Commission provides synopsis of misconduct investigations involving Vermont State Police troopers

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Commission provides synopsis of misconduct investigations involving Vermont State Police troopers

Tue, 01/19/2021 - 4:30pm -- tim

Vermont Business Magazine Michael Schirling, commissioner of the Department of Public Safety, and Nancy Sheahan, chairwoman of the State Police Advisory Commission, issued the following joint statement Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021, regarding the work of SPAC and the Internal Affairs Office within the Department of Public Safety during the first half of 2020.

DPS in the past has provided an overview of SPAC’s work, but today’s public release of information represents the first time the department has provided detail about individual cases.

“In an effort to further increase transparency in operations, beginning in January 2021 and continuing twice annually in January and July, the Department of Public Safety and Vermont State Police, with the support of the independent State Police Advisory Commission, will begin releasing synopses of all internal investigations,” Commissioner Schirling said. “These synopses will be compiled in six month increments to balance timeliness with the need to have complete investigations and resolutions prior to release.”

The report (below) contains synopses of the 10 matters that came before SPAC from January 1 to June 30, 2020.

The report shows that of the 10 cases, six came to the attention of supervisors due to internal reporting by members of the state police, and four arose through complaints by community members.

Four of the complaints were determined to have represented no violation by the VSP member in question, while the other six complaints were substantiated. The substantiated complaints included instances related to accidental firearms discharge; a motor vehicle crash; off-duty alcohol consumption; violations of COVID-19 safety protocols; and mistreatment of other troopers. Sanctions for these violations ranged from letters of reprimand to loss of annual leave time and suspensions without pay.

Synopses in the report do not include identifying information about the troopers involved, which is confidential as a matter of law.

The State Police Advisory Commission was created by statute in 1979 and is comprised of seven members appointed by the governor with the advice and consent of the Vermont Senate. 

Among the duties of SPAC is to provide civilian oversight of the Vermont State Police and to advise and counsel the Commissioner of Public Safety in his/her overall responsibilities for the management, supervision and control of the Vermont State Police. In addition, SPAC is statutorily empowered to provide advice and counsel to the Commissioner of Public Safety to ensure appropriate action is taken with respect to allegations of misconduct by Vermont State Police officers.

To assist the Commissioner of Public Safety and SPAC, Vermont law also requires DPS to maintain an Office of Internal Investigations (IA), whose sole responsibility is to investigate allegations of misconduct by members of the Vermont State Police. The IA Office, staffed with a Vermont State Police commander, reports directly to the commissioner.

The current SPAC members are each highly respected professionals and represent a cross-section of Vermont. They are:

•                 Nancy Sheahan (chairwoman) 

•                 Glenn Boyde (vice chairman)

•                 Allison Crowley DeMag

•                 John Filipek

•                 Shirley Jefferson

•                 Mary Alice McKenzie

•                 Patti Pallito

The Department of Public Safety IA Office receives allegations of misconduct or improper conduct by a Vermont state trooper in two ways.

First, the public may lodge a complaint regarding a state trooper’s conduct by telephone, through the Vermont State Police website, via email, or in person. These allegations are referred to as “citizen complaints.”

In addition, each VSP member is obligated to promptly report any evidence or allegation of misconduct or improper conduct involving a state trooper. These reports are referred to as “employee complaints.” 

Not all complaints rise to the level of requiring a formal internal affairs investigation. These are typically handled by the station or unit commander. For instance, a complaint about a trooper who was speeding on the highway normally would be handled by the station or unit commander.

More serious allegations, as determined by the commissioner, are opened as formal internal affairs investigations. In the case of an allegation of misconduct that consists of criminal conduct, the internal investigation typically is stayed pending the conclusion of a criminal investigation and/or prosecution by appropriate prosecutorial authorities.

Once an internal affairs investigation is complete, the commissioner determines what disciplinary action, if any, is appropriate and should be imposed. The entire case is then reviewed by the State Police Advisory Commission to ensure appropriate action has been taken.

Vermont law requires that all internal investigations “shall be confidential” except in limited circumstances.

Accordingly, specific details beyond the synopses regarding these 2020 investigations cannot be made public.

