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Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Trooper Who Punched Suspect During Shaftsbury Arrest Cited for Assault

Posted By on Wed, Apr 7, 2021 at 6:14 PM

  • Dreamstime
A Vermont State Police trooper faces a misdemeanor assault charge for hitting an intoxicated man during a combative arrest in Shaftsbury.

Trooper Robert Zink, 39, is accused of "striking" a 41-year-old man who was handcuffed on the ground during a February 23 arrest, according to a Wednesday press release from the Vermont State Police. He was cited at the request of the Vermont Attorney General.

The suspect was "actively resisting" arrest, according to the release, but Zink's blows did not appear to be in response to the man's actions, the release stated.

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Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Former St. Albans Cop Charged With Assault for Sidewalk Tasing

Posted By on Tue, Apr 6, 2021 at 6:43 PM

Cpl. Mark Schwartz Tasing a subject - BODYCAM FOOTAGE
  • Bodycam Footage
  • Cpl. Mark Schwartz Tasing a subject
A former St. Albans police officer who used a Taser on a man within seconds of encountering him has been cited for assault more than two years after the incident.

Cpl. Mark Schwartz, who resigned in March 2020, used the weapon on a man who was walking away from a bar where a glass door had been smashed. Schwartz deployed the stun gun within five seconds of stepping out of his cruiser, just as the suspect was asking him, "What'd I do?"

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A Bid to Decriminalize an Opiate-Addiction Drug Gets a Boost

Posted By on Tue, Apr 6, 2021 at 5:38 PM

  • Dreamstime | Don Eggert
The Vermont House Human Services Committee has again endorsed a bill that would decriminalize possession of small amounts of the opioid-addiction drug buprenorphine. The committee unanimously approved H. 225 Tuesday afternoon, giving it a path to a vote on the House floor in coming days. It would still need approval by the Senate.

"I think we’ve done a good job on this bill," said Rep. Ann Pugh (D-Burlington) said.  "It will save lives." 

A similar bill stalled in the committee in 2019 over concerns about how much of the drug a person would be able to possess and be exempt from criminal charges. Last year, the committee set that at a two-week therapeutic supply, or no more than 224 milligrams. The bill unanimously passed out of committee just days before the legislature evacuated the Statehouse and the Gov. Phil Scott declared a state of emergency due to the pandemic.

This year, the committee took additional testimony, including from Chittenden County State’s Attorney Sarah George, who has declined to prosecute misdemeanor buprenorphine and similar drug possession cases since 2018.

She did so because this class of drugs “literally block the craving for heroin” and are an integral part of medically assisted drug treatment programs, she said. While there was some skepticism about the policy, including from law enforcement, George said in the year after it took effect, overdose deaths in the county dropped by 50 percent.

"This bill is really a modest step toward recognizing the harm that criminalizing substance use has done on individuals who use drugs,” George told lawmakers. “It tells people that we care about them, that we want them to survive.”

“When given the option in the community of possessing heroin or possessing buprenorphine, we want them to — in fact we encourage them to — possess buprenorphine,” George said.

People under age 21 found with less than 224 milligrams of “bupe” would be given a ticket and referred to a drug diversion program. First offenders who fail to complete the program would face a civil fine of $300 and 30-day license suspension. Second and subsequent offenses would lead to $600 fines and up to 90-day license suspensions. 

Before he became consumed by the COVID-19 response, Health Commissioner Mark Levine cautioned lawmakers against the decriminalization effort, arguing that it might make addicts less likely to participate in supervised treatment programs.

Supporters responded that recovery is different for different people, and not everyone has access to drug treatment that works for them.

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Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Art Broken: A Mural Defaced, Then Cleaned Up, in the Old North End

Posted By on Tue, Mar 30, 2021 at 4:28 PM

Tony Shull's mural on Nunyun's. - JAMES BUCK
  • James Buck
  • Tony Shull's mural on Nunyun's.

For about 40 years, Burlington artist Tony Shull has painted murals  — colorful and humorous pieces that light up his city's streetscape. One adorns the north side of the Nunyuns Bakery & Café building in the Old North End, at the corner of North Champlain and North streets.

