ST. ALBANS, Vt. – St. Albans Mayor Tim Smith defended Police Chief Gary Taylor’s handling of an excessive force incident in which a former officer punched a handcuffed woman.
At Monday’s City Council meeting, Smith said there is “much more good” coming from the department than negative.
“I think I speak for the full council when I say we support the chief,” he said. “He’s addressing this situation and we’re going to move forward with corrective policies.”
The assault occurred in March, when then-Sgt. Jason Lawton punched 35-year-old Amy Connelly of Highgate, who was seated and handcuffed in a holding cell.
Lawton then threw Connelly headfirst onto the floor as several other officers stood by.
An investigation into the incident wasn’t initiated until May, after the ACLU of Vermont requested officers’ body-cam footage of Connelly’s arrest. In a statement August 6, Taylor said he reviewed the case file after the ACLU’s request and decided to launch an internal investigation.
On Monday, Taylor defended the department, saying the investigation began almost immediately after supervisors became aware of the incident.
“Nobody had to tell us what to do here or encourage us to do the right thing,” he said. “This was discovered by a lieutenant on May 28 who brought it to my attention on the 29th, we initiated everything on June 3 and by July 1, Lawton was terminated.”
Two officers involved in the incident – Michael Ferguson and Zachary Koch – faced discipline as well.
Ferguson resigned a day after the investigation started upon learning that he would likely be fired. He then applied for a job with the Franklin County Sheriff’s Department.
Last week, the sheriff’s office said it was not informed of Ferguson’s role in Connelly’s arrest and only learned of it from news reports after he was hired.
Taylor described Koch as the “least culpable” officer because he was filing paperwork with dispatch when the punch was thrown. Koch is currently suspended and going through remedial training.
“When the incident was over, when the physical part of it was over with, he was told that Sgt. Lawton would complete the response to resistance which is a form you have to fill out if you use force of any kind,” Taylor said. “His explanation is that he expected that met his responsibility to notify command staff.”
When given the opportunity, no city councilors questioned Taylor. During public comment, Elaine Robtoy sharply criticized the officers involved.
“I don’t think they should even be police officers because that’s not what police officers do,” Robtoy said. “They watched this guy do to this to her… I’m ashamed of our police department right now, I really am.”
Taylor says the department has changed policy to require anything that could potentially violate it to be reported to the chief.