SPAC meetings are generally held bi-monthly and are open to the public (except when SPAC is in executive session). Meeting dates can be found on the DPS website by clicking the SPAC link under “Committees and Boards.”

Vermont Department of Public Safety - Vermont State Police

Synopses of internal investigations for the period of January 1, 2020 through June 30, 2020

Released January 19, 2021

Background: In an effort to further increase transparency in operations, beginning in January 2021 and continuing twice annually in January and July, the Department of Public Safety and Vermont State Police, with the support of the independent State Police Advisory Commission, will begin releasing synopses of all internal investigations. These synopses will be compiled in six month increments to balance timeliness with the need to have complete investigations and resolutions prior to release.

Notes:

A. “Internally generated” indicates the complaint was made by a co-worker / employee of the Department.

“Externally generated” indicates the complaint was made by someone outside the department, most often a member of the public involved in an event or investigation.

B. All investigations, details and outcomes are reviewed by the State Police Advisory Commission pursuant to their oversight role outlined in state statute.

1. Complainant: Externally generated - January 2020

Synopsis: Inquiry into an allegation that a trooper did not return money to a citizen. Investigation revealed that a trooper did not take possession of the money.

Outcome: Finding that no policies had been violated.

2. Complainant: Internally generated - January 2020

Synopsis: Investigation revealed that a trooper experienced a negligent accidental discharge of his firearm while attending firearms training.

Outcome: Finding of “Negligent Discharge of Firearm.” Employee disciplined for violating this policy – Letter of Reprimand.

3. Complainant: Internally generated - January 2020

Synopsis: Investigation revealed that a trooper failed to report an on-duty motor vehicle accident in which he was involved.

Outcome: Finding of “Violation of Rules.” Employee disciplined for violating this policy – 4 days loss of annual leave.

4. Complainant: Internally generated - January 2020

Synopsis: A trooper reported that she struck an intoxicated male next to whom she was seated during a flight to Burlington, VT. Investigation determined that the trooper, who self-reported the event and did not identify herself as a law enforcement officer, struck this male in physical defense of herself. Self-defense was confirmed by independent third-party witness.

Outcome: Finding that no policies were violated.

5. Complainant: Internally generated - February 2020

Synopsis: Inquiry into an allegation that a trooper mistreated another trooper while training them during the field training process. Investigation determined that mistreatment occurred but was isolated to this trainer and was not practiced by other trainers or condoned by supervisors.

Outcome: Finding of a “Conduct” violation. Employee was disciplined for violating this policy – Letter of Reprimand.

6. Complainant: Externally generated - February 2020

Synopsis: Inquiry into allegation that a trooper was in personal possession of evidence. Investigation determined that the trooper was not in personal possession of evidence.

Outcome: Finding that no policies were violated.

7. Complainant: Internally generated - March 2020

Synopsis: Investigation revealed that a trooper consumed alcohol off duty in a manner that discredited the Vermont State Police.

Outcome: Finding of “Conduct” and “Alcohol Off Duty.” Employee disciplined for violating those policies – Letter of Reprimand and 1-day suspension without pay.

8. Complainant: Internally generated - May 2020

Synopsis: Investigation revealed that a trooper acted in violation of Governor Scott’s Executive Order related to COVID-19 by attending a business (exercise facility) that had been ordered closed.

Outcome: Finding of “Conduct.” Employee was disciplined for violating this policy – 1-day suspension without pay.

9. Complainant: Externally generated - May 2020

Synopsis: Inquiry into an allegation that troopers illegally seized and searched a citizen’s residence. Investigation revealed that the troopers did not violate policy when conducting their investigation.

Outcome: Finding that no policies were violated.

10. Complainant: Externally generated - June 2020

Synopsis: Inquiry into an allegation that a trooper did not take proper precautions to prohibit the potential spread of COVID-19 during an investigation. Investigation revealed that the trooper failed to adhere to the health precautions established by the State Police in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Outcome: Finding of “Conduct.” Employee was disciplined for violating this policy – 2 days loss of annual leave, Letter of Reprimand and remedial training.

Source: WATERBURY, Vermont (Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021) — Department of Public Safety