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Thursday, May 25, 2017

DMV Suspends Facial Recognition Program Pending Legal Review

Posted By on Thu, May 25, 2017 at 4:18 PM

The Vermont Department of Motor Vehicles suspended its facial recognition program on Thursday pending a review of its legality by Attorney General T.J. Donovan.

As reported by Seven Days this week, the program, which was launched in 2012, may run afoul of a 2004 law that forbids the DMV from implementing "processes for identifying applicants for licenses ... that involve the use of biometric identifiers."

Additionally, documents obtained by the Vermont chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union suggest that the database of 2.7 million images has been widely shared with federal and local law enforcement — despite prior assurances from the DMV that it would not be.

"The ACLU raises good concerns," Donovan said in a brief interview Thursday. "The privacy concerns are, in addition to the legal question, the most pressing matter."

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Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Walters: Scott Names Two to Green Mountain Care Board

Posted By on Wed, May 24, 2017 at 5:57 PM

  • File: Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
  • Sen. Kevin Mullin
Gov. Phil Scott on Wednesday appointed two new members to the Green Mountain Care Board, the body that oversees the health care industry in Vermont. The governor tapped Sen. Kevin Mullin (R-Rutland) to serve as the board's chair and veteran financial executive Maureen Usifer to a second vacancy. Both appointments are effective immediately.

The GMCB had been struggling since early January to conduct its business with only three of five seats filled. The board could only hold meetings if all three were in attendance, and a unanimous vote was required to approve most items. Last week, the board put off action on a proposed surgical center in Colchester because it could not attain unanimity.

Scott noted during a Montpelier press conference Wednesday that he had heard "the cries for help from the board last week" and made his selections as quickly as possible.

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Scott Vetoes Marijuana Legalization in Vermont

Posted By on Wed, May 24, 2017 at 12:04 PM

  • Luke Eastman
Updated at 4:17 p.m.

Gov. Phil Scott on Wednesday vetoed pending legislation that would legalize marijuana in Vermont. But he promised to work with lawmakers to fashion a new bill that might win his support next month.

“I am not philosophically opposed to ending the prohibition on marijuana,” Scott said at a highly anticipated press conference in his Montpelier office. “However … we must get this right.”

The legislation would have allowed adults over age 21 to possess up to an ounce of marijuana and grow as many as two mature plants per household, starting in July 2018. It also would have created a commission to report back by November with a plan to tax and regulate marijuana sales, as other states have done.

The Republican governor said Wednesday that he would provide legislators with “explicit” recommendations to craft a bill that might meet his approval. He suggested that lawmakers tackle them when they reconvene July 21 for an expected two-day veto session.

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Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Middlebury College Disciplines 67 Students for Murray Protests

Posted By on Tue, May 23, 2017 at 9:11 PM

Professor Allison Stanger with Charles Murray on the live stream
  • Professor Allison Stanger with Charles Murray on the live stream
Middlebury College has disciplined 67 students after its investigation into the disruption of a March 2 lecture by controversial author Charles Murray, the school announced Tuesday.

The sanctions range "from probation to official college discipline, which places a permanent record in the student's file," the school said in a statement.

Murray attempted to lecture in the McCullough Student Center about his 2012 book, Coming Apart. Murray is better known for his 1994 book, The Bell Curve, which sought to correlate social inequality to genetics. The Southern Poverty Law Center has labeled his work "racist pseudoscience."

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Chief Praises Officer for Not Shooting at Suspect in a Car

Posted By on Tue, May 23, 2017 at 5:42 PM

Burlington Police pursed a robbery suspect as he drove this silver car Saturday. - SCREENSHOT OF POLICE BODY CAM
  • Screenshot of police body cam
  • Burlington Police pursed a robbery suspect as he drove this silver car Saturday.
Burlington Police Chief Brandon del Pozo is praising an officer who drew his gun but didn't use it as a robbery suspect nearly ran him over on Saturday.

"Burlington is lucky to have cops who exhibit this level of restraint," del Pozo wrote about Burlington Police Cpl. Mike Hemond on Facebook Monday.

The post on the chief's page included a clip from Hemond's body cam of the dramatic chase at College and Lake Streets near the crowded Burlington waterfront. It shows Hemond raising his gun and shouting at suspect Andrew Lavallee to stop.

"The suspect was known to the pursuing officer because he'd previously gone through pains to take him to drug court in lieu of charges," del Pozo wrote on Facebook. "It didn't stop the suspect from nearly running the officer over this time around. Pistol drawn, legally allowed to shoot, the officer held his fire. "
  • Burlington Police
  • Andrew Lavallee

Lavallee was apprehended nearby and charged with assault and robbery, aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer, gross negligent operation of a motor vehicle, and eluding.

He pleaded not guilty and was being held at the Northwest State Correctional Facility in Swanton. Lavallee has 15 prior convictions including possession of heroin, forgery and possession of stolen merchandise.

Many people chimed in with kudos for Hemond on Facebook. "Give him a medal!" one person posted. "Great job BPD," another wrote.

The chief's post raised an issue about use of deadly force and policy on officers firing at moving vehicles — a hot issue in the national policing debate.

Federal guidelines strongly discourage police from firing at moving vehicles because the tactic can kill passengers or bystanders. A suburban Dallas officer who was responding to a call in April about a house party is facing a murder charge for firing into a car while on duty and killing an innocent 15-year-old passenger.

In an interview with Seven Days Tuesday, del Pozo said the situation in Texas is nothing like the one in Burlington. He also emphasized that the officer in Burlington did not shoot.

