Back in June, the Burlington City Council approved the creation of a community task force to offer oversight of the Burlington Police. That group is reviewing BPD policies on use of force, among other things.
Two of the task force’s members told the Burlington Police Commission Tuesday night that the group is much of the way through its work to create use-of-force recommendations.
The police commission meeting comes just after VTDigger released June 2017 body cam footage from Roosevelt Park.
“That video shows a bunch of kids in the park that were on the verge of a violent fight and officers stopping that fight from happening,” BPD Chief Brandon del Pozo said.
One portion appears to show Officer Cory Campbell threatening to pepper-spray at least one of the young people.
“Back up; you’re going to get sprayed,” a voice coming from out of the frame believed to be Campbell’s says. “Back up!”
“I’m backing up,” the person being spoken to says.
“It’s his phone, though,” an unidentified third person says.
“I understand, but it’s not worth fighting for right now,” the voice believed to be Campbell’s says.
Another portion appears to show Officer Oren Byrne ordering another teen to turn around or else he’d get sprayed…with an obscenity included in the order. Three teens are eventually shown being arrested for disorderly conduct.
“There’s no getting around what, in fact, happened,” Chief del Pozo said. “Body cam captures that. We see in the video at Roosevelt Park, for example, Cory Campbell again trying to break up a fight, saying, ‘guys, just go home; it’s not worth fighting for’, and I think that’s good police work.”
The BPD denied a request from Burlington resident Reed Doyle to view the video, then told him it would charge him hundreds of dollars to redact the video before he could view it. Doyle, and the Vermont ACLU, sued the department and won.
Vermont ACLU staff attorney Jay Diaz says in part, “This video is yet another example of law enforcement overreacting to Black and brown children engaging in common childhood behavior. …Burlington has taken some positive steps to prevent incidents like this from happening, but we hope to see more substantive training of Vermont police to eliminate biased outcomes and better ensure de-escalation is the rule and not the exception.”
It’s also worth mentioning that Cory Campbell is the same BPD officer who encountered Douglas Kilburn at UVM Medical Center this past March. That encounter led to an exchange of punches and to Kilburn being treated for a fractured skull. He died in his apartment later that week; Vermont State Police are still investigating that case.
Chief del Pozo also says the Burlington Police’s 2017 use of force report is about to be updated. A draft version should be ready in the next few weeks.
“We’d have it done sooner, but we have a very gifted data analyst who just returned from some maternity leave,” the chief said. “We want her to scrub the report, flesh it out a bit and then we’ll be showing it to the commission.”
The Police Commission only has one more meeting scheduled this year; it’ll be on Tuesday, December 10th at 6:00 p.m. at BPD headquarters.
That’s also where the community task force meets every other Tuesday at 5:45 p.m. It’s required to give recommendations to the City Council by the end of November.
For the task force to continue to meet after that, it has to ask the council for an extension. According to Randall Harp, a police commissioner who also serves on the task force, it has not yet done so.