Jason Lawton’s arrest is “a good first step”: attorney for alleged victim

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The lawyer for a woman allegedly attacked by a former St. Albans police sergeant wishes that Jason Lawton of Fletcher were charged with felony aggravated assault. Attorney Albie Fox also says he’s disturbed by the process that was necessary to reach this point. He adds, though, that the misdemeanor simple assault arrest of the now-fired Lawton is a good first step for his client, Amy Connelly of Highgate.

Body cam video from mid-March appears to show Lawton punching Connelly after she herself had been arrested for her alleged role in a bar fight. Connelly is shown in the video in handcuffs, sitting in a holding cell. She suffered injuries to her face and her right eye. “Anyone looking at that video can see what happened there, and I’m happy that the (Vermont) Attorney General has decided to file these charges,” Fox said in a phone call from Brattleboro.

Vermont State Police said Thursday that the arrest comes after they, and the Attorney General’s Office, investigated for three months with the St. Albans Police Department’s cooperation. However, Fox won’t be quick to congratulate Lawton’s former employer. “At no point did they actually reach out to Amy, at no point did they recommend charges against Lawton, at no point did they contact the State Police — until after I become involved,” he said.

Prior to Fox’s involvement in this case, Connelly turned to the ACLU of Vermont for help. It was a Freedom Of Information Act request from ACLU staff attorney Jay Diaz that made the body cam video public. “Police officers are meant to protect and serve the community, not abuse it – and when a member of law enforcement uses excessive force, they and the system that produced them should be held accountable,” Diaz wrote in a statement Thursday. “Policing in Vermont and the U.S. too often creates an environment in which some officers believe they have permission to inflict harm on the communities they are sworn to protect. Until we see transformational change in the culture of policing and proactively train law enforcement on de-escalation strategies as a core part of their education, we will continue to see excessive use of force.”

Fox has attempted to get Connelly’s charges from the bar fight dismissed, but a judge denied his motion to do so. Her case is scheduled for a pre-trial conference in St. Albans on December 5.

State police tell us they have no further information about Lawton’s case, saying that because the state Attorney General’s Office will prosecute it, any questions about it should be directed to them. When we did direct our questions to them, they told us they have no comment at this time. Lawton is due to be arraigned this coming Monday.

We also attempted to speak with St. Albans Police Chief Gary Taylor for this story; however, we were told the chief wasn’t available for comment.

Two other St. Albans officers were nearby at the time of the alleged attack. One of them, Michael Ferguson, was later hired by the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office. Franklin County Sheriff Roger Langevin said in August that the St. Albans P.D. never notified them of this during Ferguson’s hiring process. Chief Taylor said in reply that his department turned over all information about Ferguson that it was legally obligated to release.

The Franklin County Sheriff’s Office placed Ferguson on administrative leave while it investigated his potential role in the incident. They determined Ferguson was on a phone call in another room when Lawton allegedly punched Connelly, only entering the room afterward. Because of that, Ferguson apparently did not know of Lawton’s suspected role until the body cam video became public. The sheriff’s office also said the St. Albans Police never disciplined or investigated Ferguson regarding the alleged assault on Connelly. Based on these findings, Ferguson has been reinstated to duty.

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