Category Archives: justice and corrections

Ass Clowns of the Antifa

The brave freedom fighters of Burlington have delivered a master stroke of stupidity.

During a City Council meeting in December, Councilor Joan Shannon was bombarded with prank calls — more than two hundred of them. The barrage interfered with her ability to participate in the meeting. Several miscreants were referred to a restorative justice program, which is way better than prosecution.

Now, you can think what you like about Joan Shannon. She’s a frequent target of abuse on Twitter, from people who think she’s a defender of the powerful and an opponent of police reform. Disagreeing with her is fair game. Trying to defeat her in the next election is fair game. Slagging her on social media is, well, not great, but within the bounds of what we all use social media for.

Prank calling? It’s juvenile. It’s sophomoric. And it’s counterproductive, since it’s likely to make Burlingtonians think less of the movement.

I mean, what’s next? TP’ing her trees? Tossing eggs at her house? Flaming bag of dogshit on the doorstep? Did the well-organized, principled folks who led the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020 suddenly revert to the seventh grade?

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TJ Gets to Keep His Fig Leaf

Huzzah, hooray, the Vermont Supreme Court has upheld the state’s ban on high-capacity firearm magazines. It’s a nice little victory for a law that will mainly be used to add another charge to an offender’s charging document.

Because hey, nobody’s going to be out there doing primary enforcement of this thing. It’ll be enforced after the fact, when someone has been arrested for some other offense.

More importantly for Vermont’s top legal eagle, the court has allowed Attorney General T.J. Donovan to press his case against notorious asshole white supremacist Max Misch.

For those with short memories, Donovan filed the firearms charge against Misch after declining to prosecute Misch for hate crimes — particularly his open harassment of former state representative Kiah Morris, who left the Legislature because she was targeted by haters.

His decision not to pursue hate crime charges triggered a backlash from those who thought Misch deserved some kind of punishment, and that Morris deserved some kind of recourse in the law. After all, the police barely lifted a finger* to investigate her complaints of harassment. Ditto the Bennington County State’s Attorney. Donovan’s decision not to prosecute Misch meant that Morris got absolutely zero protection from the criminal justice system.

*In fact, Police Chief Paul Doucette’s biggest issue with the case was that “it is damaging the reputation of the Town of Bennington, the Bennington Police Department and myself personally.” He has also accused Morris of profiting financially off her claims. Nice guy.

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Straw Men and Uppity Women (UPDATED)

So the big question on #vtpoli Twitter today was: Did Public Safety Commissioner Michael Schirling call Rep. Tanya Vyhovsky “uppity”?

Short answer: Yeah, kinda.

See note below: Schirling has issued a kinda-apology.

It happened in a Thursday hearing by the House Judiciary and Government Operations committees, to consider a statewide use-of-force policy for law enforcement personnel. I didn’t monitor the hearing live, but after seeing some outraged tweets, I listened to the passage in question. (One of the benefits of the Zoom Legislature is that all hearings are streamed live, and archived, on YouTube. I hope they continue the practice after We All Return To Whatever Normal Is.)

Vyhovsky and Schirling had a lengthy colloquy about current policy and practice. She questioned whether police should be trained, “first and foremost,” in de-escalation tactics instead of resorting to force. Schirling acknowledged the need to review training practices, but said her premise (that police use force more often than they should because of the training they receive) was dead wrong.

I’ll go through the confab in more detail after the jump, but first we’ll cut to the chase. At the end of the back-and-forth, Schirling made reference to “the somewhat uppity exchange that the Representative and I had.” He paused before “uppity.” I think he was searching for the right word. He chose the wrong one.

He did not actually refer to Vyhovsky as “uppity,” but that’s how he characterized their discussion. The problem is, “uppity” is often used to describe women or people of color who don’t “know their place.” It definitely has a pejorative connotation. And I doubt he would characterize himself as “uppity.”

Schirling committed another offense, albeit a very common one, elsewhere in the exchange. He consistently misinterpreted Vyhovsky’s points and instead whaled away at straw men of his own devising. He didn’t take her arguments seriously. Which is a subtler kind of sexism than calling someone “uppity.”

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Tell me again why we can’t defund the police

One of the homey little touches in my local newspaper, the Times Argus, is the regular listing from the police blotter. This is labeled “a sampler” from the log; I can’t say how they choose what they print. I’d assume it’s somewhat representative.

