Category Archives: justice and corrections

Do We Really Need County Sheriffs?

The aggravating case of John Grismore may be an outlier, but it’s only one of many problems and scandals involving county sheriffs. So much so, that it makes you wonder if the office itself is worth all the trouble.

Grismore is the sheriff-elect of Franklin County, a fact only explicable by the fact that most voters have no idea what they’re doing when they choose a sheriff. Or side judge, for that matter.

Grismore has had quite the year. He was a captain in the FCSD who won the endorsement of outgoing sheriff Roger Langevin. That was enough to scare off any other potential candidates. Then, two days before the primary election, he was caught on security camera kicking a suspect in custody multiple times (in the groin at least twice) while the man was shackled to a bench.

Then, before the assault became public knowledge, Grismore won the Republican and Democratic primaries. Nine days after the primary, Langevin announced that Grismore had been fired, and also rescinded his endorsement. The leaders of both county party committees said they considered Grismore unfit to serve.

Even after all that, Grismore won the November election against two write-in candidates. Now, Franklin County lawmakers are considering impeachment, but that seems unlikely because it’s a time-consuming process and many lawmakers don’t like going out on a limb. So this guy will apparently be sheriff for four long years despite the fact that the county state’s attorney is preparing a Brady letter branding Grismore as an unreliable witness.

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Big Ol’ Cop Whines Like a Baby

Oh noes, Northfield Police Chief John Helfant has a bad case of the hurt fee-fees. Helfant, who has somehow kept his job despite being labeled as an unreliable witness by the Washington County State’s Attorney, claims he’s a victim of retaliation for his bigoted comments about transgender athletes.

Let’s back up a minute. Helfant felt it necessary to wade into the controversy triggered by a disgrace-to-journalism report by WCAX-TV, since taken down and banished to purgatory, about the situation with the Randolph High School girls’ volleyball team. WCAX’s original report, for which it has failed to apologize and devoutly wishes would go away forever, featured one interview with an athlete who, at the bidding of her mother, went public with a complaint about a transgender team member. By all other accounts, she made up some shit about being harassed by the trans girl.

Helfant, who previously made a fuss about a Black Lives Matter flag at the high school, wrote a letter to school officials complaining about the equal accommodation offered to the trans girl and accusing the district of abetting criminal activity. Just to be sure it went public, he offered it up for publication by the Vermont Daily Chronicle. In it, Helfant repeatedly referred to trans girls as “biological males” or even as “male students” and called for them to be segregated in locker rooms and bathrooms. He wrote that the district might be criminal accessories to voyeurism for allowing the trans girl — oh, pardon me, “male student” — to use the gender-appropriate locker room.

The district has temporarily removed him as a volunteer coach for the girls’ soccer team, citing unfinished paperwork related to the customary background check for school coaches. You know, because there have been so many instances of youth coaches sexually abusing their charges, background checks seem like a good idea, no exceptions, even if you’re a police chief. Or, say, a Catholic priest.

Maybe it’s retaliation, I don’t know. But if I were running the district, Helfant would be kicked to the curb for good.

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All the Tropes, All the Dog Whistles

I am not bound by the journalistic tradition of staying away from political reporting while the polls are open, and there are a couple things I’m itching to write about: Whether Molly Gray is burning every available bridge in the desperate closing days of her campaign, and how Ted Kenney’s stand on substance abuse reveals him to be unqualified for the position he seeks.

But Gray and Kenney won’t be relevant much longer, and Kenney’s statement is only the second stupidest I’ve seen from a Vermont lawyer this week.

Number one with a (metaphorical) bullet is Grand Isle State’s Attorney Doug DiSabito’s letter depicting Burlington as a lawless hellhole with gunfights and stickups around every corner and no home safe from invasion. The letter he was so proud of that he posted it on Twitter. Good God.

I was 13 years old in 1967. Two years earlier, my family had moved from the placid provinces of western Michigan to a Detroit suburb. Then the ’67 riots happened.

