Crime and Justice

Former sheriff’s captain denies wrongdoing in August kicking incident

Capt. John Grismore, center, can be seen kicking a man in custody at the Franklin County Sheriff's Office on Sunday, Aug. 7, 2022. Screenshot courtesy of the Franklin County Sheriff's Office

John Grismore, the former Franklin County Sheriff's Office captain fired last month after he was caught on video kicking a person in police custody, said he believes he did nothing wrong. 

John Grismore. Photo courtesy Franklin County Sheriff's Office

In an interview Thursday, Grismore said he sees no reason to end his bid for county sheriff amid bipartisan calls to do so. He is set to be the only candidate on the general election ballot, listed as both a Democrat and a Republican. 

“If I'm innocent, why would I withdraw from the race?” he said. 

The two county political parties have since thrown their support behind Mark Lauer, a lieutenant in the sheriff’s office who is running a write-in campaign for the top job. Gale Messier, who ran unsuccessfully for Franklin County sheriff in 2010, is also asking voters to write in his name — leading some party leaders to worry the write-in effort will splinter.

In video of the Aug. 7 incident, a man is seen handcuffed and shackled to a bench at the sheriff’s office. Two deputies walk over and help the man sit back on the bench, telling him to stay seated. The man then stands back up and appears to resist the deputies’ efforts to get him to sit down, at which point Grismore enters the frame. 

Grismore kicks the man in the groin, pushing him back onto the bench. He then appears to press his foot into the suspect’s groin two more times, yelling at him to “sit down.” The man stands up again, and Grismore again kicks him in the groin back onto the bench.

Speaking Thursday, Grismore said he was standing just outside the frame of the video and watching the two deputies as they attempted to get the man to sit down. He said he had tried to speak to the man, but decided to intervene physically because he did not believe the deputies' “de-escalation” attempts were working. 

“Clearly the two of them couldn't handle this individual by themselves,” he said. “And nothing against them — I mean, sometimes it just takes more people. The female (deputy) is 110 pounds. She's a small girl.” 

Grismore declined to say that he “kicked” the suspect, saying instead that he “pushed him back” with his foot. He acknowledged the difference is mostly “semantics,” but said that “kick” has a negative connotation that colors his actions in an unfair light. 

The former captain maintained it was necessary to use force in the situation to protect both himself and the two other deputies from being spit on by the suspect. He also argued that he had to make a “split second decision,” and said local political leaders were acting like “Monday morning quarterbacks” in response. 

Body camera footage shows that after leaving the house where the suspect was arrested, one officer appears to tell another that he has spit “all over the side of your face.” While the man is being detained at the station, he is seen spitting on the floor at least once.

Grismore pointed to a Vermont statute that makes it illegal to spit on a law enforcement officer. He said he’s been especially concerned about protecting public health because his father died as a result of Covid-19.

Grismore said that he struck the man with his foot so he could keep his face as far away from the man as possible to avoid being spit on. He said at one point the man appeared as if he was going to spit on him, though the man verbally denies that in the video. 

Previously, Grismore had declined multiple requests to speak about the Aug. 7 incident to VTDigger. He first addressed the kicks, and his bid for office, in an interview Wednesday on Northwest Access TV, a community television station serving Franklin County. 

Grismore also said he believes he was wrongfully terminated from the sheriff’s office, making the case that his actions did not violate the department's use of force policy. The department did not afford him due process during the investigation, he said.

“The individuals that have been arrested for … heinous crimes get better treatment than somebody like myself got,” he said in the TV interview Wednesday. 

Franklin County Sheriff Roger Langevin did not respond to a request for comment Thursday afternoon. 

In a statement Aug. 24 announcing he had fired Grismore, the sheriff — who is not seeking reelection this fall — called his former captain’s actions “egregious.” 

“The actions of Capt. Grismore do not reflect the values and high standards of conduct and performance that I expect from my staff each and every day,” Langevin said at the time. 

Grismore is also being criminally investigated by Vermont State Police in connection with the alleged assault. 

Grismore, who has worked in law enforcement since 1997 and at the Franklin County Sheriff's Office since 2018, had risen the ranks to become the department’s No. 2 at the time he was fired. Langevin was in Florida at the time of the incident, and Grismore had assumed all of the sheriff's duties in the meantime, he told the TV station. 

Despite what Grismore believes was a “misrepresentation” of the incident in news reports and by local political leaders, the former captain said he’s confident he still has broad support within the department, claiming some of the deputies have sent him messages saying as much. 

“They know that I'm the first guy out the door to back them up,” he said. “I'm very, very much aware of the needs of my people and I do whatever I can do to support them.”

Lauer, one of the write-in candidates facing Grismore, could not be reached for comment Thursday afternoon. 

Messier, the other write-in candidate, hadn’t seen Grismore’s interview when reached on the phone Thursday. After a reporter described Grismore’s perspective, Messier said he does not think the use of force was justified, even if the man was going to spit.

“I still don't think he needed to kick the guy backwards,” he said. “I really think (Grismore) went way overboard on that.”

Gale Messier, left, and Mark Lauer are both running write-in campaigns because John Grismore is set to be the only candidate on the general election ballot, listed as both a Democrat and a Republican. Courtesy photos

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Shaun Robinson

About Shaun

Shaun Robinson is a Report for America corps member with a special focus on issues of importance to Franklin and Grand Isle counties. He is a journalism graduate of Boston University, with a minor in political science. His work has appeared in the Boston Globe, the Patriot Ledger of Quincy and the Cape Cod Times.

Email: srobinson@vtdigger.org

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