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Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Assessment of Burlington Police Finds Serious Deficiencies, Supports Smaller Force

Posted By on Wed, Sep 15, 2021 at 6:20 PM

Burlington protesters last summer - FILE: JAMES BUCK
  • File: James Buck
  • Burlington protesters last summer
A long-awaited assessment of police operations in Burlington found that the department needs between 76 and 83 sworn officers — suggesting that the city council’s controversial decision to cut the force to 74 cops last summer wasn't far off target.

The report also found serious deficiencies at the Burlington Police Department, including inefficient staffing schemes, inadequate training, a lack of oversight and evidence of racial bias. It found that the department’s contract with the Burlington Police Officers’ Association is hamstringing operations and certain aspects should be renegotiated. The current contract expires in June 2022.

The consultants found some bright spots in their review of the department, including its plans to hire unarmed civilians to respond to certain calls, the hiring of a social worker and the department's reduction in traffic stops.

The 168-page report, authored by Virginia-based nonprofit CNA, is expected to guide the city’s decisions about policing into the future; the consultants gave recommendations to improve the deficiencies noted in the report. It comes after more than a year of debate over appropriate police staffing levels that was spurred by protests over police uses of force, particularly against people of color.

City officials received the draft report this week, and Seven Days obtained a copy of the document, which has yet to be finalized and released to the public.

“Policing has reached a pivotal point in history,” the report says, noting that many departments nationwide face problems similar to Burlington’s. “In its response to this assessment, BPD has the opportunity to provide leadership in the policing profession regarding how to constructively respond to the current challenges it faces.”

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Thursday, September 9, 2021

Man Fatally Shot by Rutland Cop in a McDonald's Was Holding a Cellphone

Posted By on Thu, Sep 9, 2021 at 2:56 PM

  • Alain Lacroix | Dreamstime
A Florida man who last month ran from police in Rutland was holding a cellphone when an officer fatally shot him  in a McDonald's bathroom, police said on Thursday.

Jonathan Mansilla, 33, was hit twice in the chest on August 25. He'd allegedly led police on a car chase, then fled a crash and ran into the fast food restaurant bathroom before the shooting, police said.

It took Vermont State Police two weeks to publicly reveal that Mansilla had been unarmed. The agency refused to say until it interviewed Rutland City Police Cpl. Christopher Rose, who fired the shots, reported last week. Rose, a five-year veteran of the force, "provided a voluntary interview" with state police detectives on Wednesday, the agency said.

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ACLU Accuses Burlington Officials of Running a 'Campaign of Misinformation'

Posted By on Thu, Sep 9, 2021 at 2:35 PM

Mayor Miro Weinberger and acting Chief Jon Murad - FILE: LUKE AWTRY
  • File: Luke Awtry
  • Mayor Miro Weinberger and acting Chief Jon Murad
The American Civil Liberties Union of Vermont is accusing Burlington's mayor and top cop of peddling “false narratives” about a Queen City crime spike that is not borne out by data.

In a letter shared with media outlets Thursday, ACLU Vermont general counsel Jay Diaz said that Mayor Miro Weinberger and acting police chief Jon Murad  have wrongly blamed recent gunfire incidents on the city council’s decision last year to cut the police department’s staffing. These "scare tactics," Diaz wrote,  have misled the public into thinking that Burlington has become a more dangerous place.

“This campaign of misinformation is evidently designed to instill fear, direct more funding to BPD, and undermine the progress the city has made up to this point,” Diaz wrote in the six-page letter, which he addressed to Weinberger. “It is not, however, supported by the facts — including BPD’s own data.”

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Monday, August 30, 2021

Burlington Paramedics to Keep Race Data After Black Teen Is Given Ketamine

Posted By on Mon, Aug 30, 2021 at 8:51 PM

Burlington's downtown fire station - COURTNEY LAMDIN ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Courtney Lamdin ©️ Seven Days
  • Burlington's downtown fire station
The Burlington Fire Department will begin tracking its use of ketamine on patients by race after paramedics administered the drug on a Black 14-year-old while he was in police custody in May.

That incident, which was included in a recent police use-of-force summary report, prompted someone to complain to the Burlington Police Commission. The city council's Public Safety Committee is scheduled to discuss the fire department's new protocol at its meeting on Thursday.

According to records obtained by Seven Days, the Burlington Fire Department has administered ketamine — an anesthetic used to "restrain" patients and manage pain — to 86 patients since 2016. But the department only recorded the subject's race four times in those five years, data show. All of those patients were white and between 35 and 74 years old.

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Friday, August 27, 2021

Driver of Scorched Tesla Indicted for Stealing Five Cars

Posted By on Fri, Aug 27, 2021 at 5:59 PM

The Tesla that burned on Lake Champlain in 2019 - SASHA GOLDSTEIN ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Sasha Goldstein ©️ Seven Days
  • The Tesla that burned on Lake Champlain in 2019
"Pizza man" wasn't as dumb as they thought.

Local law enforcement reportedly once gave Michael A. Gonzalez the nickname following an unfortunate 2018 encounter in which he was arrested after confusing a uniformed cop for a pizza delivery driver.

But over the course of the following years, the Colchester man pulled off a series of heists of Tesla electric cars worth a combined $607,000, according to a federal indictment unsealed Friday.