Affixed to the clapboard exterior, Shull’s lively and intriguing 2017 mural — rendered in purple, blues and greens — depicts people, a spaceship, an eye in the sky, a rock n’ roll band, a dog in a wagon and a man in a fish.

Friday evening, Shull’s mural was vandalized by a person who used the same medium Shull uses to make art: paint.

In gold, a tagger wrote SP DISARM across the painting. A corner of the mural was tagged AC/DC LIVE WIRE.

Shull, who is in his mid-70s, won’t see the damage. He’s in hospice care at home, according to several friends. On Monday night, his friend Megan Humphrey spoke to Shull on the telephone. In an email to Seven Days, she wrote: “He just said he was too sick to go see it and to see how it could be fixed.”

Burlington photographer Carolyn Bates said that “tagging” isn’t the correct term to describe the graffiti on Shull’s work; she called it “malicious destruction.” It coincides with a COVID-19-era graffiti epidemic in Burlington, according to police and other city officials.

Neighbors registered disapproval on a Facebook page. “Not cool,” one woman wrote. … “Yeah we wanna disarm, but destroying someone else’s art ain’t the way to go about it.” She added: “This original base art is genius. Hope the crap comes off!”

The good news: Much of it already has. By Tuesday afternoon, Bates and Nunyuns co-owner Paul Bonelli had used a graffiti-removal spray to take off much of the gold paint — which will delight Shull's fans.

“Tony’s a guerrilla artist,” Humphrey said. “His idea of doing artwork all over Burlington was just to share his drawings. He was very laissez-faire about sharing his art, everywhere.”

“Tony, over the years, saw a blank wall and he couldn’t stand it,” Bates said. “He found the owners, got permission, and painted the wall.”

Bates is working on a book about the 150 murals in Burlington. The project led her to work on another volume dedicated to Shull’s art. She estimates that Shull painted about 15 of the city’s murals. He also painted on canvas; some 50 Shull works are at Four Corners of the Earth sandwich shop on Pine Street, according to Bates.

“He’s got such an incredible, unique sense of humor,” she said. “He creates his own world. He loves having heads tipped over and people coming out of them.”

Humphrey recalled befriending Shull almost 40 years ago when they were neighbors. One day she walked into her yard to see a sculpture of a spacecraft that Shull had made from recycled material. The piece included a Martian holding a sign that read, “Hello, Earth girl, I think you’re beautiful.” She thought it was funny, and they became friends.

If you're interested in Shull's work, an exhibit opens on April 18 at Sequoia Salon in Burlington. Phone ahead at 540-8333 to reserve a time for viewing.

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Friday, March 19, 2021

AG Donovan Refiles Third Major Case That Sarah George Dismissed

Posted By on Fri, Mar 19, 2021 at 6:32 PM

Attorney General T.J. Donovan - FILE: TAYLOR DOBBS ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • File: Taylor Dobbs ©️ Seven Days
  • Attorney General T.J. Donovan
Updated at 7:31 p.m.

Attorney General T.J. Donovan is pursuing murder charges against a mentally ill transient who is accused of fatally stabbing a man in downtown Burlington in 2017.

In refiling the first-degree murder charge against Louis Fortier, Donovan has now overridden Chittenden County State's Attorney Sarah George in all three of the high-profile cases she dropped in 2019 on the grounds that the state could not prove the defendants were criminally responsible for their violent acts.

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Thursday, March 18, 2021

Leahy Reintroduces Bill to Clean Up EB-5 Foreign Investor Program

Posted By on Thu, Mar 18, 2021 at 7:31 PM

In 2016, then-Department of Financial Regulation commissioner Susan Donegan pointing to a chart detailing suspected EB-5 fraud - FILE: JEB WALLACE-BROEDER
  • In 2016, then-Department of Financial Regulation commissioner Susan Donegan pointing to a chart detailing suspected EB-5 fraud

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) is co-sponsoring a new bill to clean up the scandal-plagued federal program that resulted in what officials have called the largest financial fraud in Vermont history.

Leahy, a senior member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, is again teaming up with fellow committee member Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) to introduce a suite of reforms to the EB-5 investor program.