It was an upscale burb, but we lived only seven miles away from the Detroit border. My mom kind of freaked out, believing (as many suburbanites did) that the angry hordes would tire of burning their own neighborhoods and storm en masse up Woodward Avenue, looting and trashing their way through White Folks World.

It didn’t happen, but a remnant of those days remained: a corner of our basement where my mom loaded up the shelves with nonperishable food. You know, to keep us fed in case the supermarkets were all destroyed, deliveries stopped coming, and bands of you-know-who were terrorizing the neighborhoods.

It was serious at the time and more than a little racist, but eventually it became a reserve pantry, a useful add-on to our tiny kitchen.

I see the rotten, fearful spirit of those days in DiSabito’s letter. It’s not pretty.

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Sarah Fair George Needs to Kick Ted Kenney’s Ass All Over Chittenden County

The ability of TV cops and lawyers to mete out justice in a cool 42 minutes notwithstanding, America’s criminal justice system is an unholy mess and a human rights catastrophe. We lead the planet in prison population and incarceration rate.

According to World Population Review, the United States is the only country on earth with more than two million people behind bars. China is second in the counting stat with 1.7 million — but they have a much larger population, so its incarceration rate is pretty reasonable, actually.

Our rate is, hip hip hooray, number one in the world. 629 of every 100,000 Americans is behind bars. We’re the only country over 600. There are only four other countries over 500, and it’s not a group you want to be part of. The four are Rwanda, Turkmenistan, El Salvador, and Cuba.

And yet we often live in fear of crime and violence. Funny, huh?

The system badly needs an overhaul. Progressive prosecutors around the country are trying to nibble away at the worst excesses of the system. They need to be supported and validated by the voters.

Which is why incumbent Sarah Fair George not only has to win the Democratic primary for Chittenden County State’s Attorney, but she has to win by the widest possible margin. Ted Kenney has to lose, and lose badly.

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Let’s Not Blame the Prosecutor

I don’t know if the Ted Kenney campaign will have the gall to capitalize on Monday’s fatal shooting in Burlington, but if they don’t shout it from the rooftops, they will surely whisper it in the shadows. It seems like a political gift from the heavens for a tough-on-crime candidate looking to displace a progressive prosecutor.

But here’s the thing that caught my eye:

Using an AR-15 rifle, Dixon shot 22-year-old Kayla Noonan, a UVM student from New Jersey, and another 22-year-old woman who police have not identified, striking her multiple times, [Burlington Police Chief Jon] Murad said. Dixon subsequently shot and killed himself, the chief said.

Noonan was pronounced dead at the scene.

An AR-15, the gun of choice for mass murderers. Available for purchase just about anywhere.

Yeah, that’s not Sarah Fair George’s fault.

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Mr. Kenney Declines (UPDATED With Fresh Perfidy)

The busy beavers at the Vermont ACLU are giving some attention to the seldom-considered races for state’s attorney, especially the contested primaries in Addison, Chittenden, and Washington Counties. They’ve distributed an issues questionnaire, and they’re sponsoring a candidate forum on July 28 featuring the candidates from those three counties.

Well, most of them, anyway.

Declining to participate in the forum, you’ll be shocked to learn, is Ted Kenney, challenger to Chittenden incumbent Sarah Fair George and advocate of a vaguely defined admixture of reform and lock-’em-up.

Kenney also failed to return the ACLU’s candidate survey.

I guess it’s no surprise, since the ACLU supports the kind of reforms that George has championed. But it’s disappointing. I mean, if Kenney is tough enough to clean up Chittenden County, surely he’s got the cojones (or ovaries, if you prefer) to handle a skeptical encounter with a legitimate advocacy group.

Late add. I’ve been told that Kenney repeatedly stiffed the Chittenden County Democrats, who invited him to a forum. He told them he couldn’t make any of the suggested dates but never proposed any alternatives. So there’s that.

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Flaw and Disorder

The criminal justice system, always on hand to defend the defenseless and bring the perpetrators to heel.

