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ACLU Sues Shelburne, Vt., Police

Montpelier (ap) — The Vermont chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union has filed suit against the Shelburne police, saying an officer conducted a bogus traffic stop of a North Ferrisburgh man and lied about it in traffic court.

Town Officer Jason Lawton pulled over Rod MacIver in December and accused him of running a red light, which MacIver denied.

The ACLU said MacIver, an artist, later obtained a video recording from a cruiser-mounted camera showing the light was yellow when he drove through the intersection.

Lawton gave sworn testimony at the traffic court hearing that MacIver had run the red light. But the ACLU said he later admitted he had known before the hearing that MacIver had not committed a traffic violation.

“When MacIver played the cruiser video for the hearing officer, the hearing officer ruled in favor of MacIver and demanded an explanation from Lawton why he had testified to something that hadn’t happened,” the ACLU said in a statement. Later, “Lawton admitted that he knew prior to the hearing that MacIver had not committed a traffic violation,” it said.

Neither Lawton nor the police chief immediately responded to a message seeking comment. Town Manager Paul Bohne said it would be difficult for ACLU to prove that Lawton made a bogus stop and said he was amazed that ACLU decided to take up the case.

He said a bogus stop is much different that an officer trying to make a decision about a violation on the spot and then reviewing a tape from the cruiser and deciding maybe a violation didn’t occur.

“You’re dealing with a rookie police officer with not much experience who could’ve dropped the charge at any time. He could have just dropped the ticket at any point. And he didn’t realize that so it did go through the traffic court hearing,” Bohne said.

The ACLU has been pushing for stronger public oversight of police in Vermont. Executive Director Allen Gilbert said the Shelburne case showed why it is needed.

“When someone complains about a police officer’s conduct, there should be an independent, neutral assessment of the complaint,” Gilbert said. “What happened to Mr. MacIver shows why independent oversight is essential to ensure police integrity and professionalism — factors that are critical for good policing.”