This story is by Mark Davis, staff writer at the Valley News, where it was first published Friday, April 19, 2013. Hartford — A federal judge has dismissed a Wilder man’s claims that he was subjected to excessive force by Hartford police officers because he was black, saying there was insufficient evidence to support his […]
Vermont Attorney General Bill Sorrell cleared two Hartford officers of criminal wrongdoing after they pepper-sprayed, clubbed and handcuffed an unarmed Wilder man they found naked and disoriented inside his own home in May 2010.
I believed the case was vitally important, not only for journalists and the public who had a right to know what actions police had taken, but also for Burwell who was not conscious during the attack.
Anne Galloway, editor of the Vermont news Web site VTDigger.org, requested Hartford police records concerning the arrest. Galloway, who had written before on racial profiling in Vermont, wanted to know more about the incident to see if police may have treated Burwell differently because of his race.
Burwell said that he struggled for several months over whether to pursue the lawsuit, but decided to file it because he said the Hartford Police Department has demonstrated a lack of accountability.
Attorney General Sorrell commented: “This is certainly an unfortunate and regrettable incident. We can be thankful that no one, either Mr. Burwell or the officers, was seriously injured. But this was not criminal conduct by the Hartford Police.”
Questions about the Burwell case abound. The judge’s ruling almost guarantees that they will not be answered.
VTDigger.org’s editor in chief is scheduled to speak on Vermont Public Radio (VPR) at 12:40 p.m. today regarding Windsor Superior Court Judge Katherine Hayes’ Nov. 9 ruling ordering the Hartford Police Department to release some of its police records related to the detainment and pepper-spraying of Wilder resident, Wayne Burwell.
Vermont is in desperate need of a better system of police accountability. In fact, there is no system, just a confused, decentralized muddle that leaves many citizens wondering who’s in charge. The American Civil Liberties Union receives numerous complaints about police misconduct. The discouraging thing is that short of a lawsuit, it’s hard to sort out whether an officer acted inappropriately. The public is left not knowing who’s a good cop and who’s not. Police are left with a black eye that may, or may not, be deserved. Meanwhile, innocent people get hurt.