Crime and Justice

Vermont State Police defend decision not to pursue caller who threatened election officials

Vermont State Police
Photo courtesy of Vermont State Police

Following a national news story about law enforcement agencies doing little in response to threats against election officials, Vermont State Police on Wednesday defended its decision not to pursue a caller who left intimidating voicemail messages for election workers last year. 

A Reuters investigation about threats across the country described three voicemails left for employees at the Vermont Secretary of State’s Office in November and December 2020 following the presidential election. In one of the voicemails, the caller identified himself as a Vermont resident.

“This might be a good time to put a fucking pistol in your fucking mouth and pull the trigger if you are any part of this fucking fraud,” he said in one voicemail in December. 

The Secretary of State’s Office alerted Vermont State Police about the voicemails, Reuters reported in its Monday story. According to a state police press release Wednesday, both the State Police and the FBI conducted independent reviews. 

Washington County State’s Attorney Rory Thibault declined to prosecute. 

“In assessing the content of the voicemails, they are relatively imprecise in that they are not specifically directed at a single person or official,” Thibault wrote in December in a four-page memo to state police. “At no point does the caller indicate that he would personally partake in any action or participate in inflicting harm upon anyone.”

Reuters interviewed the caller, who declined to identify himself to the news organization, in September. Over the course of five interviews with Reuters, the man acknowledged he threatened Vermont election officials. The man later sent two Reuters journalists more than 130 texts and voicemails containing threats and election conspiracy theories. 

On Oct. 17, according to Reuters, the man called the Vermont Secretary of State’s Office again and left another voicemail, where he said the staffers and journalists would get “popped.”

The Secretary of State’s Office again referred the voicemail to state police, who again declined to pursue a case, Reuters reported. 

Vermont State Police spokesperson Adam Silverman said the voicemail did not constitute an “unambiguous reference to gun violence,” Reuters reported. 

The Reuters investigation found that Vermont State Police never contacted the caller. 

Silverman did not respond to VTDigger’s inquiries Wednesday afternoon to confirm whether or not state police ever contacted the caller. 

In an interview Wednesday, Thibault confirmed the state’s attorney’s office had not contacted the caller. He said he believed Vermont State Police did not contact the caller, either.

Thibault said his legal options were limited by state statute, as these calls would fall under two possible charges: criminal threatening or disturbing the peace by electronic means. The former was not possible because it would have required the caller to make a threat against a specific individual, Thibault said. The latter is a misdemeanor with a $200 maximum bail, “so it doesn't even reach the threshold where you can incapacitate somebody,” he said.

Additionally, Thibault said he believes that charge would be thrown out by a judge on constitutional grounds. 

“It's horrible. It's rude. It's offensive,” Thibault said. “But our Constitution allows us to be horrible, rude, inconsiderate people to one another.”

Rachel Maddow further amplified the Reuters reporting in a segment on MSNBC on Tuesday night. The 11-minute segment had more than 480,000 views on Youtube as of Wednesday evening.

In response to the national attention, Vermont State Police put out a press release Wednesday afternoon defending the agency’s actions.

Reuters reported that Vermont State Police deemed the call “untraceable,” noting that reporters were nevertheless able to call the man and talk to him. The agency disputed the framing in the article.

“[N]umerous court-ordered search warrants would be necessary to determine subscriber information,” Silverman wrote in an email to VTDigger. He said warrants require probable cause. “Untraceable does not mean ‘un-callable.’”

The state police press release described the voicemails as “offensive, profane, and upsetting.”  

Election officials “deserve to go to work and do their jobs without fear and intimidation,” the state police press release stated. “That said, the police should not and cannot make up or willfully misconstrue the law in order to affect a desired outcome.”

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Riley Robinson

About Riley

Riley Robinson is a general assignment and multimedia reporter, covering stories across the state in writing, photos and video. She is a graduate of Northeastern University's School of Journalism and first joined the Digger newsroom as a Dow Jones News Fund intern.

Email: [email protected]

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