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Friday, December 6, 2019

Vermont Supreme Court Orders Release of Record Sought by Seven Days

Posted By on Fri, Dec 6, 2019 at 4:57 PM

Vermont Supreme Court justices during oral arguments in the case - DEREK BROUWER
  • Derek Brouwer
  • Vermont Supreme Court justices during oral arguments in the case
The Vermont Supreme Court on Friday unanimously affirmed a lower court's ruling that the Burlington School District can release to Seven Days a separation agreement between the district and a former school administrator.

The ruling, while narrow, also endorsed the district's unusual decision last year to sue the newspaper rather than respond to its public records request.

The case began in 2018 after the newspaper sought details of former Burlington Tech interim director Adam Provost's departure in January of that year for unspecified medical reasons. Provost had been on administrative leave for months before he resigned.

A Seven Days reporter asked the school district to provide any separation agreement involving Provost. The district believed the document was public under state law but said that Provost promised to sue unless certain details were withheld.

So the district drew up the legal equivalent of a football punt. Instead of responding to the newspaper's records request, it filed a lawsuit asking a judge to decide what it was obligated to release. The filing, known as a request for declaratory judgment, named Provost and Seven Days as defendants.

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Human Services Secretary to Take Control of Troubled Women's Prison

Posted By on Fri, Dec 6, 2019 at 1:39 PM

Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility - FILE: LUKE AWTRY
  • File: Luke Awtry
  • Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility
Updated at 2:02 p.m.

Following reports of wrongdoing at the Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility, Human Services Secretary Mike Smith is planning to take direct operational control of the South Burlington women's prison.

"I want a more active role through the secretary's office of monitoring what's going on there," he told Seven Days.

Chittenden Regional is currently overseen by the Department of Corrections, which is part of the sprawling Agency of Human Services. Smith's plan is to temporarily remove the women's prison from the DOC chain of command and run it from his agency's central office.

"I'm just trying to get the mechanism in place to do it," he said.

Smith said that the prison's superintendent, Theresa Stone, remains on the job, as does Corrections Commissioner Mike Touchette.

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Thursday, December 5, 2019

Vermont Dems to Hire Staffer for Burlington City Council Races

Posted By on Thu, Dec 5, 2019 at 5:49 PM

The Burlington City Council in 2017 - FILE: KATIE JICKLING
  • File: Katie Jickling
  • The Burlington City Council in 2017
The Vermont Democratic Party is advertising for a full-time staffer to boost its candidates' chances in Burlington City Council races this March.

It’s the first time the Vermont Dems have hired a field director to focus on Queen City council races, party spokesperson Christopher Di Mezzo said.

“Time and time again, the state party maybe hasn’t tried, maybe hasn’t fielded a staff member devoted specifically to this mission, and we’re changing that,” Di Mezzo said. “We hope the resources we’re investing in the community in Burlington will bring about Democratic leadership that will support a Democratic agenda in Vermont’s largest city.”

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Report Shows Officers Complained About Prison Drug Use, Retaliation in 2017

Posted By on Thu, Dec 5, 2019 at 5:14 PM

Corrections Commissioner Mike Touchette - FILE: PAUL HEINTZ
  • File: Paul Heintz
  • Corrections Commissioner Mike Touchette
Updated at 6:58 p.m.

A document obtained Thursday by Seven Days shows that Vermont Corrections Commissioner Mike Touchette was informed about allegations of drug use and retaliation at the Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility more than two years ago.

In an incident report dated June 27, 2017, corrections officer Steffen Flibotte recounted multiple incidents of suspected retaliation against prison employees for speaking out about alleged misconduct at the women's prison. Flibotte specifically described alleged drug use by shift supervisor Daniel Zorzi and complained that Zorzi had retaliated against officers who had brought it up to prison officials.

The two-page report, titled "Retaliation at CRCF," was addressed to Touchette, who was then serving as deputy commissioner at the Department of Corrections. It was provided to Seven Days by Brittany Sweet, a former officer at Chittenden Regional who sued the state that year for sexual harassment and retaliation. Flibotte declined to comment.
Flibotte's report appears to corroborate some of the allegations made in an investigation of Chittenden Regional published Wednesday by Seven Days. That story describes complaints of sexual misconduct, drug use and retaliation at the South Burlington facility. More than a dozen officers and inmates told the newspaper that, for years, Zorzi appeared to be intoxicated during his shifts at the prison. He was suspended in October and is under investigation by the Vermont State Police.

During a press conference Thursday in Montpelier, a Seven Days reporter read a portion of Flibotte’s incident report to Gov. Phil Scott. He called it “concerning” and said that he had not heard such complaints until the investigation was published Wednesday.

“We’re taking this very seriously and I guarantee we’ll get to the bottom of it, because it’s unacceptable,” the governor said.

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Scott Names William Cohen to Serve on Vermont Supreme Court

Posted By on Thu, Dec 5, 2019 at 11:05 AM

Justice William Cohen - COURTESY OF WILLIAM COHEN
  • Courtesy of William Cohen
  • Justice William Cohen
Updated at 4:42 p.m.

Gov. Phil Scott has appointed William “Bill” Cohen of Rutland to the Vermont Supreme Court.

A superior court justice in Rutland for the last 20 years, Cohen fills a vacancy created by the September 1 retirement of Justice Marilyn Skoglund, who departed after 22 years on the state’s highest court.

“Bill understands the needs of Vermonters as well as the challenges facing the judiciary and the justice system,” Scott said in a statement released Thursday morning. “Among a very strong candidate pool, Bill distinguished himself as someone with the right experience, temperament and character to serve the judiciary with excellence as an associate justice.”

