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Thursday, April 15, 2021

Soldier With Lengthy Criminal History Is No Longer in Vermont National Guard

Posted By on Thu, Apr 15, 2021 at 11:11 PM

  • Vermont State Police
  • Daniel Blodgett
Daniel Blodgett, the Vermont National Guard member who served despite a history of criminal offenses going back more than a decade, is no longer with the Guard, its commander told a legislative committee on Thursday. Adj. Gen. Greg Knight also briefly outlined strategies he said the organization is pursuing to better track criminal allegations involving its members.

On March 24, Seven Days reported that Blodgett had maintained his Guard status despite a criminal history that included eight misdemeanor convictions. He's currently facing multiple counts of sexual assault, including of two women who served in the Guard. The military org has wrestled for years with allegations that it has tolerated sexual harassment in its ranks.

Knight spoke before the House General, Housing and Military Affairs Committee on Thursday. first reported his remarks.
"Daniel Blodgett, who was accused of sexual assault in February, is no longer a member of the Vermont National Guard," Knight told committee members.

He did not elaborate. Knight previously said the allegations against Blodgett were "repulsive," telling attendees at a town hall meeting: “Anybody who chooses to behave in such a way, they don’t deserve to be in uniform.”

Knight on Thursday told lawmakers that he is working to set up more rigorous systems for checking his members' backgrounds, including running more background checks. Members don't always report their arrests to military authorities, Knight said, a problem seen around the country.
Knight says he's working to address what he called "a gap in the information flow between civil law enforcement and the Guard." He said he has communicated with Vermont Public Safety Commissioner Michael Schirling, who has approached law enforcement leaders in the state about asking people, when they are charged with a crime, whether they are Guard members.

"That, in turn, should prompt communication to our provost marshal team and then allow us to ... expeditiously address adjudication on the military side," Knight told lawmakers.

Knight has previously acknowledged that the Guard has been "deficient" in training its leaders to punish lawbreakers. He said he would better educate them how to secure punishments, including discharges.

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Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Vermont State Trooper, Former Police Officer Deny Assault Charges

Posted By on Tue, Apr 13, 2021 at 9:30 PM

Mark Schwartz using his Taser during the incident that led to his arrest - BODY CAM FOOTAGE
  • Body cam Footage
  • Mark Schwartz using his Taser during the incident that led to his arrest
Two law enforcement officers pleaded not guilty this week to misdemeanor assault charges related to on-duty conduct.

Vermont State Police Trooper Robert Zink is accused of punching a handcuffed man in the head during a February arrest in Shaftsbury. Former St. Albans Police Department corporal Mark Schwartz was charged more than two years after he shocked a man with his Taser seconds after arriving on scene. Seven Days published police body camera footage of the incident more than a year ago.

Both citations were issued last week at the request of the Vermont Attorney General’s Office, according to state police, which investigated the cases.

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Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Burlington Police Higher-Ups Withdraw Petition to Unionize

Posted By on Wed, Mar 31, 2021 at 7:31 PM

  • Alain Lacroix | Dreamstime
Burlington police sergeants and lieutenants are no longer seeking to form a collective bargaining unit.

The New England Police Benevolent Association had filed a petition to unionize on behalf of the department's 15 sergeants and lieutenants on March 3. The petitioners and the city were scheduled to appear before the Vermont Labor Relations Board at 9 a.m. on Thursday.

On Wednesday, however, the officers' attorney asked the labor board to cancel the hearing and withdraw the petition, effectively closing the case — for now, anyway.

"They retain the ability to file another petition and litigate the issues in the future, if they choose to go that route," assistant city attorney Justin St. James wrote in an email to Seven Days.

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Thursday, March 25, 2021

At Town Hall, Knight Addresses 'Repulsive' Allegations Against Guard Soldier

Posted By on Thu, Mar 25, 2021 at 11:05 PM

  • Adj. Gen. Greg Knight

Vermont's top military official and the governor on Thursday condemned the alleged conduct of a Vermont National Guard solider who is accused of multiple counts of sexual and physical assault.

