The St. Albans Police Department conducted 15 internal investigations last year, 10 of which led to disciplinary action against its officers. The alleged offenses included fabricating a story, mishandling a death investigation and multiple instances of improperly handling weapons, according to records obtained by VTDigger.
But during two recent public meetings, city officials and members of a police advisory board framed the number of investigations as evidence of progress by the law enforcement agency, which has come under fire over the past several years for a string of excessive force complaints made against its officers.
The number of officers disciplined is unclear because at least one was the subject of multiple investigations, according to St. Albans Police Chief Maurice Lamothe. The department employs 14 officers and four administrators.
Summaries of each incident, which Lamothe said he drafted in response to a request from VTDigger, do not include any identifying information. The chief did not respond to multiple requests to answer follow-up questions after providing the internal investigation summaries to VTDigger late last week, though he twice discussed the matter at public meetings.
Addressing the St. Albans City Council on Feb. 13, Lamothe shared the total number of investigations and disciplinary actions, but councilors did not ask for details about any incidents. Ward 3 Alderperson Marie Bessette said she was “impressed” by the chief’s report.
And at a St. Albans Police Advisory Board meeting Tuesday night, Lamothe reiterated some of the same data points. Members of that panel also posed few questions — one called the report “fantastic” — but agreed to ask the chief to start reporting internal investigation data every quarter going forward, rather than once a year.
Lamothe said at Tuesday’s meeting that one officer had been demoted last year as a result of three investigations into their conduct. According to the summaries, three internal investigations resulted in one or more officers losing paid time off; and the remaining four resulted in letters of counseling against an officer or officers. No officers were suspended or fired last year because of an investigation, Lamothe said previously.
As with the number of officers, it is unclear from the summaries how many distinct incidents last year led to investigations and disciplinary action.
In February 2022, an officer was found to have fabricated a story in order to contact a person who they were trying to arrest, according to one of the summaries. Following an investigation, the officer was penalized with a reduction in paid time off.
In a record from September of that year, an officer was found to have mishandled an investigatory report at a death scene and then was “disrespectful” to friends of the person who died. The department issued a letter of counseling, the records show.
Another record from August states that a complaint was lodged about an officer’s tactics used while interacting with a suicidal person who was “standing on a rooftop while actively cutting themselves with a knife.” The complaint was substantiated and contributed to an officer being demoted, the records show.
Also that month, a summary states, an officer and other first responders were found to have entered the wrong apartment when conducting a welfare check on someone who was overdosing on narcotics. The officer’s body-worn camera was also found to have been inactive at the time of the incident “due to a camera issue that was not recognized earlier in the shift,” according to the summary.
That investigation resulted in a letter of counseling as well as an update to the department’s body-worn camera policies, the summary shows.
And in December, an officer lost paid time off after they were found to have reached into someone's home and grabbed a person with an active arrest warrant to take them into custody.
The summaries also detail multiple incidents last year in which officers were found to have improperly handled weapons or did not follow a policy related to weapons.
They include an episode in August, during which an officer was found to have not searched a person for weapons before putting them into the back of a police cruiser for transport. An investigation into that incident contributed to an officer being demoted.
In March, an officer was found to have “handled a firearm in a reckless manner” at the police department’s headquarters. That officer also looked through another officer’s “personal area” and made “negative statements about other officers” to people in the room at the time. The incident resulted in a loss of paid leave time, summaries show.
Another record from August states that an officer did not secure their locker, leaving their firearm accessible. An investigation determined that the department needed to update its policies as a result, according to a summary. This incident also contributed to an officer being demoted.
Speaking last week before he provided the summaries, Lamothe said that 11 of the 15 internal investigations were spurred by complaints from within the department, while four came from the outside. The chief said he thought this showed his officers were committed to transparency and to holding themselves to “a very high standard.”
“Certainly, you can put a negative spin on it,” he said in an interview. “But my spin on it is, the officers are confident enough that they can hold each other accountable and know that we’ll do an internal investigation, and when it’s over with, nobody blackballs anybody, nobody holds a grudge against anybody.”
Lamothe expressed a similar sentiment to the city council at the Feb. 13 meeting. Two councilors spoke after the chief described the investigations. Council President Chad Spooner said he agreed with the chief that “it's really good when we can hold our colleagues accountable for what they have done, and it doesn't get bigger than it has to be.”
Jamie Pinkham, chair of the city’s Police Advisory Board and a longtime St. Albans resident, said in an interview Tuesday that she has seen an improvement in the department’s culture since Lamothe became its interim chief in July 2020.
The department investigated 21 complaints stemming from incidents in 2021 and 13 complaints stemming from incidents in 2020, according to data on its website.
Pinkham said she wanted to look more closely at the incident from December 2022 in which an officer was found to have forcefully removed a person from a home. But overall, she said, she was glad to see that officers within the department “feel safe to report” wrongdoing.
Several other advisory board members agreed at Tuesday night’s meeting.
Melinda White, the board’s vice chair, said she thought the data was “fantastic.” The numbers seem high, she added, but “I think that’s a sign of a healthy organization.”
The advisory board plans to do “a deeper dive” on the internal investigation data at its meeting next month, Pinkham said Tuesday.
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