N.Y. Rabbi Settles Case With Vermont

  • FILE - In this Aug. 8, 2017, file frame from dashboard video released by the Vermont State Police, Trooper Justin Thompson, left, detains driver Rabbi Berl Fink, while a second officer, right, detains passenger Rabbi Eli Fink, both of of Brooklyn, N.Y., during a traffic stop in Thetford, Vt. The attorney for the rabbi who drove for 4.5 miles after a Vermont state trooper tried to pull him over for speeding on a remote interstate highway says he's hopeful the case can be resolved without Fink having to appear in court. (Vermont State Police via AP, File)

  • Rabbi Berl Fink, of Brooklyn, N.Y., listens to Brooklyn Assemblyman Dov Hikind speak about Fink's case at Orange Superior Court in Chelsea, Vt., on Oct. 18, 2017. Fink faces a charge of eluding a law enforcement officer during an Aug. 8 traffic stop that started in Thetford, Vt., and ended in Fairlee, Vt., on Interstate 91. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 4/25/2018 1:07:50 PM

Chelsea — A rabbi from New York who complained of mistreatment by Vermont State Police during a traffic stop on Interstate 91 in August has resolved his court case.

Berl Fink, 57, agreed to pay a $100 traffic violation in exchange for the dismissal of a misdemeanor charge that alleged he attempted to elude a Vermont State Police trooper for more than 4 miles before eventually pulling over in Fairlee.

Fink, of Brooklyn, N.Y., has paid the ticket, his attorney Robert Appel said on Wednesday.

Orange County State’s Attorney William Porter said he anticipates the criminal charge will be dismissed “soon.”

“It seems appropriate,” Appel said of the resolution. “It was a very unfortunate incident. Both Rabbi Fink and his entire family felt traumatized by the events, and they will be seeking other relief.”

He declined to elaborate on what that “relief” might entail.

Porter also said the outcome was “fair.” Vermont State Police were in agreement with the resolution, he said.

The parties reached the agreement ahead of a Wednesday hearing in Orange Superior Court, which was intended to bring the judge up to date on where the case stood. That hearing wasn’t necessary because of the pending resolution.

The traffic ticket Fink paid was for a motor vehicle violation pertaining to “operation on approach of law enforcement and emergency vehicles,” according to state statute.

The rabbi’s case began to unfold shortly after midnight on Aug. 8, when Vermont State Police Trooper Justin Thompson initiated a traffic stop on Interstate 91 in Thetford, claiming Fink was traveling 83 mph in a 65 mph zone.

The traffic stop was captured on video, and Fink and his attorney raised questions about how Thompson handled the situation.

Fink told the trooper he didn’t realize at first that he was being pulled over. Once he understood, Fink told the officer, he looked for a safe place to stop, according to the video footage, as well as an affidavit written by Thompson.

Thompson claimed Fink swerved at times and drove for more than 4 miles before pulling over.

Fink, his wife and their two sons were in the car at the time of the stop. Thompson ordered Fink out of the car at gunpoint and handcuffed him before other officers arrived on scene, the video footage from Thompson’s cruiser camera shows.

Fink’s wife and children also were handcuffed. The family ultimately was released, and Fink was cited into Orange Superior Court in Chelsea.

State police and the state Department of Public Safety reviewed the footage and concluded that Thompson acted properly.

In addition, the review says, “There is no evidence from the investigation to suggest his actions were based on any type of bias or profiling.”

Fink, a Hasidic Jew, was wearing a yarmulke.

Appel, the former defender general who also was director of the Vermont Human Rights Commission, and New York Assemblyman Dov Hikind, D-Brooklyn, spoke extensively about their thoughts on the case after Fink’s arraignment last October.

Appel at the time called Thompson’s actions “overly aggressive” and “problematic.”

Fink, through his attorney, has denied wrongdoing since the day of the incident, and he rejected an earlier offer for court diversion. He would have had to admit some wrongdoing, Appel said at the time.

The prosecution and defense filed several motions throughout the six-month court process.

Appel filed a motion to dismiss the charge “in the interest of justice” in February, something the judge denied.

Appel argued at the time that there is “no useful purpose” of convicting Fink, that a conviction won’t create a deterrence for others and that proceeding forward with it will only bring continued embarrassment to Fink and his family and the state of Vermont.

Judge Michael Harris ruled that the case should be left to a jury.

“If there are reasonable circumstances here why four minutes (or miles) was reasonable, the Legislature has assigned that task to jurors in considering the charge,” he wrote in his ruling.

Fink entered a no contest plea to the ticket, and he received five points on his license.

Jordan Cuddemi can be reached at jcuddemi@vnews.com or 603-727-3248.

Video from October 2017.

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