Politics

Franklin County legislators weigh impeachment for newly elected sheriff

John Grismore speaks during an interview on Northwest Access TV on Sept. 21, 2022. Screenshot

Several Franklin County state legislators say they’re weighing whether to support impeaching the county’s newly elected sheriff next year and removing him from office.

John Grismore, who was charged with assault after he kicked a suspect in custody in August, won about 44% of the vote for sheriff this month. 

Leaders of Franklin County’s Democratic and Republican committees said Grismore was unfit to serve as sheriff — but he was the only candidate on the ballot, and nearly 9,000 voters chose him to lead the department from which he was fired

Grismore, who is slated to take office Feb. 1, has pleaded not guilty to the assault charge and denied wrongdoing.

Sen. Randy Brock, R-Franklin, said he and other members of the county’s legislative delegation have been talking about the possibility of impeaching Grismore, and some have been conducting research into the process. Brock has also received messages from several constituents, urging that Grismore be removed from office.

“Many have argued that a lot of the voters weren't aware of the situation involving Mr. Grismore because it happened so close to the election,” Brock said. “Impeachment is possible, and it is certainly under discussion at this point.”

Vermont’s Constitution gives the state House of Representatives the power to impeach “(e)very officer of State, whether judicial or executive” who members find to be “state criminals.” Two-thirds of House members must vote for impeachment; the state Senate then holds a trial, and can convict a person with a two-thirds vote. 

Brock declined to say whether he personally supports removing Grismore from office because, as a senator, he could be involved in adjudicating one or more impeachment articles. Senators act as both jury and prosecutors during an impeachment trial. 

Grismore may also face roadblocks within Franklin County’s law enforcement circle. John Lavoie, the acting Franklin County state’s attorney who was elected to a full term this month, said he supports removing Grismore from office — and he plans to issue a “Brady letter” against the fired deputy. 

Also known as “Giglio letters,” these memos can be used by a defense attorney to question the credibility of an officer, and prosecutors will often simply not pursue cases from an officer who received a “Brady letter.”

Brock said he believes a “Brady letter” against Grismore could push lawmakers to open impeachment proceedings. 

Impeachment has a limited, albeit colorful history in Vermont. The Secretary of State’s Office lists four efforts to impeach state officials since 1800, only one of which led to a trial. 

It happened to be a county sheriff. In 1976, Malcolm “Mike” Mayo, then the sheriff of Washington County, was accused of abusing his office. 

Mayo’s impeachment began when the Vermont House adopted a resolution to direct its judiciary committee to investigate whether grounds existed to impeach Mayo, according to the House Journal at the time. Per the resolution, members of the judiciary committee were given special powers to subpoena “any person” and any relevant evidence for the proceedings. 

Officials said impeachment would likely begin the same way today, via resolution.

The House brought three articles of impeachment against Mayo, including that he had falsified documents and reports and ordered his deputies to do the same; that he had ordered deputies not to perform their duties; and that he himself had assaulted, threatened or abused people at bars in Stowe and Montpelier the year prior.

Ultimately, though, senators voted to acquit Mayo on all three articles. Vermont Public reported in 2018 that the trial took three and a half weeks, and the state had to pay tens of thousands of dollars for Mayo’s lawyers. Speaking to the public media outlet, Mayo’s defense attorney, Rusty Valsangiacomo, said senators were likely wary that convicting Mayo would set a dangerous precedent for future county sheriffs. 

“I think that some of them were looking back on all this,” he said, “and saying to themselves, ‘We don’t want to do this in the future. Solve it in a ballot box or solve it in the criminal law or whatever, or lawsuits. This is not why we’re senators.’”

Mayo was voted out of office two years later, according to Vermont Public.

The last time a Vermont official was impeached and convicted was 1785, according to the Secretary of State. Matthew Lyon — then a state representative from Arlington — was impeached for refusing to release records regarding the confiscation of property from British sympathizers. Some suspected that Lyon profited from the seizures. 

Lyon, who married the niece of Ethan Allen and helped found the town of Fair Haven, went on to represent Vermont in the U.S. House of Representatives, where he is perhaps best remembered for brawling with a Connecticut congressman. An outspoken critic of Federalist President John Adams, Lyon was later imprisoned in Vermont under the Sedition Act of 1798 but won reelection from his prison cell. 

Brock said impeaching Grismore would likely “take up a lot of time” in both legislative chambers, so he does not think anyone would introduce the measure lightly.

Rep. Mike McCarthy, a St. Albans Democrat who served as House majority whip in last year’s legislative session and was reelected to his seat this month, said he has been discussing “next steps” with some of his colleagues since Grismore was elected.

McCarthy was a vocal critic of Grismore following the August incident and has said he does not think Grismore can be an effective sheriff. He stopped short of saying whether he would support impeachment, though, adding he needs more time to think about it.

“I'm certainly inclined to use all appropriate means to make sure that Mr. Grismore is not in charge of the Franklin County Sheriff's Office,” McCarthy said last week. “And if the Legislature can be helpful, I will absolutely help facilitate that.”

Rep. Robert Norris, a Sheldon Republican who will join Brock in the Senate next year, also said he has heard discussion of impeachment. Norris has not made up his mind on whether he would support it, saying that he sees the issue as “a bit of a sticky wicket.” 

“The voters in Franklin County have put him into office,” Norris said. “And I'd like to think that they knew the circumstances surrounding everything.”

Grismore did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

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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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