The Vermont Senate passed two bills Wednesday that create a statewide policy for police use of deadly force, ban neck restraints by police and require officers to intervene if they witness colleagues using a prohibited restraint. One bill also requires officers to be equipped with body cameras and law enforcement agencies to comply with racial data reporting requirements.
While the Vermont Legislature had been considering similar proposals and trying to get data for some time, criminal justice reform in the state and across the country was given new urgency in the aftermath of the May 25 death of George Floyd, which prompted a wave of nationwide protests against police brutality.
“We're choosing action over inaction,” Democratic and Progressive Sen. President Pro Tem Tim Ashe said.
“Limiting the use of force and holding our public safety officers accountable is required to rebuild trust in the system,” Vermont Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman, a Progressive and Democrat, said in a statement issued after the Senate gave preliminary approval to the bills on Tuesday.
Both pieces of legislation still need to be considered by the House of Representatives. The Vermont Legislature hopes to adjourn this week, but return in August.
Meanwhile, the town of Bennington has agreed to a $30,000 settlement with an African American man from New York who said he was pulled over and searched by local police in 2013 because of his race.
Police said Shamel Alexander was found with 11 grams of heroin when officers pulled over the taxi cab he took from Albany, New York, to Bennington in July 2013.
He was arrested for drug trafficking after the search. But the Vermont Supreme Court ruled in 2016 that town police didn’t have “reasonable suspicion” for the search and his conviction was overturned.
Under the settlement, the town’s insurance carrier will pay Alexander $30,000, Michael Leddy, the the attorney representing the town, said by email Wednesday.
The town and Alexander have agreed to resolve the case “to avoid expensive and protracted ligitation,” Leddy said in what he described as a joint statement that the town and Alexander agreed to release.
“The allegations remain disputed and the settlement is not deemed to be an admission of any liability," the statement said. “The case has been pending for nearly four years, and it is the desire of both parties to put the matter behind them and move forward."
Senior attorney Lia Ernst with the ACLU of Vermont, which represented Alexander, said he “is grateful to have this case resolved, having shined a spotlight on system-wide discriminatory police practices in Bennington."
The settlement comes as Bennington officials have hired Curtiss Reed, Jr., executive director of the Vermont Partnership for Fairness and Diversity, to help make community policing changes within the police department. A review by the International Association of Chiefs of Police found that the department’s practices have created deep mistrust in parts of the community, including in residents of certain racial or ethnic groups.
Vermont Attorney General T.J. Donovan recommended the review following criticism of the department’s response to reports of racial harassment of a black state lawmaker.
The association's report presented in April recommended 25 changes. Among them, the report advised the department to adopt a community policing policy in which it meets with the community regularly to discuss crime and quality-of-life concerns. It also recommended that the department consider creating a dedicated community liaison and a community advisory board that includes representation from diverse populations.
AP reporter Wilson Ring contributed to this report from Stowe, Vt.
This story has been corrected to show that the last name of the quoted ACLU of Vermont attorney is Ernst, not Enrst.