The Veepies: Awards for Outstanding Stupidity on Public Display

People occasionally ask me how I keep coming up with ideas. My answer is, there are always far more ideas than I can actually cover. This week, there were a few that I just couldn’t get to, but they seem worthy of note in short form. So, the first-ever Veepie Awards. Possibly a continuing series, but no promises. Or threats. The envelope, please…

Most Desperate Pushback Against Negative News Coverage. The winner is the Vermont Department of Corrections, which was on the bad end of a New York Times article outlining the toll of its Covid policies. In order to prevent outbreaks (at least a couple halppened anyway), DOC locked away exposed inmates in solitary confinement, the most extreme form of incarceration.

For weeks at a time… inmates were locked in 8½-by-10-foot cells in near-total isolation. They ate meals a few feet from their toilets, had no visitors, and spent as little as 10 minutes a day outside cells.

The strategy made the Vermont prison system one of the safest for contracting Covid, which is a dispiritingly low bar. But the cost, as the Times put it, has taken “a heavy toll on many inmates’ mental health, and driven some to psychological despair.”

And at least one to suicide. But hey, no Covid deaths!

The DOC’s public relations patch job included an official department tweet that had Corrections Commissioner Jim Baker protesting that “We took it dead serious from the first day.” Okay, maybe, but you know what you didn’t do?

Convince the administration to prioritize inmate vaccination. This article provides yet another reason why the state should have vaccinated inmates as early as possible. Which would have been quick and easy to do and wouldn’t have required all that many vaccines.

And no, the DOC doesn’t get bonus points for giving those inmates “electronic tablets, books and puzzles.” You can’t spend 23 hours and 50 minutes a day doing Sudoku.

The Inspector Clouseau Award for Inadequate Policing. This one goes to the Barre Police Department and its unsuccessful effort to solve the disappearance, one full year ago, of city resident Ralph Jean-Marie. Police Chief Tim Bombardier and State’s Attorney Rory Thibault staunchly defended the thoroughness of the investigation: “No single case has had more resources devoted to it by Barre City than the disappearance of Mr. Jean-Marie,” said Thibault.

And then Seven Days reporter Colin Flanders poked a big fat hole in that assertion by… er… going for a walk.

Seven Days spoke with six people who live in different homes within 100 yards of the motel who had not been contacted by the police about Jean-Marie’s disappearance.

That’s right. The case that supposedly got more attention than any other in the city began with the police failing to do something that Lennie Briscoe did every time he hit a crime scene: Canvass the neighborhood. See if anybody saw anything.

Guess they don’t watch “Law & Order” much in Barre.

Bombardier tried to backfill by saying his detectives would belatedly make the rounds, but he couldn’t explain why they didn’t take this elementary step in the first place. “I just think it escaped their thought process,” he said. “Thought process” seems like a generous description.

The Swiss Cheese Award for Legal Lacunae. To the wise heads who left a huge loophole for a rogue fight promoter to amble through. Randy Felion (methinks the “I” is silent) of Rutland was taken to task for repeatedly holding unlicensed fight events that included children as young as six years old.

The penalty? An administrative fine of $22,500. Felion was charged with promoting fights without a license and violating state orders on Covid safety.

What, there’s no criminal penalty for making kindergarteners fight for a paying crowd?

Here’s hoping the Legislature has a nice long think about this at its earliest opportunity, and devises a new entry in the criminal code.

The Norman Thomas Award for Persistence in the Face of Repeated Failure. To good ol’ boy Daniel Banyai of Slate Ridge, the illegal militia training ground in West Pawlet. It should be no surprise at all that Banyai has failed to abide by a court order to permanently close Slate Ridge and deconstruct all its unpermitted buildings.

It’s also no surprise that Banyai is throwing gasoline on the fire. He’s sent a series of hate-filled, barely literate emails to town attorney Merrill Bent. Like so:

You are a racist b—- that is a narcissist and controlling constitutionalist. For the last time while your entitlement serves you and the rest of the racist in this community no accountability cease and desist from contacting me directly.”

And so:

“You are not my boss c— you are a piece of s— racist low life with daddy issues. Your messages threaten me. F— you.”

He seems nice.

This turn of events was inevitable. It’s not like Banyai was going to come to his senses and slink away quietly. In fact, it’s hard to see any outcome other than a lengthy standoff and a violent denouement. This is a real dilemma that’s not going to go away without a persistent and costly effort on the part of police, prosecutors and the courts.

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