Windsor Agrees to Pay for Exonerated Police Officer’s Legal Fees

  • Windsor police officer Ryan Palmer outside of Windsor Superior Court in White River Junction, Vt on July 8, 2015. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Thursday, January 11, 2018

Windsor — The Selectboard this week unanimously voted to pay the $62,000 in legal fees that former Windsor police officer Ryan Palmer incurred as a defendant in a criminal case following a 2014 shooting.

The 31-year-old Palmer was acquitted in September of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and reckless endangerment in the four-day trial, which stemmed from his shooting and wounding of Jorge Burgos during a November 2014 undercover drug operation in the parking lot of Ferguson’s Auto in Windsor.

Prosecutors asserted that Palmer didn’t need to shoot Burgos as he attempted to flee in his car, but Palmer said he feared for his safety. The jury sided with Palmer.

Selectboard Chairman Rich Thomas said taxpayers will be the ones to foot the $62,000 bill, not the town’s insurance company nor the police union representing Windsor officers.

“It comes down to backing up an employee,” Thomas said on Wednesday. “We have asked the police department to do a job. He was doing that job. It doesn’t feel like he should be abandoned at the end.”

Vice Chairman Jeffrey White echoed a similar sentiment.

“In our view, he was acting in the best interest of the town and to leave him dangling out there like that, it didn’t sit well with anybody,” White said. “No one wants to cough up $62,000 ... but I feel it was the right thing to do.”

Both Thomas and White, as well as Town Manager Tom Marsh, said Palmer’s situation was unprecedented.

Palmer, who was indicted on July 8, 2015, was caught between union contracts when he went to look for an attorney to represent him in the criminal case.

At the time of the shooting, Windsor police were members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, a union that Marsh said didn’t provide the type of legal counsel Palmer would have needed.

At that time, the police employees were in the process of looking for a new union, and eventually joined the New England Police Benevolent Association, a nonprofit whose service started on July 1, 2015. Because the incident happened prior to joining that union, the association wouldn’t pay for Palmer’s legal defense, Marsh said.

“It was a perfect storm with all these moving parts,” Palmer said in a telephone interview on Wednesday. “The only choice for me was to retain my own attorney.”

Palmer, who noted that the association did provide some pro bono legal services, said he went to the Windsor Selectboard and asked them to cover the legal fees from his criminal case, which totaled $62,000. The majority of that money will go to his lead attorney, Daniel Sedon, of Chelsea.

The town’s insurance coverage — which operates through the Vermont League of Cities and Towns — applies to legal fees only in civil matters, Marsh said.

“I think they are doing the right thing and they are showing support for their employees,” Palmer said of the Selectboard, which voted, 5-0, on Tuesday night to cover the fees.

All of the Selectboard’s discussion on the matter took place in previous executive sessions; no members of the public spoke on the topic on Tuesday night. Palmer attended the meeting.

Vermont League of Cities and Towns spokesman Dean Mudgett said the organization doesn’t track data on how common it is for taxpayers to pay legal fees for a town employee who is caught up in a criminal matter but is acquitted.

Thomas, the Selectboard chairman, said the total amount will be broken into three yearly payments to help lessen the impact on taxpayers.

Palmer, an Air Force veteran who grew up in Windsor, has returned to law enforcement and currently is employed as an officer at the Ludlow (Vt.) Police Department.

Asked why he returned to the profession, he said: “At the end of the day, I am a cop. I thought I have always done a pretty good job and when that was taken away from me, it certainly wasn’t my choice. I want to be a police officer. I want to serve the communities back here. I enjoy it.”

Patrick O’Grady contributed to this report. Jordan Cuddemi can be reached at jcuddemi@vnews.com or 603-727-3248.