Eh…

Doesn’t always work out that way. Two fresh examples from our own backyard: A judge vacates emergency protection orders against a sheriff who faces multiple charges related to domestic violence, and a cop shrugs his shoulders over a series of hate crimes.

Let’s take the latter first. Seems that some brave patriot is running around at night on Isle La Motte, setting pride flags on fire. VTDigger quotes “police” as saying “this is one of several similar incidents in the area occurring in the last month.” In at least one case, the same address has been repeatedly targeted.

Which must make the occupants feel vulnerable indeed, although the perp seems to have no appetite for direct confrontation — preferring to act under cover of darkness. As I’ve said before, these guys are paper tigers.

But I hope those occupants aren’t waiting for the police to swing into action. State trooper “Not That” Jordan Peterson:

“I think it will take the community coming together to try to figure out who did this and hold them responsible.”

Oooookay then. How about we make law-abiding drivers responsible for traffic enforcement or tell banks to solve armed robberies?

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“Cha-Ching” Goes the Race for Chittenden County State’s Attorney

Wow. Sarah Fair George and Ted Kenney are running what has to be the costliest race for state’s attorney in Vermont history. George, the incumbent, entered the race with $14,444 left over from previous campaigns and she’s raised another $34,623 this year from 182 separate donors. Challenger “Dead Eyes” Kenney has raised $33,331 from 129 donors.

Has this ever happened before? I can’t imagine it has.

(Side note: This may explain the relative absence of money in Chittenden County Senate races. The state’s attorney contest is attracting a lot of cash, presumably drawing funds away from other campaigns.)

Did anyone notice? The campaign finance reports were filed on July 1, and for the life of me I can’t find any reportage on this remarkable development.

Well, maybe not so remarkable. We knew this was going to be a red-hot contest between George’s progressive record and Kenney’s vaguely-defined combo platter of reform and crime reduction, but still. A combined $68,000 raised by July 1?

Kenney has dipped into his war chest (obligatory “war chest” reference, check) much more freely than George. As a result, George heads into the primary home stretch (obligatory “home stretch” reference, check) with a substantial edge in cash on hand.

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One of These Things Is Not Like The Other, Or Even Like Itself

Gov. Phil Scott must be feeling extra invulnerable right now. On Monday he decides not to appoint new state’s attorneys in two counties because it’s too close to the next election; on Wednesday he appoints a new Attorney General even though Election Day is even closer. He’s not even bothering to be subtle about it.

Scott declined to appoint anyone to the SA vacancies in Addison and Rutland Counties because there’s not enough time left in the SA’s term. It would create continuity issues, supposedly. Instead, the current interim occupants will serve out the remainder of the time.

Meanwhile, Scott is parachuting administration stalwart Susanne Young into the attorney general’s office to serve out the remainder of TJ Donovan’s term even though Donovan’s chief deputy Joshua Diamond is right there in place to, um, provide continuity. In a much more important and complex office.

So what is Scott doing here? Hell if I know, but I have a guess or two.

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Didja Ever Think That Maybe School Shootings Are the Schools’ Fault? Hmm?

VTGOP chair Paul Dame, that rhetorical blunderbuss who thinks he’s a surgical instrument, is at it again. In one of his recent Deep Thoughts, Dame offered some half-baked, wrong-headed theorizing on mass shootings in schools. It would have been pathetic if it wasn’t so damn offensive.

Republicans have been scrambling, post-Uvalde, to skirt the real issue around mass shootings, which is THE GUNS. Not the handguns or shotguns or single-shot rifles, but the murder machines we let pretty much anyone buy, possess, and deploy against the innocent.

But Dame doesn’t ape the usual Republican talking points of mental health or lax security. He’s had a brainsplosion of his own: It’s the schools’ fault.

Oh, he doesn’t come right out and say so. He questions. He implies. He earnestly ponders. He evokes the “sense of shock and frustration” that he clearly doesn’t share, or he wouldn’t be using the tragedy to make a stupid, inaccurate political point.

Time to dig into this manure pile and see if there’s a pony in there. (Spoiler alert: There isn’t.)

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