Probe: Bennington police withheld information, endangering Black legislator

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FILE – In this Oct. 3, 2018 file photo, Kiah Morris, a former Vermont state representative, discusses threats and harassment she’s faced, during an interview in Bennington, Vt. Vermont’s attorney general is urging a review of a police department’s practices following its handling of reports of racial harassment against the state’s only black female lawmaker, who later resigned. T.J. Donovan said in a written statement on Monday, Feb. 11, 2019, that he believes an outside law enforcement expert should review the Bennington Police Department’s policies and procedures. He is urging the town to take that step. (AP Photo/Lisa Rathke, File)

BENNINGTON, Vt. (AP) — A two-year investigation into a Vermont police department has found that officers failed to adequately investigate alleged threats against former state legislator Kiah Morris due to its racism and prejudice.

In a 54-page report, the Vermont Human Rights Commission found that the Bennington Police Department endangered the safety of Morris, a Black woman, by withholding critical information about a white supremacist who had been targeting her on social media.

Morris, first elected in 2014, resigned from the Legislature in 2018, citing threats.

Morris, who since moved from Bennington, issued her first public comments about the Human Rights Commission investigation on Tuesday:

“I distrust law enforcement and have lost confidence in that institution and its representatives to act with integrity,” Morris said. “I feel less secure now with the passage of time and the well-documented escalation of racialized incidents since our departure there.”

The town of Bennington issued a 16-page response refuting the findings and claimed that “there is no bias,” Vermont Public Radio reported.

Bennington Select Board Chair Jeannie Jenkins said Tuesday that the case highlights the limitations of the legal system in curtailing racist speech. Jenkins called on the broader “community” to do a better job making residents of color feel more comfortable in Bennington.

“We’ve learned a lot about maybe how to be … a little braver, more willing to step up and say, ‘This isn’t right,’” Jenkins said.

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