One of the vehicles involved ended up a fireball on the frozen surface of Lake Champlain in winter 2019 in a mysterious incident.

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Friday, August 13, 2021

Stenger Admits to Felony Charge in Plea Deal Over EB-5 Scandal

Posted By on Fri, Aug 13, 2021 at 4:03 PM

William Stenger, left, and his attorney, Brooks McArthur, speaking to the media on Friday - DEREK BROUWER ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Derek Brouwer ©️ Seven Days
  • William Stenger, left, and his attorney, Brooks McArthur, speaking to the media on Friday
Updated, 5 p.m.

Former Jay Peak president Bill Stenger, whom prosecutors have described as the frontman for a massive EB-5 fraud scheme in the Northeast Kingdom, admitted in federal court Friday that he submitted false documents to regulators.

As part of a plea deal, federal prosecutors dropped numerous other fraud charges brought against Stenger in 2019 in exchange for his guilty plea to the single count. The 72-year-old faces up to five years in prison, though his attorney said Friday that he will seek a sentence that does not include any prison time.

He's the third leader of the phony AnC Bio Vermont project to take a plea deal with federal prosecutors. The alleged mastermind of the scheme, Ariel Quiros, faces up to eight years on wire fraud, concealment and money laundering charges, while a third partner, William Kelly, faces up to three years for wire fraud and concealment. A fourth partner, Alex Choi, remains at large.

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Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Burlington Councilors Reject Plea to Boost Police Ranks Despite Dire Claims

Posted By on Tue, Aug 10, 2021 at 2:39 AM

Police supporters holding signs - DEREK BROUWER ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Derek Brouwer ©️ Seven Days
  • Police supporters holding signs
The Progressive caucus of Burlington's City Council defeated a second effort on Monday to reverse its steep cut to city police ranks despite warnings that their decision would doom the department.

A resolution to increase the roster cap to 82 officers, up from the 74-officer limit enacted during historic protests and calls to "defund" the police, failed on a tie vote, with Councilor Zoraya Hightower (P-Ward 1) absent.

The vote came as interim Police Chief Jon Murad, Democratic Mayor Miro Weinberger and others contended that the Burlington Police Department is experiencing a free fall in its ranks as demoralized officers flee. Supporters have also pointed to heavily publicized gunfire incidents in recent months as signs that a hamstrung department is less able to keep Queen City residents safe. And a survey conducted by the police officers' union found that roughly half of Burlington cops were actively seeking employment elsewhere.

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Monday, August 9, 2021

Winooski Cleaner Charged With Scamming COVID-19 Business Relief Program

Posted By on Mon, Aug 9, 2021 at 6:09 PM

  • File: Thomas James
The owner of a Winooski cleaning business  faces fraud and money laundering charges for allegedly forging documents last year to obtain a larger pandemic relief loan.

Dennis Duffy II, 38, pleaded not guilty in federal court Monday following an indictment that accuses him of grossly misrepresenting  his business, Night Owl Cleaning, in an application for a Paycheck Protection Program loan.

Duffy then used the $416,093 proceeds last summer to purchase a home in Milton, according to the indictment.

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Monday, August 2, 2021

Burlington Police Commission Recommends Raising Roster Cap

Posted By on Mon, Aug 2, 2021 at 10:06 PM

Acting police Chief Jon Murad (right) listens as former Burlington city councilor Paul Decelles speaks in favor of raising the department's staffing cap - COLIN FLANDERS ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Colin Flanders ©️ Seven Days
  • Acting police Chief Jon Murad (right) listens as former Burlington city councilor Paul Decelles speaks in favor of raising the department's staffing cap
Burlington police commissioners voted unanimously on Monday to recommend that the city temporarily increase its police roster by eight officers, citing an unexpectedly high attrition rate in the year since the city council capped the department's staffing at 74.

The ultimate decision will lie with the city council, which is next scheduled to meet on August 9. It's unclear if the body will take up the issue then.

The vote marks the second time in several months that commissioners have called on the council to raise the staffing cap. And it comes as local business leaders have renewed their calls for an increased downtown police presence in light of recent violent incidents.

"We're losing a downtown for everyone because it does not feel safe and secure for people who want to come here," Kelly Devine, executive director of the Burlington Business Association, said prior to Monday's vote.

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Friday, July 30, 2021

Vermont Gun Importer Sued After Its Rifle Was Used in Mass Shooting

Posted By on Fri, Jul 30, 2021 at 2:34 PM

A Century International Arms booth at a National Rifle Association convention in Indianapolis - AP PHOTO / JEREMY HOGAN
  • AP Photo / Jeremy Hogan
  • A Century International Arms booth at a National Rifle Association convention in Indianapolis
Victims of a 2019 mass shooting are suing the Vermont arms dealer that made the rifle a gunman used to murder attendees of a California garlic festival.

A dozen survivors last week added Century International Arms as a defendant in their pending civil lawsuit against the nonprofit that ran the annual Gilroy Garlic Festival, the City of Gilroy, Calif., and a private security contractor.

They say the gunmaker's business practices have funneled “uniquely lethal” semiautomatic rifles to criminals and “helped cause the mass shooting at the Gilroy Garlic Festival” that left three people dead and 17 wounded.

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