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Friday, March 12, 2021

Vermont Supreme Court Upholds Murder Convictions in 2016 Crash That Killed Teens

Posted By on Fri, Mar 12, 2021 at 1:42 PM

  • File Pool: Glenn Russell/Burlington Free Press
  • Steven Bourgoin
The Vermont Supreme Court on Friday upheld five murder convictions against Steven Bourgoin, who killed five teenagers during a wrong-way crash in 2016.

The justices' ruling rejected Bourgoin's appeal following a trial held in May 2019, when a jury found him guilty of five counts of second-degree murder, one count of gross negligence and operating a vehicle without its owners' consent. The court sentenced Bourgoin to 30 years to life in prison.

Bourgoin had claimed he was insane at the time of the crash. In his appeal, Bourgoin contended that the prosecution, led by Chittenden County State's Attorney Sarah George, had failed to prove that he intended to kill the teens. He also took issue with the court's handling of certain testimony and the instructions given to the jury.

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Tuesday, March 2, 2021

COVID-19 Is Racing Through Vermont's Largest Prison

Posted By on Tue, Mar 2, 2021 at 11:58 PM

An administrative building at the Northern State Correctional Facility - VERMONT DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS
  • An administrative building at the Northern State Correctional Facility
COVID-19 has spread throughout Northern State Correctional Facility in Newport, Vermont’s largest prison. Tests have revealed 108 new cases there, the Department of Corrections reported Tuesday night.

Those cases involve 100 inmates or detainees and eight guards. The prison has been in lockdown since late February as the DOC struggles to contain its worst outbreak to date. The new cases mean that more than a third of  its inmates have tested positive.

“This is the largest outbreak at a Vermont correctional facility since the start of the pandemic, and it’s all hands on deck for our response,” Corrections Commissioner Jim Baker said in a statement. The prison “is now being treated like a hospital,” with a number of organizations trying to help contain the outbreak, Baker said.

Regional hospitals, emergency operations officials and Department of Health teams are all being called upon to assist the prison’s health care contractor, Baker said. Related contact tracing is under way. The entire facility will be tested again March 4.

Amid an increase in new COVID-19 cases in the state in late January, employees at four of Vermont's six prisons tested positive.

Tests turned up one staff case each at Northern State Correctional Facility, Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility in South Burlington, Northwest State Correctional Facility in St. Albans and Southern State Correctional Facility in Springfield.

But on February 23, testing at Northern State showed COVID had spread to 21 inmates. 

Families and friends of inmates and detainees can ask the department related questions by following this link.

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Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Shooter Previously Deemed Insane Pleads Guilty to Federal Charge

Posted By on Tue, Feb 9, 2021 at 4:21 PM

  • Rob Donnelly
A mentally ill woman who shot a gun instructor in 2015 pleaded guilty to federal gun charges on Tuesday, the first step in a complex plea deal that would see Veronica Lewis serve 10 years in prison for attempted murder.

The guilty plea comes in conjunction with Vermont Attorney General T.J. Donovan's decision to refile state charges against Lewis last month. She is accused of stealing instructor Darryl Montague's .22-caliber revolver during a lesson at his Westford gun range and shooting him multiple times.

Lewis' prosecution became a political lightning rod in 2019, when Chittenden County State's Attorney Sarah George decided to drop the case against Lewis and defendants in two murder cases. In doing so, the reform-minded George cited determinations by state and defense experts that Lewis, 36, was insane at the time of the shooting and needed ongoing treatment.

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Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Vermont Law School Receives $3 Million Grant for Restorative Justice Program

Posted By on Tue, Feb 2, 2021 at 6:29 PM

Vermont Law School - FILE: BEN DEFLORIO
  • FIle: Ben Deflorio
  • Vermont Law School

Vermont Law School will receive a $3 million federal grant for its National Center on Restorative Justice, an initiative focused on providing training and advocating for criminal justice reform, Sen. Patrick Leahy's (D-Vt.) office announced Tuesday.

The center, a collaboration with the University of Vermont, the University of San Diego and the U.S. Department of Justice, is intended to become a hub for research and training in restorative justice practices, which emphasize direct reconciliation with victims and repairing the relationships between offenders and their communities.

Last spring, the center launched with a $3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Justice. Leahy, who is now chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, has championed the project and played a key role in securing both rounds of funding.

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