Student in Fair Haven shooting plot ruled ‘youthful offender’; heading to out-of-state treatment facility

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    FILE - This file photo released Feb. 15, 2018, by the Vermont State Police shows Jack Sawyer from Poultney, Vt., accused of planning "to shoot up" his former high school. Sawyer, a teenager charged with planning a shooting at his former high school, never carried out the crime and should be granted bail, his lawyer argued before a state Supreme Court panel on Tuesday, April 3. (Vermont State Police via AP, File)

Published: 3/30/2019 10:49:15 PM
Modified: 3/30/2019 10:49:16 PM

The case of a former Fair Haven student who police say had plotted to shoot up the high school has concluded behind closed doors, but authorities are revealing some of the details of the resolution.

Jack Sawyer, who had been “adjudicated a Youthful Offender,” will be placed in an out-of-state residential treatment facility, according to a news release issued late Friday afternoon by the Rutland County State’s Attorney’s office, which prosecuted him.

Sawyer is prohibited from possessing firearms or going back to the town.

The case against Sawyer, who is now 19, was handled in a judicial process specific to people under age 21, in which all details are confidential and proceedings take place in Rutland Family Court.

However, in a rare move, some of those details in Sawyer’s case were released Friday, “pursuant to a limited waiver of the confidentiality provisions of the Family Court,” the release stated.

Rutland County State’s Attorney Rose Kennedy did not immediately return a message seeking comment. She did say in the release that she could not comment beyond what was included in the statement.

Vermont Defender General Matthew Valerio, whose office was defending Sawyer, said late Friday afternoon due to confidentiality requirements of the youthful offender law he could not provide any additional comment.

According to the release Friday, Sawyer was “adjudicated Youthful Offender for the offense of Carrying a Dangerous Weapon.”

As a result, the release said, Sawyer will be jointly supervised by the Department of Corrections and Department for Children and Families.

In addition to placement in an out-of-state residential treatment facility and prohibition against possessing firearms and going to Fair Haven, the release stated that Sawyer “shall not enter any premises of any school without the prior written approval of both DCF and DOC.”

Sawyer will remain under the supervision of the two departments until he turns 22, according to the release.

Fair Haven Police Chief William Humphries said Friday evening he was glad to hear at least some of the details from the closed-door proceedings are being made public.

“I think that there’s been a lot of mystery around this,” Humphries said, adding that questions have lingered with community members about how the case against Sawyer would be resolved. “Maybe this can help bring closure to some people.”

Humphries also said he was pleased to see that Sawyer will remain under some form of supervision until he turns 22.

In February 2018, Sawyer was charged in adult criminal court in Rutland with three counts of attempted murder.

Those charges were later dropped by the prosecutor following a Vermont Supreme Court decision stating that mere planning did not rise to the level of an attempt under state law.

The only charges that remained pending against Sawyer were both misdemeanors: criminal threatening and carrying a dangerous weapon with the avowed purpose to commit serious injury or death.

In July 2018, his public defenders filed a motion seeking to have those two misdemeanor charges transferred to the family court for a “youthful offender” determination.

Under the law, once that request is made, the case must be transferred and all proceedings regarding the granting or denial of the youthful offender status take place in family court behind closed doors.

Under the law, criminal defendants up to age 21 not charged with certain serious crimes are eligible to apply for youth offender status. Sawyer was 18 when he was arrested in February 2018.

With the serious felonies he faced dismissed, Sawyer qualified because he faced only those two misdemeanor offenses.

Youthful offender status puts the case on a rehabilitation-focused track previously available only to defendants under age 18.

Gov. Phil Scott cited the Sawyer case in signing three laws in April 2018 changing the state’s gun laws.

Scott, a Republican, has said the chilling details in a police affidavit in support of Sawyer’s arrest prompted him to shift his stance on the need for the added gun restrictions.

Prosecutors included with the charging documents a notebook kept by Sawyer titled, “The Journal of an Active Shooter.”

Sawyer’s arrest came just days after a mass shooting at a Florida high school that left 17 students and teachers dead.

Speaking shortly after Sawyer’s arrest on the attempted murder charges, Valerio, whose office represents Sawyer, said he believed Sawyer was “overcharged” from the start.

“Particularly with attempted crimes, you have to have overt acts in furtherance of whatever the attempt is supposed to be,” Valerio said at that time. “I don’t think we’ve really seen that.”

Fair Haven Union High School has ramped up security in the time since Sawyer’s arrest, spending nearly $500,000 on school safety improvements.

Those upgrades included more video cameras, new locking systems for doors, more training for emergency situations, a redesigned entrance to the high school, and enhanced communication equipment.

“This threat has changed our culture,” Brooke Olsen-Farrell, superintendent of the Addison-Rutland Supervisory Union which includes the high school in Fair Haven, said late last year at a statewide school safety forum.

“We look at every decision through a different lens,” Olsen-Farrell said, referring to the added emphasis on school security. “I personally speak to law enforcement every day.”

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