The Burlington Police Department is facing federal lawsuits from two men accusing officers of using excessive force, they say knocked them unconscious.
The lawsuits stem from two separate incidents which have prompted the department to release the body cam footage.
“We make mistakes that require investigation, that require accountability,” said Chief Brandon Del Pozo.
The incidents both took place outside of bars in downtown Burlington last September. The first video shows Sgt. Jason Bellavance responding to an altercation. He appears to shove a man identified as Jeremie Meli in the chest with full force. According to the lawsuit, Meli was left unconscious from the blow.
Chief Del Pozo said they conducted an internal investigation into the incident.
“We contracted with an investigator from New Hampshire and a use of force expert from Maryland,” Del Pozo said.
He said they also worked with the police commission which is made up of community members who help look into misconduct.
“It’s excruciating to watch the body cam footage due to the nature of the injuries,” Del Pozo said. “We it frame by frame over and over until we’ve seen it as many times as we need,” said Shireen Hart, Vice Chair of the police commission.
The investigation resulted in suspension without pay for Sgt. Bellavance.
“Our investigation substantiated the finding that the use of force from one of our officer’s was unnecessary,” Del Pozo said.
The second incident took place one day prior. It shows an officer responding to a fight, when he appears to slam one of the men to the ground without warning.
These lawsuits come weeks after a medical examiner ruled the manner of a man’s death a homicide, days after he was hit in the head by a Burlington officer.
Chief Del Pozo said they’ve always been committed to transparency.
“We haven’t dragged our feet on any of these findings or investigations,” he said. “It’s motivated from our desire to be accountable and to be transparent and to maintain our trust with not only our police counterparts but the city at large.”
The two men involved in the encounters were arrested, but prosecutors later dropped the charges. Chief Del Pozo said the officer who was suspended is back on the force. He said it was the longest use of force suspension in the department and the second longest he’s administered during his time as chief.