The car in Texas was driving away from the officer and there was little indication of a crime, he said. The Burlington car was heading for the officer, and the suspect had at least 15 convictions and was accused of an assault and robbery nearby, the chief said.

Lavallee was not armed, but the car he drove posed a potential threat, the chief said.

"If the officer believed that the car could have caused him serious physical injury or death, then he would have been justified in shooting at it. The law's completely clear on that," del Pozo said.

The chief said he wanted to spotlight the officer's response because it was measured and in keeping with recent trainings to avoid excessive force.

"I want to reiterate he would have been justified in shooting at the car but I'm glad he didn't, because my policy says he ought not to if he can do something less dangerous," del Pozo said.

Burlington police policy says that officers can shoot at a moving vehicle only in "extreme circumstances" to protect their lives and the lives of others from what the officers reasonably believe to be "an imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury."

The robbery was reported in a 911 call from 51-year-old Chris Khamnei of Burlington at 3:40 p.m Saturday. He said he had been robbed and assaulted at the corner of Bank and Pine Streets downtown, according to a press release.

Del Pozo told Seven Days that Khamnei had arranged to buy gift cards from the suspect downtown but things didn't go as planned. Lavallee robbed the victim of an undisclosed amount of cash, del Pozo said. The suspect got into a small silver car and headed toward the waterfront. Burlington Police attempted to pull the car over, and Lavallee jumped out and ran. He later got back into the car and was ultimately stopped on lower Main Street, according to the police.

Here's the officer's body cam video:

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Monday, May 22, 2017

Sinex to Proceed With BTC Mall Redevelopment After Stay Denied

Posted By on Mon, May 22, 2017 at 9:22 PM

Don Sinex speaks at a press conference in December 2016. - FILE: KATIE JICKLING
  • File: Katie Jickling
  • Don Sinex speaks at a press conference in December 2016.
A judge from the environmental division of the Vermont Superior Court has cleared another obstacle in the effort to redevelop the Burlington Town Center. On Monday, Judge Thomas Walsh denied a request to delay construction by a group that opposes the project.

With the ruling, developer Don Sinex plans to move ahead with the project and begin construction in midsummer, according to spokesperson Liz Miller.

"I am pleased with this decision denying a stay; it is a good step forward for the Burlington Town Center redevelopment," Sinex said in a statement. "Rather than fight, we wish [the opponents] would join with us and the many Burlington residents who already support this project."

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Vermont's 'Biggest' Pill Dealer Gets Nine-Year Prison Sentence

Posted By on Mon, May 22, 2017 at 6:48 PM

  • David Junkin
A New York City drug dealer who brought thousands of prescription opioid pills into Vermont was sentenced Monday to nine years in prison.

Michael Foreste, who was profiled by Seven Days in April for his participation in an unusual prison treatment program, told U.S. District Court Judge William Sessions III that his time spent in prison and the counseling he has received in recent months has changed his outlook.

"I now know what these pills do to the community," Foreste said. "I never wish to cause this kind of harm again."

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Sunday, May 21, 2017

James Fallows Urges UVM Grads to Be a Force For Good

Posted By on Sun, May 21, 2017 at 2:16 PM

James Fallows gives the commencement address at UVM Sunday morning. - COURTESY UVM/SALLY MCCAY
  • Courtesy UVM/Sally McCay
  • James Fallows gives the commencement address at UVM Sunday morning.
Always vote, consider a run for office and subscribe to a newspaper even if there's a way to finagle a free read.

Those were among the pieces of wisdom that author and Atlantic Monthly national correspondent James Fallows doled out to thousands of students and their families during his commencement address at the University of Vermont Sunday morning.

Oh, and one more thing. "Get in the habit of being happy," Fallows told the UVM class of 2017.

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Friday, May 19, 2017

Walters: Did the Governor Just Wave the White Flag?

Posted By on Fri, May 19, 2017 at 9:35 PM

Governor Phil Scott at his Friday press conference - JOHN WALTERS
  • John Walters
  • Governor Phil Scott at his Friday press conference
After the Vermont legislature adjourned early Friday morning, passing budget and property tax bills that Gov. Phil Scott had promised to veto, the stage was set for a high-stakes confrontation. The House and Senate are scheduled for a two-day session June 21 and 22, less than ten days before the start of a new fiscal year.

And if there is no agreement by July 1, the state government could shut down.

The governor seemed to have the upper hand. The single unresolved issue was how to negotiate public school teacher health insurance: at the school board level, at the state level, or in some other way? The governor had seized the political high ground by repeatedly emphasizing the potential taxpayer savings — the fabled $26 million — that could be realized by changing the system.

And then, at a Friday afternoon press conference, he strongly defended his position — but also acknowledged that he would rather lose on the issue than risk a government shutdown.

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Racial Bias Lawsuit Against Bennington Police Clears Hurdle

Posted By on Fri, May 19, 2017 at 2:42 PM

  • Daniel Fishel
A federal judge has rejected a Bennington police request to dismiss a racial bias lawsuit filed by a black man whose drug conviction was overturned by the Vermont Supreme Court.

In a ruling handed down this week, U.S. District Court Judge Geoffrey Crawford upheld most claims brought by Shamel Alexander, who in 2013 came to Bennington from upstate New York in a taxi cab and was arrested with 11 grams of heroin in his possession. The civil case will be allowed to proceed.

After Alexander, a first time offender, served three years of a 10 year sentence, high court justices unanimously overturned his conviction, saying the police stop and search appeared to be racially motivated.

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