BENNINGTON, Vt. (AP) — A Bennington man is suing the town, its police chief and two officers, accusing them of violating his constitutional rights by arresting him in the 2016 armed robbery of two convenience store workers even though he says there was no evidence linking him to the crime.
In the complaint filed Tuesday on behalf of the man, the American Civil Liberties Union of Vermont alleges that the police immediately focused their investigation on the man, excluding more plausible suspects, and pressured witnesses and suspects to implicate him even though he didn’t match witness descriptions of the robber and there was no evidence linking him to the crime.
Police arrested the man without probable cause and then made multiple misrepresentations in their interviews with him and in an application for a warrant to search his phone, the ACLU contends. The man has maintained his innocence, the ACLU said.
He was convicted in 2017 in federal court of obstructing commerce by robbery, but his conviction was later vacated after he was granted a new trial, according to the lawsuit.
While in prison, the man was charged in January of 2020 with using a cellphone in the commission of the offense of distribution of Oxycodone. He pleaded guilty and the government dismissed the count related to the robbery, the lawsuit states. He was sentenced to time served plus one year of supervised release, and was freed that day after spending four years behind bars, the ACLU states.
“No one should be subjected to the dishonest and coercive tactics” that the man experienced “at the hands of Bennington police,” ACLU staff attorney Hillary Rich said in a statement.
A phone message was left with the Bennington Police Department on Thursday seeking comment.
A report presented by the International Association of Chiefs of Police in 2020 found that the Bennington Police Department’s practices had created deep mistrust in parts of the community, undermining its “law enforcement legitimacy.” The report, which made recommendations for improvement, said the department often had a “warrior mentality” in its daily interactions with residents.
The man is seeking a jury trial, compensatory and punitive damages, and for his expenses to be covered, including his attorneys’ fees.