Well, if it is, then Montpelier could probably get by with a couple fewer cops. The latest Police Log largely contains calls that didn’t require an armed response, and every log is simliar in content. Let’s run it down, shall we?

Feb. 1: On Northfield Street, a report of someone having seizures who was using alcohol and Valium was unfounded.

Well, ehh. Better handled by a trained social worker. Which is one of the ideas offered by the “Defund the Police” movement: Fewer cops and more social worker/counselor types.

A vehicle broke down on Main Street.

I’d suggest calling Bob’s Sunoco. Very prompt towing service. Or AAA if you’re a member.

Someone from Oregon called to report their Vermont phone number was prank called. They were told to contact their local police.

Yeah, no.

Feb. 2: A trash can was blocking a sidewalk plow on Pearl Street.

Get out of the truck and move the damn thing.

After the jump: The carnage continues.

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Adventures in Bureaucracy, Capitol Security Division

“Bureaucracy” is usually a pejorative term meaning excessive complication and expense, especially in the public sector. That’s one side of it, for sure. On the other hand, the public’s business must inevitably involve some level of bureaucracy.

Take, for example, security in Montpelier’s Capitol Complex. The map above shows it almost exactly. The borders, more or less, are the Winooski River in the south, Bailey Avenue on the west, Terrace Street and somewhere behind the Statehouse on the north, and Governor Aiken Street/Taylor Street to the east. It’s a mix of state buildings, privately owned buildings, lawns and parking lots. The state properties include all three branches of government plus offices for statewide elected officials.

Security in the area involves numerous entities, including the Capitol Police, the Department of Buildings and General Services, the judiciary’s security team, the Montpelier Police Department, the Washington County Sheriff’s office, and the Vermont State Police.

That’s a lot of bureaucracies, and they need seamless coordination to provide effective security. This was the subject of a Tuesday hearing before the Senate Institutions Committee which, frankly, was bone-dry at times — but nonetheless crucial, if we’re to have the best security in and around the Capitol.

Which has become much more urgent in recent years, with frequent demonstrations in and around the Statehouse and the threat of potentially violent protests around President Biden’s election and inauguration.

Security protocols for the complex are laid out in a Memorandum of Understanding involving the Capitol Police, BGS and judicial branch security. The most recent version was crafted in 2016, and committee chair Joe Benning believes there’s a pressing need to “rebuild [the MOU] from scratch.” He wants to come up with a draft MOU by the end of this month.

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Vermont’s Female Inmates Shouldn’t Expect Sanitary Facilities Anytime Soon

The good news: The Scott administration’s capital spending request includes money for a new women’s prison.

The bad news: It’s gonna take years for anything to actually happen.

The proposed capital bill would allocate $1.5 million over the next two fiscal years toward a replacement for the outdated and unsanitary Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility, a.k.a. the state women’s prison. That money is nothing more than a down payment; the stated purpose is for “Planning and Design, Outside Consultants.”

That’s right, at least two years of planning lies ahead before anything concrete will be done.

As a reminder, the Seven Days expose that started all this was published more than a year ago, and included this lovely nugget:

Soon after women prisoners were moved to the South Burlington facility in 2011, a group of local nonprofits documented the presence of worms and drain flies in the showers, inadequate heating and cooling systems, and a dearth of toilets. In a report released last month, Vermont Interfaith Action described a “depressing, hopeless atmosphere” within the prison.

Everyone agrees that the women’s prison is kind of a hellhole, but the inmates will just have to be patient, won’t they?

After the jump: Work begins on legislation to address the DOC’s dysfunctional culture.

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The Statehouse Will Never Be the Same Again

Sad Boi.

Don’t know if it was the heavy security or the heavy snow that deterred the diehard Trumpers on Sunday, but the expected rally didn’t materialize. Now we have to worry about Inauguration Day, when the police will once again be out in force outside and inside the Statehouse.

That won’t be the end of it, of course. Whether the “Stop the Steal” crowd shows up on Wednesday or not, there’s still a lot of folks who think the election was rigged, and they’re angry about it. Most will be peaceful, but it only takes one. There will be an ongoing threat, which means heightened security around government buildings.

That means the Statehouse, as we knew and loved it, is a thing of the past. We’ve long been proud of the openness of The People’s House; the ability of anyone to just walk into the building or into a committee hearing or hobnob with legislators in the cafeteria, the governor and lieutenant governor holding open coffee hours for all comers. It’s just charming to be able to walk the halls and stumble across lawmakers and officeholders and public officials of every rank, and have casual conversations with them all.

