Politics

Franklin County elects a sheriff who is facing a criminal charge

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

Updated at 4:13 p.m.

John Grismore, the embattled former Franklin County sheriff's deputy who is facing an assault charge for kicking a man in custody, was elected this week to lead the department from which he was fired, according to a final vote tally released Friday by the Secretary of State’s Office.

Grismore was the only candidate for Franklin County sheriff on the ballot and fended off two write-in campaigns that emerged after the August incident. He won with 8,900 votes, according to the results released Friday. 

Write-in candidate Marc Lauer, who is a lieutenant in the sheriff's office, received 5,281 votes. That number does not include more than 650 ballots on which voters misspelled Lauer’s name.

Lauer said in an interview Friday that he would remain in the sheriff’s office through Jan. 31, just before Grismore takes office. After that, he plans to leave and “will make a change in my career if that’s necessary.”

Another 626 voters wrote in Gale Messier — a two-time candidate for Franklin County sheriff. Additional ballots also misspelled his name. 

The final tally also included 2,965 blank votes.

Grismore told VTDigger on Friday that he is determined to change the minds of voters who wrote in other candidates. 

“I think that this is going to be a great challenge and a great opportunity for me to prove all of them wrong,” Grismore said, referring to those who didn’t vote for him.

Messier told VTDigger that he wasn’t surprised by Grismore’s win but had been aiming to at least finish second so that, if Grismore is removed from office, he would be well-positioned to replace him. 

“I think just the older generation just went down and checked in the box, you know, and didn't know who was in the race. Because I know, for example, one of my cousins didn't even know I was running and he voted for Grismore,” Messier said.

Preliminary election results repeatedly alternated after polls closed Tuesday night, leaving the outcome of the race unclear for days. Town clerks have 48 hours after the election to submit final results to the Secretary of State’s Office. Those results, posted Friday afternoon, will remain unofficial until the secretary of state certifies them next Tuesday.

John Grismore. Photo courtesy Franklin County Sheriff's Office

Even though Grismore won the Democratic and Republican primaries earlier this year, both parties had disavowed his campaign and urged him, to no avail, to drop out of the race after video of the incident surfaced. The parties backed Lauer’s write-in campaign instead.

Lauer said that it was a “difficult” campaign, especially because many people who mailed in or dropped off their ballots didn’t know who he was. He said that if more people had voted at the polls in person Tuesday he “would’ve had a better chance.”

Lauer spent far more on his campaign than Messier and Grismore, according to campaign finance reports, and the lieutenant’s campaign signs far outnumbered those of his opponents on lawns and roadways across the county.

It remains to be seen what impact, if any, Grismore’s pending simple assault charge — he pleaded not guilty last month — will have on his tenure as sheriff. Officials have said that whether or not he is found guilty, Grismore could be removed from office only via impeachment by the Legislature. 

Grismore said that he thinks that the simple assault charge will be something “that’s going to hang over” the department for “a little while” but that, based on the number of people who voted for him, he still thinks that voters believe that he is “the right person for the job.”

Messier speculated that Grismore “might get removed, (depending) on the Legislature and what they want to do. And it depends how many people are going to walk out (of) the sheriff's department when he goes back.”

In video of the Aug. 7 incident, Grismore can be seen kicking a 42-year-old Winooski man in the groin, pushing him back onto a bench. Eventually, the man stands up and Grismore kicks him again in the groin and back onto the bench.

Grismore said Friday that the video was “taken out of context” and that voters “see through all that” and “recognized the person that I really am and the contributions I’ve made in law enforcement.”

Grismore told VTDigger in an interview that he decided to intervene because he did not believe two other deputies were successfully de-escalating the situation. Those deputies later told a state police investigator that they felt the situation was already under control, disputing Grismore’s accounts to police and to the press. 

Grismore said that he thinks that the “vast majority” of those in his department will be “very excited” that he’s coming back.

The former deputy has continued to deny wrongdoing. He is due back in court in early January, about a month before he is slated to take office.

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Juliet Schulman-Hall

About Juliet

Juliet Schulman-Hall recently graduated from Smith College, majoring in English, minoring in sociology and concentrating in poetry. Most recently, she has worked for MassLive covering abortion and the environment, among other topics. Prior to that, she worked for Ms. Magazine and has done freelance work for PBS's Next Avenue and Arkansas Nonprofit News Network.

Email: jschulman-hall@vtdigger.org

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