Former Northeast Kingdom police officer Stephen Bunnell avoided photographers in Caledonia Superior Court on Monday by appearing for his criminal arraignment by telephone.
But text messages included in court documents filed in support of the charges painted quite a picture.
FEMALE ADDICT: “How can I come up with $50-$100 in the next 3 hours?? I need ideas…”
BUNNELL: “That’s a loaded question lol.”
FEMALE ADDICT: “Lol well I’m serious.”
BUNNELL: “It (sic) that short of time probably only sexual favors lol.”
The 13-page, 75 paragraph police affidavit filed by Vermont State Police Detective Sgt. Jacob A. Metayer also includes allegations that Bunnell used his power and position as a police officer to convince - and at times coerce - at least three female drug addicts into providing him nude photos and sex in exchange for money.
Bunnell, 47, pleaded not guilty on Monday to two counts of misdemeanor prohibited acts for allegedly soliciting and paying women for sex and two counts of prohibited conduct for allegedly requesting nude photos in exchange for money.
Judge Timothy B. Tomasi released Bunnell pending trial on personal recognizance but not until after he questioned prosecutor Tracy K. Shriver about whether there was enough evidence to support the two prohibited conduct charges.
“Is the state’s theory that these are non-consenting individuals?” said the judge.
Shriver responded by encouraging the court to focus on the “collective amount of behavior” in the police affidavit.
“The state’s theory is that while testimony might indicate from both of these individuals that they could consider themselves as consenting, the state’s theory is that they are not consenting considering the vulnerable state they were in at the time that they were being solicited for photographs and sexual favors and given the power differential between the defendant and these women,” said Shriver
Shriver is the Windham County State’s Attorney. She is prosecuting the case to avoid any possible conflicts of interest between Bunnell and Caledonian County officials.
Bunnell once served as “Chief Deputy” and second-in-command to Caledonia County Sheriff Dean Shatney. He is also accused in the affidavit of abusing his position as a police officer.
Police Favors & Free TV
According to court documents, one of the alleged victims - who at first declined to cooperate with police - later contacted investigators in July of 2020 saying that she was now “clean and sober” and wanted to talk.
The woman said she first met Bunnell in 2017 during her court-ordered twice-a-week in-person check-ins at the Sheriff’s Department due to pending drug sale charges.
“She advised that at first Bunnell seemed really nice,” wrote Det. Metayer in his report.”She would sometimes be late checking in and Bunnell would not create any trouble for her being late. She advised she saw other people check in late and they faced repercussions for this.”
“She also advised that she commented to Bunnell that she did not have a television,” wrote Det. Metayer. “She advised he took a television from somewhere in the sheriff’s department and gave it to her to have.”
The Slippery Slope
The woman also told police she began to borrow money from Bunnell.
“It started as a loan, but Bunnell started to request nude pictures of (her) as payment of the money,” wrote Metayer. “She advised Bunnell had initiated this, that the pictures were his idea, not hers…In total, (she) estimated that she received approximately $1000.00 from Bunnell over a 7 to 12-month period.”
The money, according to the alleged victim, all went to feed her addiction to drugs.
“(She) advised Bunnell had also talked about wanting to have sex with her,” wrote Metayer. “She believes that he also offered to pay her for sex as he had done for the pictures. She thought he had told her that if she wanted more money that they could have sex. Bunnell reportedly sent her pictures of his p**** that (she) did not request.”
The woman also told police about an alleged incident in which she asked Bunnell for money to pay for gas and that Bunnell responded by telling her that “she owed him more nude pictures.”
Sex, Threats & Buying Drugs
Another alleged victim told police she had sex with Bunnell in 2019 after he promised that he would make her traffic tickets disappear and help her get her license reinstated.
“In return he wanted her to have sex with him,” wrote Metayer. “She also believed Bunnell had engaged in similar activity with other women, in particular, drug addicts.”
The woman also told police that Bunnell paid her in cash for sexual intercourse at his home and in his police cruiser, threatened to report her drug and alcohol abuse to the Vermont Department of Children and Families and even assisted her in purchasing illegal drugs.
“(She) advised she had Bunnell drive her to pick up drugs one time,” wrote Metayer. “She had him stop at a drug house and she got out, purchased drugs, and got back in his vehicle. She advised he was off duty at this time, and she is sure he knew she was buying drugs.”
Four Seasons Raid
The police investigation into Bunnell began in April of 2020 after he participated in a multi-agency drug raid in the Four Seasons neighborhood in St. Johnsbury.
One of the suspects targeted in the raid was one of Bunnell’s alleged victims.
He was suspended from duty by Sheriff Shatney after St. Johnsbury Police discovered suspicious text messages with Bunnell on the suspect’s cell phone following the raid.
Bunnell was allowed by Sheriff Shatney to keep his police cruiser for three months while the state police investigation continued.
Bunnell left the sheriff’s department in October of 2020.
If convicted of all four charges now pending against him Bunnell faces a possible sentence of up to four years in prison and $800 in fines.