In an interview, Cohen said he was “extremely happy” to be appointed but would also miss the close relationships he has built in Bennington, where he is the presiding judge.

He described himself as a moderate and his judicial philosophy as “to attempt as best I can to not judge out of fear or favor.”

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Burlington City Council President Kurt Wright Won't Seek Reelection

Posted By on Thu, Dec 5, 2019 at 10:28 AM

Kurt Wright - FILE: COURTNEY LAMDIN
  • FILE: Courtney Lamdin
  • Kurt Wright
Burlington City Council President Kurt Wright, the body's lone Republican, will not seek reelection to his Ward 4 seat come March 2020.

"It was an incredibly tough call," Wright announced on his radio show, WVMT's "The Morning Drive," on Thursday. "I don't make this decision lightly, and I don't feel great about it, but I think for now, I am out of politics as of the end of March."

Wright has served the New North End for nearly 25 years as a city councilor, state representative or both. After losing his House seat to Democrat Bob Hooper last fall, Wright vowed he wouldn't run again for political office. But he said he'd reconsidered in recent months after his council constituents urged him to stay on.

Wright's new talk radio gig, however, posed a problem. Federal broadcasting rules require that WVMT must afford equal time on-air to both Wright and his challenger, Sarah Carpenter, during a campaign. That wasn't feasible, so station ownership told Wright he'd have to take a 60-day hiatus from the airwaves. It was too long a break, he told listeners.

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Wednesday, December 4, 2019

After 32 Years on Council, Bushor Fails to Secure Prog Endorsement

Posted By on Wed, Dec 4, 2019 at 11:41 PM

Councilor Sharon Bushor (I-Ward 1) - COURTNEY LAMDIN
  • Courtney Lamdin
  • Councilor Sharon Bushor (I-Ward 1)
Burlington City Councilor Sharon Bushor lost her bid for the Progressive endorsement Wednesday night after a majority of voters selected Zoraya Hightower to represent Ward 1 in the March 2020 election.

Hightower clinched 42 votes to Bushor’s 17 in the caucus' only contested race. The loss was unprecedented for Bushor, an independent who had earned the Progs' endorsement every time she'd campaigned since first winning election to the city council in 1987.

“I'm disappointed,” Bushor said at Edmunds Elementary School. “It was clear to me from the people who came to the caucus that the support seemed to be in [Hightower's] favor.”

Bushor said the vote signals “a parting ... from the Progressive party, and one that’s sad for me.” She still plans to run for reelection as an independent and noted she welcomes the competition from Hightower, a relative newcomer who has called the Queen City home for four years.

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Governor Orders Investigation of Prison Allegations Reported by Seven Days

Posted By on Wed, Dec 4, 2019 at 5:25 PM

Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility - LUKE AWTRY
  • Luke Awtry
  • Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility
Updated at 9:13 p.m.

Gov. Phil Scott on Wednesday ordered Human Services Secretary Mike Smith to “thoroughly investigate” allegations reported by Seven Days of officer misconduct at Vermont’s sole prison for women.

In a statement released late Wednesday, Smith said he was “deeply concerned” about allegations made by inmates and officers at the Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility, and he vowed to take action. “If any of what has been reported is true, we have a problem,” the secretary said. “We’re going to find that problem and we’re going to solve it.”

Hours earlier, Chittenden County State’s Attorney Sarah George said she planned to review the sentences of 20 female inmates her office has sent to the South Burlington prison and who remain incarcerated there. If appropriate, George said, she may seek their release from the facility.
The Seven Days investigation found credible allegations of sexual misconduct by more than a dozen of the prison’s officers since it became home to female inmates in August 2011. Officers and inmates alike alleged that prison officials ignored complaints and retaliated against those who lodged them.

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Troopers Shoot Man Holding a Shotgun in Bristol, State Police Say

Posted By on Wed, Dec 4, 2019 at 3:08 PM

The scene of an officer-involved shooting in Bristol - COLIN FLANDERS
  • Colin Flanders
  • The scene of an officer-involved shooting in Bristol
Vermont State Police say two troopers responding to a reported domestic violence incident shot an armed man outside of his Bristol home Tuesday night.

A relative of 28-year-old Greg West called police to report that he was intoxicated and engaging in threatening behavior inside of his Lower Notch Road home, according to police. Troopers arrived at the scene to find West standing in a steep driveway holding a shotgun, which he refused to put down despite officers' attempts to "deescalate the situation," Maj. Dan Trudeau said at a press conference Wednesday morning.

"This went back and forth for several minutes, and ultimately, there was some gunfire by the troopers," Trudeau said. A Bristol police officer who was also at the scene appears to not have fired her weapon, Trudeau said.

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Burlington Settles Lawsuit Over Homeless Encampment Policy

Posted By on Wed, Dec 4, 2019 at 2:45 PM

A camp off the bike path - FILE: COURTNEY LAMDIN
  • FILE: Courtney Lamdin
  • A camp off the bike path
The City of Burlington will pay $25,000 to settle a lawsuit that alleged the city trashed a homeless man’s belongings without adequate notice.

The November 26 settlement with Brian Croteau Sr. also prescribes a new homeless encampment policy, according to the American Civil Liberties Union of Vermont, which represented Croteau along with cooperating counsel Jared Carter and Gary Sarachan.

“With this settlement, some of Burlington’s most marginalized residents are protected from having their personal property seized and destroyed without due process,” ACLU of Vermont staff attorney Lia Ernst said in a press release. “The ACLU remains committed to ending the criminalization of poverty and homelessness in Vermont, and this agreement is a positive step toward that goal.”

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