It’s a certainty that there will be painful discussions about Statehouse security before lawmakers adjourn for the year. Out of an abundance of caution, new measures will be taken.

Ready for metal detectors at the entrances? A substantially augmented Capitol Police force, probably with body armor and guns? State troopers on hand during legislative work days? A tactical team on site? A lot more locked doors? Security checkpoints outside the House and Senate chambers? Limited or no access to all the hearing rooms unless you’re on the witness list? I mean, those committee meetings get really crowded and each room has only a single exit. Imagine being trapped in there with an armed wingnut.

Wait, I’m not finished. And I haven’t even gotten to the pandemic yet.

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For the Women’s Prison, a long slog to respectability

Best room: Karen Dolan, effective minimalist backdrop and good facial lighting. Worst: Tie between Marcia Martel and Linda Joy Sullivan. Bad lighting, odd backdrop, and up-the-nostril camera positioning.

The House committee that oversees the state prison system got its first look today at a devastating report on the Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility, a.k.a. the state women’s prison.

The report by the law firm Downs, Rachlin and Martin was commissioned following a December 2019 investigative piece by Paul Heintz, then working for Seven Days. It unveiled widespread sexual misconduct and drug use between prison staff and inmates. Indeed, at today’s hearing, Acting Corrections Commissioner James Baker credited the Seven Days expose for bringing the issues to light.

The DRM report, released in December, confirmed the substance of Heintz’ story. Today, DRM presented the report to the House Corrections & Institutions Committee. All parties expressed a resolve to fix the problems at the prison, but emphasized that it’s going to take time — and to some degree, progress depend on state investment in personnel, training and facilities, at a time when money is extremely tight in Montpelier.

Jen McDonald, a partner at DRM, said misconduct has occurred “to a significant degree” in recent years; that many incidents are never reported through DOC channels because of “a belief of inaction” on inmate allegations (indeed, DRM staff uncovered many alleged incidents of misconduct that were never officially reported); and that training on sexual harassment is not mandatory — something that came as an unpleasant surprise to McDonald. She also told lawmakers that she was shocked at the antiquated, unsanitary conditions in CRCF, which were not within the scope of DRM’s work.

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State Officials Play Hot Potato With Militia Training Ground

Okay, this is a disgrace.

VPR’s Peter Hirschfeld and Nina Keck have produced a whopper of a story that, among other things, outlines the state’s complete abdication of responsibility for investigating the Slate Ridge tactical shooting range and militia training facility in West Pawlet.

VTDigger first broke the story in November, detailing how many residents live in fear of Slate Ridge and its owner, Daniel Banyai. Digger also reported that concerned residents have tried repeatedly and failed to get any kind of enforcement or investigation of Slate Ridge or Banyai, despite his threatening behavior and criminal record.

The VPR story exposes quite a bit of new ground. The most egregious revelation: State authorities have played an energetic game of pass-the-buck regarding Slate Ridge, with the result that there is no investigation at all currently in progress. This, despite the fact that Banyai is openly flouting Act 250 rules. That’s pretty cut-and-dried, right? It shouldn’t be hard to get him on that.

Well, never underestimate the creativity of bureaucrats in avoiding a difficult task.

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Our AG Executes the Rare Double Holiday Weekend Newsdump

Fuzzier and fuzzier…

Last Thursday was New Year’s Eve, the beginning of a long holiday weekend. What better time for a politician to dump potentially damaging news?

And yep, there was Attorney General T.J. Donovan issuing not one, but two press releases on Thursday afternoon the first at 2:31 and the second at 3:14. Each showcased the less progressive, and reflexively law ‘n order, side of him.

First came news that Donovan was dropping of multiple serious felony charges against former St. Albans police officer Zachary Pigeon and his father Allen, for allegedly removing a woman from her home and assaulting her. The woman had come forward with accusations that Zachary had sexually assaulted her some years ago when she was a child. Donovan made the decision because he could not “meet the elements of the charged crimes beyond a reasonable doubt at this time.”

This case had been filed by the Franklin County State’s Attorney, who apparently saw grounds for prosecution. But the SA punted the case up to Donovan due to conflicts of interest. And now Donovan is tossing it out the window.

The exact opposite tack was taken in the second press release, which touted a state Supreme Court ruling in the case of State v. Alta Gurung, which means that a new competency hearing will be conducted for Gurung.

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