Some of Vermont’s county law enforcement offices have come under fire in 2022 for both alleged physical and financial misconduct, and while eight of the state’s 14 counties swore in a new sheriff Wednesday, lawmakers in Montpelier have focused on how to hold them accountable.
Vermont’s outgoing sheriffs include Addison County’s Peter Newton, who was arrested in June on charges of sexually assaulting and unlawfully restraining a woman. Also included in that bunch is Caledonia County Sheriff Dean Shatney, who gave himself and his staff $400,000 in bonuses last September.
However, under the golden dome on Wednesday, the focus was on Franklin County, where newly elected Sheriff John Grismore faces a simple assault charge after allegedly kicking a detainee, while the state auditor is investigates his department’s finances.
“There have been a troubling number of sheriffs engaging in conduct unbecoming of the office,” said Senator Ruth Hardy, D-Middlebury.
Despite being under the same umbrella, the county’s top cop John Savoie says pursuing impeachment of one of their own was on the table.
“Even if it is undertaken it will not be a speedy process, and in the meantime the sheriff’s department of Franklin County will have that person for a leader,” Savoie said.
Legislators have considered impeachment but say this situation might be the chance to embark on a larger legislative discussion.
“Right not there is no requirement that a sheriff be a law enforcement officer, and someone can still hold the office after they are convicted of a crime,” said Rep. Mike McCarthy, D-St. Albans.
The alleged misconduct among county law enforcement offices led hardy to champion a bill that would lessen the funding to the departments and require sheriffs to have a law enforcement license. This would make the path easier for the Vermont Criminal Justice Training Council to recuse their privileges.
“Whether it’s financial mismanagement or frankly in my county, allegations of sexual assault, we really need to address the oversight of sheriffs,” Hardy said.
The executive director of the Department of State’s Attorneys and Sheriffs, John Campbell, agrees.
“I definitely think there should be some oversight,” Campbell said. “It has to be done knowing that we have some really incredible sheriffs that have done some amazing work.”
Lawmakers have gone as far as proposing a constitutional amendment that would enable them to establish qualifications for sheriffs, as they are elected members of another branch of government and lawmakers currently have limits on that process.
However, they acknowledge great work is still being done.
“I wouldn’t want anyone to think we’re running roughshod over removing sheriffs from office, that’s not the intent,” Hardy said.
Savoie said he submitted a brady letter with Grismore’s name on it, which is submitted to juries and enforces credibility issues, and says that he would not take on any victimless cases submitted by Grismore.