Burlington, VT — The union representing Burlington police officers is questioning Chittenden County State Attorney Sarah George‘s track record as a prosecutor.
In a letter posted to its Facebook page, the Burlington Police Officer Association — which has endorsed George’s rival for the state attorney’s office in the upcoming primary — that George has failed to prosecute particular cases.
The letter accuses George’s office of deciding against prosecuting repeat offenders of vehicle thefts and shooting suspects. “The disastrous effects of George’s non-prosecution of serious cases cannot be ignored any longer,” the union wrote.
George said the letter is misleading, and she criticized the union for airing its grievances on social media.
“We have relationships with these officers and instead of coming to us about these complaints, they write these critical statements and write them on Facebook and expect to see better results,” she said.
The union accuses George of failing to prosecute recent shooting cases, including a 2021 case in which the suspect reached a plea with prosecutors. The union said George’s office also chose not to prosecute two suspects who shot at Hussein Mubarak in 2020. Mubarak was shot to death in Burlington in June.
But George says examples like those don’t tell the full story.
“They don’t mention that over a year, we begged Colchester Police Department to send us a shooting of where the suspect was involved in and then we finally got Burlington to take on that case,” she said.
She said the pandemic stalled thousands of cases in the courts. George said the judicial emergency declared by the courts has limited prosecutors to 10 arraignments a week.
“We are still in judicial emergency until August 31 so we haven’t had ability to have large amounts of trials especially on violent cases,” she said. “But that’s never mentioned because it doesn’t fit their narrative.”
“When they did that,” she added, “we absolutely wanted to prioritize crimes of violence, so we asked law enforcement to find alternative ways like restorative justice.”
George says restorative justice helps reduce court cases that can take years to resolve. “It doesn’t work all the time but it’s incredibly successful,” she said. “Not a slap in the wrist like people think – it works.”
Ted Kenney, a Williston Selectboard member and lawyer, is challenging George for the Democratic nomination for Chittenden County State Attorney. He said the union’s letter “was a pretty good indicator that there is a fractured relationship between Chittenden County Sheriff’s office and law enforcement.”
Kenney, who has been endorsed by the Vermont Trooper association and other law enforcement groups, agrees that the pandemic is a challenge. But he said stricter enforcement of conditions of release could reduce repeat offenders — while acknowledging that the courts, not prosecutors determine the conditions of a crime suspect’s release.
“It’s true that the judges are the ones that impose conditions of release,” Kenny said. “Judges never give you what you don’t ask for. And in these cases, the state’s attorney was not asking for these kinds of things.”
The Vermont Primary is August 9.