Police body-cam video released Tuesday shows a St. Albans officer punching a 35-year-old Highgate woman who was seated and in handcuffs after she was arrested in March.
Sgt. Jason Lawton was fired in July for the incident after an internal investigation found that he used excessive force when he arrested of Amy Connelly at Shooters Bar on Kingman Street on March 14.
Connelly was taken into custody after she got drunk, attempted to fight with customers and refused to leave the bar.
The footage of her arrest and detainment was obtained by the ACLU of Vermont and shared with Local 22 & Local 44.
Lia Ernst, an attorney with the ACLU of Vermont, said she was appalled by the video.
It appears to show Lawton throwing a right uppercut to Connelly’s face while she’s seated in a small room, with her hands cuffed behind her back. Lawton then pulls Connelly up and slams her head first onto the the floor.
“It’s a completely unnecessary use of force against someone who posed no threat whatsoever to the officer,” Ernst said. “This gratuitous violence against a handcuffed individual is completely contrary to the best practice of any law enforcement agency.”
Connelly’s lawyer, Albert Fox, said the punch by Lawton caused a “horrendous” injury to his client. He’s filed a motion to dismiss the charges against her.
He said Lawton’s affidavit, which describes the incident as a “distraction strike,” bears little resemblance to what the footage shows.
“The video, from the body cameras of two officers and surveillance video in the police station, show a brutal physical and verbal assault,” Fox stated. “But not one committed by Ms. Connelly.”
Several other officers can be seen surrounding Lawton. Ernest said, despite those witnesses, the department was not aware of Lawton’s actions until the ACLU obtained the video under the state’s open-records statutes.
“It should not take the ACLU requesting public records for these incidents to be investigated and proper action to be taken,” Ernst said. “That Sgt. Lawton’s superiors were not aware of this incident and hadn’t reviewed footage of the incident until our request was made is deeply, deeply problematic.”
St. Albans Chief Gary Taylor said in a statement Tuesday that he reviewed the case file after the ACLU’s request and decided to launch an internal investigation.
Lawton, who was with the department for 7 years, was relieved of duty and placed on administrative leave June 1 once the allegations were substantiated, Taylor said. He was fired July 1.
Taylor said the officer’s actions are a “poor reflection” of the department’s values.
“Just as we swear an oath to serve and protect we must never forsake those whom we are entrusted to protect,” Taylor said. “That includes individuals that we arrest… The Officer’s actions in this case are a poor reflection of the values of the men and women of the St. Albans Police Department, who work tirelessly to serve and protect this community.”
This story was updated to correct the name of the officer who was fired.