A former St. Albans police officer who allegedly punched a woman in the face during an arrest pleaded not guilty at his arraignment on Monday. He was charged with simple assault for the March 15 incident in a station holding room.
Police body-cam video appears to show then-Sgt. Jason Lawton, 31, punching 35-year-old Amy Connelly, then throwing her headfirst to the floor. Lawton was fired in July after an internal investigation found that he used excessive force following Connelly’s arrest at Shooters Bar on Kingman Street on March 14.
Vermont Attorney General T.J. Donovan says they will continue investigating the case as they prepare their arguments.
“My first reaction was that this is an individual who was handcuffed behind their back, who was in the care and custody of the police department and that this punch which, was an uppercut to the face was totally unnecessary and it was an act of violence,” said Donovan.
Lawton was fired in July following an internal investigation by the St. Albans Police Department. The incident was then investigated by Vermont state police and the Attorney Generals office who is prosecuting the case.
Court documents say Connelly had kicked Lawton in the shin before he punched her. Donovan argues that Connelly wasn’t a threat.
“Here we think the fact that Miss Connelly was handcuffed behind her back in a holding cell that she was not posing a threat of harm of injury to the officer,” said Donovan.
Lawton was charged with the misdemeanor following an investigation by the Vermont State Police and an independent review by the Vermont Attorney General’s Office. The charge is punishable by up to one year in jail and $1,000 in fines.
Connelly’s lawyer said Lawton’s alleged attack caused “horrendous” injury to his client, who allegedly got drunk, attempted to fight with customers and refused to leave the bar. Attorney Albie Fox said he was “happy” Lawton will be held accountable, but he believes the former officer should have been charged with aggravated assault, a felony.
Fox attempted to get Connelly’s charges from the bar fight dismissed, but a judge denied his motion and scheduled a pre-trial conference in St. Albans on December 5.