Glimpse into Vermont State Police discipline reveals termination, resignations 

VTDigger
Published: 11/5/2021 10:40:31 PM
Modified: 11/5/2021 10:40:42 PM

A Vermont State Police trooper harassed another trooper. Another trooper accidentally discharged a firearm while training. A trooper got so drunk off-duty “that it could have discredited him or the Vermont State Police.” And, a trooper, who was found to have been “discourteous to a civilian on two consecutive days, one on and one off duty,” was fired.

These are among the latest summaries of misconduct complaints leading to internal investigations over a six-month period that were released Thursday by the state Department of Public Safety and the State Police Advisory Commission.

The names of the troopers who were investigated remain under wraps. The advisory commission is responsible for providing “advice and counsel” to the public safety commissioner on misconduct allegations that rise to the level of internal investigations against Vermont State Police officers.

Between July 1, 2020, and Dec. 31, 2020, a total of 11 misconduct complaints came before the advisory commission, the two-page report stated.

Of those complaints, no violations were found in three cases, while eight were either “substantiated” or the trooper resigned from the force before the internal investigation was completed.

Earlier this year, the Department of Public Safety for the first time released summaries of cases that had come before the advisory panel between Jan. 1, 2020, and June 30, 2020. Six misconduct complaints were determined to be substantiated, and four resulted in no violations being found.

Prior to that release of information, only statistical information had been released by state officials about misconduct cases, with no details about what led to them.

The move to provide a glimpse into the cases came after a three-part investigative series by VTDigger highlighted police officers identified by prosecutors as having credibility issues in Vermont called, “Tarnished Badge.”

The Department of Public Safety has repeatedly denied record requests seeking greater information about misconduct and disciplinary actions against troopers.

That includes one recent public records request from VTDigger that led to the following reply: “Your records request for allegations and/or complaints relating to sworn Vermont State Police members, if such records exist, are confidential records of the Office of Internal Investigation and are exempt from public inspection and copying” under state statute.

The summaries of the misconduct matters released in six-month intervals by the Department of Public Safety “is designed to provide greater transparency” into the activities of Vermont State Police balanced with rules regarding internal investigation, according to the report released Thursday.

The sanctions levied against the troopers who were disciplined in the latest six-month period report ranged from the termination of the “discourteous” officer to letters to short suspensions without pay and reprimands for other violators.

The substantiated case of the highly intoxicated off-duty trooper, according to the report, resulted in a four-day suspension without pay.

The trooper who allegedly “harassed or discriminated” against another trooper resigned before the internal investigation could be complete, according to the report.

After an initial review of the information provided in the report, Lia Ernst, legal director for the Vermont chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said Thursday she had several concerns.

For example, she said, in the case of the trooper terminated for being “discourteous to a civilian on two consecutive days, one on and one off duty,” there are plenty of unanswered questions.

“I would like to know a little more about what led to that person being terminated,” she said. “I would encourage them to go a bit further, in particular, in instances where there was a finding of violation.”

Also, Ernst said, state law calls for investigations to be completed even if an officer resigns during an investigation, and that did not appear to happen based on the report released Thursday.

“I find that troubling,” she said. “One of the driving forces in getting that passed is that we didn’t want an officer accused of misconduct to simply resign and then go and get another job at an agency the next town over.”

Even when an employee resigns, an investigation is completed despite the language in the report, Vermont Public Safety Commissioner Michael Schirling said in an email late Thursday afternoon.

“The difference is once they leave employment, prior to the investigation being completed,” he added, “we lose our ability to compel an interview and cannot make a finding with an incomplete investigation (and obviously cannot impose discipline since the employee has resigned).”

He said the language in the next report would be changed to make that point more clear.

Schirling, in an earlier interview Thursday, described the process of determining the appropriate disciplinary action as often “interactive” with the advisory commission, with discussion taking place and questions raised.

“There hasn’t been an instance where they’ve said, ‘No, that is not enough,’ or ‘That’s too harsh,’ ” Schirling said. “That’s in large part because the process is set up to make it interactive especially when they’re complex or serious cases.”

Such meetings with the advisory commission take place in executive sessions behind closed doors.

“Sometimes we actually open internal investigations to ensure that the employee gets a fair shake,” the commissioner said. “There are occasions where it makes sense to do an internal investigation so it isn’t something that gets brought up four years from now.”

And at that later point, Schirling said, it is more difficult to address as memories fade.

VSP investigation summaries

Vermont State Police provided its own synopses of each complaint it investigated in the second half of 2020. It did not release the names of the troopers investigated or any documentation of the process.

July 2020

Externally generated

Allegation of a trooper was discourteous to a civilian on two consecutive days, one on and one off duty. Investigation revealed that the trooper acted in a manner unbecoming a trooper.

Finding: Conduct violation — terminated.

July 2020

Externally generated

Allegation that a trooper used excessive force during an arrest. Investigation revealed the trooper’s use of force was within policy standards.

Finding: No policies violated.

August 2020

Internally generated

Allegation that a trooper drank excessive alcohol while off duty. Investigation revealed that the off-duty trooper consumed alcohol to an extent that it could have discredited him or state police.

Finding: Policy violation — four-day suspension without pay.

August 2020

Externally generated

Allegation that a trooper inaccurately filled out a traffic ticket. Investigation revealed that the ticket’s content contained an inaccuracy.

Finding: Conduct violation — five-day suspension without pay.

September 2020

Internally generated

Allegation that a trooper harassed or discriminated against a fellow trooper.

Outcome: Trooper resigned prior to the investigation being completed.

September 2020

Internally generated

Allegation of a trooper’s negligent accidental discharge of their firearm while at firearms training. Investigation revealed a “negligent/accidental discharge of firearm.”

Finding: Policy violation — letter of reprimand.

November 2020

Internally generated

Allegation that a group of troopers attended a meeting together and did not adhere to all required Covid-19 precautions.

Finding: Commanding officer violated the “responsibility” policy in addition to his “violation of rules” — one-day suspension.

December 2020

Internally generated

Allegation that a trooper used excessive force during an on-duty discharge of a firearm/use of force. Investigation revealed that the trooper’s use of force was within policy standards.

Finding: No policies were violated.

December 2020

Internally generated

Allegation that a trooper physically assaulted a family or household member.

Outcome: Trooper arrested for domestic assault and resigned prior to an investigation being completed.

December 2020

Internally generated

Allegation that a trooper failed to adhere to COVID-19 precautions while on duty. Investigation revealed that the trooper failed to adhere to all COVID-19 precautions.

Finding: Violation of rules — trooper was counseled.

December 2020

Internally generated

Allegation that a trooper mishandled evidence. Investigation found that the trooper did not mishandle evidence.

Finding: No policies were violated.




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