero) issued a statement saying the bills were needed to ensure that people of "all races, genders and identities" felt welcome in Vermont.

“In order to build a truly just and equitable society, we must be committed to breaking down structural racism,” Johnson said. “It is incumbent upon all of us to recognize it, name it, fight it, and right the centuries of wrong.”

The broadest bill, S.124, addresses changes to policing policies and training. It would require law enforcement agencies that are considering hiring an officer from another department to request their performance reviews.

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Monday, September 21, 2020

Burlington-Area Sex Trafficker Sentenced to 22 Years in Prison

Posted By on Mon, Sep 21, 2020 at 5:35 PM

  • Burlington Police Department
  • Brian Folks
A man convicted last year of using opioids to coerce women into prostitution was sentenced on Monday to more than two decades in federal prison.

A jury previously found Brian Folks, 45, guilty of 13 felonies related to sex and drug rings that federal prosecutors said he operated in the Burlington area between 2012 and 2016.

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Wednesday, September 16, 2020

State's Attorney Sarah George to End Cash Bail in Chittenden County

Posted By on Wed, Sep 16, 2020 at 4:30 AM

Chittenden County State's Attorney Sarah George - FILE: OLIVER PARINI
  • FILE: Oliver Parini
  • Chittenden County State's Attorney Sarah George
The top prosecutor in Vermont’s most populous county will no longer seek to hold on bail those awaiting trial for criminal offenses.

In a new policy she intends to release this week, Chittenden County State’s Attorney Sarah George instructs her deputies to refrain from asking the court to set bail as a condition of release.

“Imposing cash bail penalizes individuals based on their financial status rather than on their flight or public safety risk,” she writes, calling the system discriminatory and counterproductive.

Courts typically impose bail — an amount of money one must post in order to be released from custody — in order to ensure that defendants show up at trial. But according to George, the system is fundamentally unfair because it allows the wealthy to go free while others remain incarcerated.

“We’re holding poor people in jail and completely destabilizing their lives and the lives of their families to put them in a place that is always violent and dangerous and prone to create more trauma and harm,” she said in an interview. “It’s just appalling.”

George’s office will continue to request that those accused of violent crimes be held without bail when they pose a threat to public safety, she said. And because judges make the final decision about whether to impose bail, the court could continue to do so even if George and her deputies decline to request it.

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Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Police Arrest Man Who Carried AR-15 Near BTV Protests

Posted By on Tue, Sep 1, 2020 at 7:42 PM

Demonstrators passing a police car in Burlington - FILE: JAMES BUCK ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • File: James Buck ©️ Seven Days
  • Demonstrators passing a police car in Burlington
Burlington police on Monday arrested a Winooski man who stood near Black Lives Matter protesters with a rifle for three consecutive days.

Jordan Atwood, 25, is not allowed to carry firearms as part of court-imposed restrictions for an unrelated pending criminal case. He was booked for violating those terms, police said.

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Monday, August 17, 2020

30 More Vermont Prisoners Test Positive for COVID in Mississippi

Posted By on Mon, Aug 17, 2020 at 6:05 PM

CoreCivic's prison in Tutwiler, Miss., in 2018 - AP PHOTO/ROGELIO V. SOLIS
  • Ap Photo/rogelio V. Solis
  • CoreCivic's prison in Tutwiler, Miss., in 2018
One inmate has been hospitalized as the COVID-19 outbreak in the Vermont unit of a private Mississippi prison continues to expand, officials said Monday.

Thirty additional inmates have tested positive in recent days, bringing the total number of infections to at least 176 out of 219 total Vermont prisoners.

The new cases stem from a second round of mass testing on August 6.

"I cannot tell you how disappointing it is to look at a piece of paper in front of me that says 80.4 percent of the inmates that the commissioner of Corrections of Vermont — that's me — is responsible for, are positive," Department of Corrections Commissioner Jim Baker told reporters during a press conference announcing the results.

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Thursday, August 6, 2020

Vermont Corrections Chief Vows Culture Shift Following Prisoner's Death

Posted By on Thu, Aug 6, 2020 at 6:00 PM

  • Courtesy of Gilbert Johnson
  • Kenneth Johnson
Facing questions from lawmakers about a pair of crises in Vermont's Department of Corrections, interim Commissioner Jim Baker on Thursday pledged to reform what he characterized as a troubled institution.

"There's an element of thought inside Corrections that the people that come into our custody somehow don't deserve the respect and dignity that all human beings deserve," Baker told members of the Joint Legislative Justice Oversight Committee. "That culture needs to change."

The commissioner was referring specifically to the death last December of Kenneth Johnson, a Black inmate who died of a misdiagnosed and untreated tumor at a northern Vermont prison. Multiple reports have found that Corrections staff and medical contractors ignored Johnson's pleas for help in the hours before he died, and the state's chief medical examiner said the incident could constitute criminal neglect.

"This was unacceptable and avoidable," Baker said. He told committee members that he had recently learned that 45 Vermont inmates had died in state custody in the past decade and that his department had not complied with a 2006 policy requiring an administrative review after each death.

"That is the cultural [problem] that I'm talking about," he said. "I was lost for words when I found out that [there were] 45 deaths in 10 years and our policy is 14 years old. Unacceptable. Unacceptable."

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Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Coronavirus Has Infected at Least 147 Vermont Inmates in Mississippi

Posted By on Wed, Aug 5, 2020 at 7:47 PM

Interim Corrections Commissioner Jim Baker - FILE: PAUL HEINTZ ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • File: Paul Heintz ©️ Seven Days
  • Interim Corrections Commissioner Jim Baker
Another 62 Vermont inmates in a for-profit, private prison in Mississippi have tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the total there to 147.

The new results mean that roughly two-thirds of the Vermont inmates housed at the Tallahatchie County Correctional Facility have tested positive for the disease, according to the Vermont Department of Corrections.

Sixty-two of the 219 inmates there have tested negative, eight have refused to be tested, and the results of two tests are still pending.

Interim Corrections Commissioner Jim Baker said he was “very concerned” about the latest results and was sending two top staffers to Mississippi Thursday to get a closer look at the situation.

“One hundred forty-seven inmates testing positive gives me great pause,” Baker said during a press conference Wednesday afternoon.

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Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Scott Admits 'Shortcoming' in Mississippi Prison COVID-19 Outbreak

Posted By on Tue, Aug 4, 2020 at 8:06 PM

Human Services Secretary Mike Smith - SCREENSHOT
  • Screenshot
  • Human Services Secretary Mike Smith

State officials should have done more to ensure that Vermont prisoners held in a private prison in Mississippi were protected from COVID-19, Gov. Phil Scott admitted Tuesday, days after a major outbreak there came to light.

The state’s contract with for-profit prison giant CoreCivic required it to follow the same testing protocol as Vermont prisons, but the company didn't, Scott said.

“Looking back, we should have pressed harder on them to do this,” Scott said. “It was just a shortcoming on our part.”

Scott and Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Smith said CoreCivic shared the blame for not instituting more robust testing and safety procedures for the 219 prisoners housed in its facility in Tutwiler, Miss.

On July 28, six inmates who returned to Vermont from the facility tested positive for COVID-19 when they arrived by bus at the Marble Valley Regional Correctional Facility in Rutland. The DOC immediately ordered tests on all of Vermont inmates held in Mississippi. On Sunday it announced 85 inmates there had tested positive.

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