Seven Days detailed Daniel Blodgett's long criminal history and recent felony charges in an investigation published this week.

At a virtual town hall event, Adj. Gen. Greg Knight addressed the allegations in his initial prepared remarks and in response to questions submitted by the public, several of which asked about Blodgett by name.

“The actions described have no place in the Vermont National Guard or in our military,” Knight said. “Anybody who chooses to behave in such a way, they don’t deserve to be in uniform.”

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Burlington Police Sergeants, Lieutenants File Petition to Unionize

Posted By on Thu, Mar 25, 2021 at 2:42 PM

Protesters last summer in Burlington - FILE: JAMES BUCK ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • File: James Buck ©️ Seven Days
  • Protesters last summer in Burlington
The City of Burlington is opposing an effort by police higher-ups to form a union.

If given the go-ahead by the Vermont Labor Relations Board, the department's 15 sergeants and lieutenants will be able to hold an election to form a collective bargaining unit. These officers are not members of the city's existing police union, the Burlington Police Officers' Association.

A successful union drive would mean that only the Burlington police chief and two deputy chiefs would not be protected by a union.

The New England Police Benevolent Association filed a petition on behalf of the Burlington sergeants and lieutenants on March 3. The city responded on March 15, asserting that the arrangement would be “problematic” as lieutenants serve as sergeants' direct supervisors. Further, the city wrote, the state labor board  ordered sergeants and lieutenants removed from the existing police union in 2001 “because they are supervisory employees.”

“The City does not believe that any circumstances exist to change that prior determination,” assistant city attorney Justin St. James wrote in the two-page filing.

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Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Vermont Officials Blast Proposal for Border Surveillance Towers

Posted By on Wed, Mar 17, 2021 at 7:18 PM

  • Kym Balthazar
Vermont's congressional delegation on Wednesday became the latest officials to express concerns about a U.S. Customs and Border Protection proposal to construct surveillance towers along the state's border with Canada, with many calling the plans an unwarranted threat to personal privacy.

The federal agency has proposed up to eight new camera sites in Vermont, with 120-foot surveillance towers floated at five potential locations in Derby, Franklin, Richford, Highgate and Troy. Other cameras could be placed on existing buildings in Derby Line and Highgate, according to a plan unveiled last month; two other towers are proposed for New York.

Border patrol already uses cameras in locations along Vermont's border with Canada. But the towers would be the first of their kind in the state, marking a significant escalation in the agency's surveillance program here. More than two dozen other towers are already in use across various northern border points to the west.

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Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Vermont U.S. Attorney Christina Nolan to Resign

Posted By on Tue, Feb 9, 2021 at 3:39 PM

Christina Nolan, U.S. Attorney for the District of Vermont - SCREENSHOT
  • Screenshot
  • Christina Nolan, U.S. Attorney for the District of Vermont
U.S. Attorney Christina Nolan will resign from her position in Vermont by the end of the month as part of the transition to the administration of President Joe Biden.

“It has been the honor and privilege of a lifetime to serve in the role of U.S. Attorney for Vermont, to serve the state I love, the office I love, and the mission I love — seeking justice,” Nolan said in a statement Tuesday.

Nolan was confirmed by the U.S. Senate and sworn in as Vermont’s top federal prosecutor in November 2017, becoming the first woman to hold the job. The Vermont native grabbed headlines with several high-profile cases during her three-plus years in the post.

In 2019, her office brought financial fraud charges against Ariel Quiros and Bill Stenger for their roles in the Northeast Kingdom EB-5 scandal. Quiros has since pleaded guilty. And in October, Nolan was part of the team that secured a record $8.3 billion settlement with Purdue Pharma for its part in a scheme to push its highly addictive opioid pills on patients.
Though Nolan had been recommended for the post by Republican Gov. Phil Scott and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), she’d ultimately been nominated by former president Donald Trump. Her resignation announcement on Tuesday came shortly after acting U.S. Attorney General Monty Wilkinson said he’d begin to clean house of Trump-appointed prosecutors.

