Before adjourning, the Vermont Legislature put a down payment on justice reform by passing S.219, which would ban chokeholds and similar… uhh… “restraint techniques” (such a bloodless descriptor) and require that state police wear body cameras. The bill awaits action by Gov. Phil Scott.
The chokehold thing illustrates a broader problem with law enforcement practices. We’ve seen time and again that officers are quick to employ chokeholds and pile on top of prone suspects and use whatever the term of art is for “knee on the neck,” as well as Tasers, pepper spray, rubber projectiles, tear gas, flashbangs and other sublethal weapons. Sublethal but still painful and dangerous, and far too often employed on peaceful protesters and suspects who are already under control. Or on bystanders, such as the reporter who lost an eye to a rubber-bullet impact during a Minneapolis protest.
But that’s a sermon for another Sunday. I’m here to point out a big problem with S.219 and other well-meaning proposals for reining in the excesses of the police. That’s the guy who makes the decisions on whether or not to bring charges — Attorney General TJ Donovan.
The same Donovan who, until this month according to VPR, has examined 18 excessive-force cases involving police officers — and brought charges in only one of those cases. The same Donovan who’s been frantically trying to get ahead of the crowd on justice reform so he can show “leadership.”
But beyond his nearly universal backing of questionable police conduct, there’s the newly reopened case of Joel Daugreilh, the former St. Albans police officer who, in 2017, pepper sprayed a suspect who was already handcuffed and secured in a cell.
Daugreilh’s supervisor determined that the action was “clearly over the line.” The city referred the case to Donovan’s office for possible criminal charges. And he chose not to bring any.
Well, not at the time. He reopened his probe in January, just after VPR requested records of the case. Convenient timing, no?
Donovan’s explanation to VPR was that in reviewing case records, he discovered new information that caused him to conclude that “I think I might have gotten this wrong.”
At the very least, this indicates a sloppy initial investigation and/or a rush to judgment in favor of the officer. At worst, Donovan is flat-out lying, and reopened the case solely because of potential media scrutiny. Also, from VPR’s story published on January 13:
A new expert will review the case and issue an opinion in a couple of weeks, Donovan said. He also promised to release body camera footage of the incident, regardless of whether his office files charges.
“A couple of weeks.” And, “promised to release body camera footage.”
After that, nothing for almost six months. On Monday, Donovan’s office announced the filing of charges against Daugreilh — bringing the AG’s career record on police misconduct to a sterling 2-17. He still hasn’t released the video, but he has promised further comment after Daugreilh’s arraignment, scheduled for Tuesday afternoon. (This is being written Tuesday morning.)
If the governor signs S.219 into law, Donovan is the gatekeeper. His track record doesn’t inspire much confidence that he would call these cases down the middle.
Bear this in mind when Donovan puts on his SJW hoodie and hits the campaign trail, seeking the Democratic nomination and another term in office. Is this the person you can trust to implement an overhaul of the criminal justice system?
Here’s another thing for justice-reform-minded voters to ponder. The new Golden Child of Vermont politics is Molly Gray, whose candidacy for lieutenant governor has attracted support from many of the Democratic Party’s top figures. She’s an assistant attorney general, working under Donovan, still on the job as she campaigns after hours. And she, for obvious reasons, is not free to comment on her boss’ track record on police misconduct.
Would she be a dynamic leader in the struggle for justice reform? Would she be an apologist for business as usual? Or, more likely, would she be yet another incrementalist who makes strong statements about the issue but delivers, at best, minor tweaks to the system?
The questions must be asked, about Donovan and about Gray.
Excellent reportage. The numerous murders of distressed Vermonters with obvious mental health problems by VSP who employ shoot to kill vs. shoot to disable policies have consistently been supported and defended by Donovan. Mr. Donovan is also dishonest as he parses words to mislead the public.
Example: At the conclusion of the 3 yr criminal fraud probe of the Bratlteboro Retreat, Donovan claimed “no criminal fraud” but never said “no fraud”. Indeed, AG Donovan has covered up wholesale fraud at the Brattleboro Retreat. Had Vermont’s media been willing to review the evidence of double-billing they would see that AG is complicit with other state leaders in shielding the truth from the public.
I was also concerned with Ms. Gray’s candidacy and the fact that she worked for AG Donovan. I l would learn later that Ms. Gray was hired at the end of the 3 yr fraud probe by the AGO and sources tell me Ms. Gray is a good and honorable person. That said, lawyers in Vermont, especially those involved in politics like Donovan often use their legal skills to shield the truth from the public. We saw this with the AGO claiming “sovereign immunity” in the Jay Peak Ponzi scheme to shield liability. We also see the dishonesty when Mr. Donovan invokes attorney-client privilege to shield revealing public records documents from investigations the AGO has worked on which confirm the AGO misleads the public as evidenced by the AGO’s position with the Retreat fraud investigation outcome.
Some weeks ago, Molly Gray phoned me and we had a pleasant conversation. She conceded she did not know some of the things I shared. I’ve regretted supporting other candidates for office like Gov. Phil Scott as the Governor, like Donovan, are comfortable not tell the public the truth about one of the state’s biggest frauds of public funds at the Brattleboro Retreat. In my conversation with Ms. Gray, I was hopeful by her acknowledgment that Vermont has many problems.