STOWE — About a dozen people, mostly women, gathered along the main road in Stowe village Thursday evening to protest the fact that Kyle Walker is still the town’s fire chief, and to show support for survivors of sexual assault.
This is the third week people have mounted a small protest on Route 100, and they say they plan to continue every week unless Walker is removed from the post.
“It is not OK,” said Amy Wenger, a maternal-child nurse who works in Stowe and attended the protest. “It’s setting a precedent and sending a message that it’s OK for somebody to do what Mr. Walker did.”
No charges were filed against Walker following a three-month investigation by Vermont State Police. The town removed him from the police force but allowed him to remain as fire chief, a position he has held since 2019.
Rachel Fisher, a 47-year-old Stowe resident, alleges Walker sexually assaulted her and coerced her into sexual acts repeatedly between 2009 and 2013, while Walker was in uniform and on duty as a Stowe police officer.
“I was often told never to say anything to anyone,” she told VTDigger. “The implication was clear: Don’t come forward; no one will believe you over me.”
Walker has adamantly denied the allegations, describing the encounters as a consensual sexual relationship.
Police “could not find any evidence to corroborate the allegations of criminal misconduct because they are not true,” he told VTDigger this week.
He told investigators the encounters were “inappropriate,” but said he “never hurt anyone, not even close to being where I would hurt anyone, or pressured, or coerced, or anything along those lines.”
Wenger said she wanted to show support because she has treated many patients who have experienced sexual assault but don’t feel safe to come forward publicly.
“The more we can empower and make sure that women are heard, and that they feel safe in their own community — you know, there’s women in Stowe that now would be afraid to come out and tell people,” Wenger said. “When you call 911, the fire department comes to you, and that’s who would be called in a domestic assault, or a sexual assault.”
Sarah Henshaw, 46, a business owner from Stowe, said she hopes public pressure can spark more systemic change.
Henshaw is also the board chair of the Clarina Howard Nichols Center, a shelter and support center for survivors of domestic and sexual assault. The Nichols Center worked closely with Fisher as she came forward against Walker. Henshaw and other volunteers have organized residents to write letters and made public statements to the Stowe Selectboard, demanding zero-tolerance policies for sexual assault in the police and fire departments.
They also want ongoing trainings for public safety officials and a code of ethics.
“We’re asking for substantial policy changes, because last time the policies were updated was 2011,” Henshaw said. “It doesn’t have adequate protections for women, for any citizen who is sexually harassed or violated by our police and our fire department.”
After about an hour of holding signs and waving at honking cars, the group piled up their signs and made plans to return next week.
“I think at this point, the likelihood of him getting fired — based on the communication that some of us have been having with the town — is very low,” Henshaw said. She said maybe one week soon they could instead show up with signs reading, “Thank you, Stowe,” if some of the other policy changes come to pass.
“But I’m not holding my breath,” she said.
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