“Until U.S. Attorney nominees are confirmed, the interim and acting leaders in the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices will make sure that the department continues to accomplish its critical law enforcement mission, vigorously defend the rule of law and pursue the fair and impartial administration of justice for all,” Wilkinson said in a statement announcing the transitions.

It’s unclear how long the nomination process would take and who would take over in Vermont. Eric Miller resigned as Vermont’s U.S. attorney in February 2017. An acting top prosecutor led the office until Nolan’s confirmation that November.

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Burlington Councilors Vote Against Raising Police Officer Staffing Cap

Posted By on Tue, Feb 9, 2021 at 2:27 AM

Burlington protesters over the summer - FILE: JAMES BUCK
  • File: James Buck
  • Burlington protesters over the summer
The Burlington City Council will not increase the police department's staffing cap despite warnings from Mayor Miro Weinberger that such a move will jeopardize public safety.

Weinberger had asked councilors to increase the maximum roster count from 74 to 84 officers — a reversal of a council decision last June to shrink the size of the force. As soon as the mayor's proposal was introduced at a council meeting on Monday night, Councilor Zoraya Hightower (P-Ward 1) proposed an amendment to strike any reference to increasing the department cap.

After hours of debate, a slim 7-5 council majority approved Hightower's amendment. All six Progressives voted in favor, while Councilor Ali Dieng (I-Ward 7), a candidate for mayor, cast the decisive seventh vote.

The final resolution, however, passed with an 11-1 vote because it included other public safety reinforcements that had bipartisan support. Councilor Franklin Paulino (D-North District) voted against the measure.

"A yes vote for this amendment is a vote to go over the edge into that crisis, to accept it, and to welcome it," Weinberger said. "This is a vote that will be remembered by Burlingtonians for a long time."

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Thursday, January 21, 2021

Lawmakers May Roll Back Program That Credits Inmates for 'Good Time'

Posted By on Thu, Jan 21, 2021 at 8:31 PM

File: Sen. Dick Sears (D-Bennington) - JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR
  • Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
  • File: Sen. Dick Sears (D-Bennington)
When JoAnn and Ned Winterbottom gave their blessing to a 2007 plea agreement involving Gerald Montgomery, they did so believing it would send him to prison for at least the next 43 years. So they were distraught to learn last year that the man who kidnapped, raped and killed their daughter is eligible for a new program that allows prisoners to shave years off their minimum sentence so long as they behave.

"When Montgomery ended Laura’s life, he forever changed my life, my husband’s, her sister’s, and her brother’s," JoAnn Winterbottom told the Vermont Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday, testifying alongside her husband, Ned. "We, in fact, are serving a relentlessly painful lifetime sentence. Allowing him to qualify for an earlier release is not acceptable to us, and it is certainly not in the interest or pursuit of fairness and accountability."

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Monday, January 18, 2021

Dieng Wants Voters to Weigh In on Burlington Police Staffing Levels

Posted By on Mon, Jan 18, 2021 at 8:23 PM

Councilor Ali Dieng (I-Ward 7) - FILE: COURTNEY LAMDIN ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • File: Courtney Lamdin ©️ Seven Days
  • Councilor Ali Dieng (I-Ward 7)
Updated on January 19, 2021.

Burlington city councilors on Tuesday will consider putting a non-binding question about police staffing levels on the Town Meeting Day ballot.

Councilor Ali Dieng (I-Ward 7) introduced the resolution, saying the council vote in June to dramatically cut the police force and invest in social services was a "knee-jerk reaction" to activists' demands. The question he's proposed would ask voters if the city should increase the department's authorized headcount from 74 officers to 84.

Non-binding means the council would not be required to adopt the change, even if a majority of voters approve it.

"The people being policed — none of them have been part of the conversation. It's only those who are vocal," said Dieng, who is running for mayor. "They speak up, and that's it. The council makes a decision. I want to hear from everyone."

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