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News
Settlement reached in racial bias case

Vermont will pay a black man, who was the victim of an “unreasonable stop and seizure” in Wallingford in 2014, at least $50,000 after reaching a settlement in what the the ACLU of Vermont described as a “racial profiling” lawsuit.

Gregory Zullo, 27, of Rutland, was stopped by Trooper Lewis Hatch of the Vermont State Police in Wallingford in March 2014. At the time of the stop, Zullo was 21.

Hatch was fired in January 2016.

Zullo filed a civil lawsuit, arguing his rights had been violated, against the state in September 2014. The civil court ruled in favor of the state, but in January 2019, the Vermont Supreme Court ruled in favor of Zullo and sent the case back to the civil court to be heard again.

The settlement announced Thursday evening resolves the case.

On Friday, Zullo said he couldn’t discuss the settlement in depth.

“I have to say I’m actually pretty surprised and pretty happy with the way it turned out. I think the Vermont State Police, they got what they wanted. I’m happy with how everything turned out on my end. The figure (amount of the settlement) it feels like a really good apology,” he said.

Lia Ernst, the ACLU of Vermont staff attorney who argued the case at the Vermont Supreme Court in May 2018, said Zullo’s was a landmark case because it established precedent that the state can be held responsible and sued for damages based on the actions of a state employee.

“That’s exactly why Mr. Zullo brought this case. He brought it not just to vindicate his own rights and stand up for his own rights but to stand up for all Vermonters and, in particular, for Vermonters of color, who are disproportionately stopped, searched and seized by Vermont police as years of data show time and again,” Ernst said.

The settlement is described in a short filing:

“To resolve Gregory Zullo’s claim arising from the unreasonable stop and seizure conducted by former Trooper Lewis Hatch, the State of Vermont agrees to provide Mr. Zullo $50,000 and all costs of mediation. Mr. Zullo acknowledges the Vermont State Police’s longstanding commitment to fair and impartial policing and in exchange for the relief specified above, Gregory Zullo shall execute a general release of the State of Vermont.”

In a statement, Public Safety Commissioner Thomas D. Anderson said the settlement reached by Zullo and the Department of Public Safety resolves the case “in a fair manner.”

The settlement was reached Thursday after a lengthy mediation session, according to the state.

Zullo said while it was challenging to go through such a lengthy case, he was proud that the outcome was likely to help Vermonters whose rights had been infringed by law-enforcement officers.

“Hopefully, this will make certain officers a little more careful when they are doing their duties as a police officer throughout Vermont. That was one of the biggest things for me was making sure that other people wouldn’t have to go through the same thing,” Zullo said.

The ruling by the civil court in the state’s favor didn’t come as a surprise, but he pointed out the Vermont Supreme Court decision in his favor was unanimous.

“There were a lot of highs and lows. Basically, it was a roller coaster of sorts. … But I have to say, we really did change things for the better, not just for people of color in Vermont, but definitely for all Vermonters,” he said.

For Zullo, the decision by the Supreme Court justices is important not just because of the protection of civil rights but because they agreed with the ACLU’s argument that police cannot use a “faint odor of burnt marijuana” alone to establish probable cause of a criminal act.

“That helps a lot of people who otherwise would be targeted a little more often than your average Vermonter,” he said.

Ernst said the case represents new law.

“The Supreme Court ruling ensures that the state can be liable when its employees violate the (state) Constitution, which has never been held to be the case before, and it also, quite rightly, recognized that racial motivation in making policing decisions is worth a particular harm that requires redress. This case is a landmark decision that we hope Vermonters will rely on going forward in bringing cases when their constitutional rights have been violated, and particularly when they’re violated because of that person’s race,” Ernst said.

Adam Silverman, a spokesman for the Department of Public Safety, said Friday that since the 2014 stop, though not as a direct result, Vermont State Police have overhauled and updated training policy and procedures, especially related to searches and seizures; worked to improve training at the state’s police academy and at in-service training, including a focus on addressing implicit bias; and worked to strengthen community partnerships and connections with marginalized individuals and groups.

patrick.mcardle

@rutlandherald.com


rlayman / Robert Layman / Staff Photo  

Solstice splash

Friday was the first day of summer and the Rutland Rec’s Maple Leaf camp spent the solstice at White’s Pool in Rutland. Seen here is Eli Massey, 5, who operates the water cannon while battling it out with friends.


Local
Listers resign, saying board doesn't support them

PITTSFORD — Disagreements with the Select Board have left the Board of Listers in need of new members after several recent resignations.

Former Lister John Eugair sent his resignation by email to Town Manager John Haverstock on June 6. It took effect immediately. The other lister, Donna Wilson, supplied Haverstock with a handwritten notice June 21 of her intent to resign.

“The two listers who resigned expressed disappointment at what they perceived to be a lack of support from the Select Board,” said Haverstock in a Thursday interview. “It had to do, I think most immediately, with the decision of the Select Board as to who to appoint to this vacancy that was left when lister Dan Adams resigned.”

Adams’ resignation was announced at the May 15 Select Board meeting. Haverstock said Adams resigned because outside commitments weren’t leaving him with enough time to serve as a lister. This prompted the board to advertise for his open seat.

The board received two responses, one from Nancy Gaudreau, whom Haverstock said Thursday was a lister for the town in the past, and the other from Nicholas Michael, a local attorney with real estate experience.

Haverstock said Eugair and Wilson advocated for Gaudreau’s appointment at the June 5 meeting. According to the minutes from that meeting, the board wished to make the appointment at a later date, but Eugair said the listers were hoping for a decision sooner, as they were in the midst of hearing property assessment grievances and finalizing the grand list. The board voted to enter executive session, and when it came out, the vote was three to two in favor of appointing Michael. Selectmen David Mills and Joe Gagnon were the two opposing votes.

Haverstock announced the resignations of Eugair and Wilson at Wednesday’s meeting. Eugair didn’t offer a reason for his leaving in his email.

“He made himself clear in a subsequent conversation,” Haverstock said Thursday.

Eugair told the Herald Friday why he resigned.

“The listers presented the select board with an experienced, qualified replacement for the position recently left,” he said. “This person, a former lister, had knowledge of the town, software used, and office requirements. The boards selection of an individual, that had not even been into our office, and had no knowledge of the requirements of the position was nothing but a stab in the back to the listers office. This was not the first issue that has not been supported by the select board, but for me it was the last straw. I used to enjoy going into the office and doing the best job I could do for the town, but in the current environment, I could not continue.”

“Dear John, I am resigning my position as lister effective June 21, 2019,” reads Wilson’s note. “The Select Board has made several decisions within the last year that have not supported the listers. The decisions have been detrimental to the efforts of our office.”

It’s the job of the listers to keep the assessed values of taxed properties up-to-date. The values affect how much a property owner pays in property taxes.

“John Eugair’s resignation was effective immediately, but Donna Wilson was good enough to give the town two weeks notice and to provide some much-needed orientation and assistance to Nicholas Michael, and will continue to do so through the end of this week,” Haverstock told the Select Board on Wednesday. “The hope is that together they can complete the grievance process and lodge the grand list before Donna Wilson leaves her post. This will enable the Select Board to set tax rates in July as usual.”

Haverstsock said the town has received some help and advice from the Department of Taxes.

Jill Remick, director of property valuation and appraisal for the Department of Taxes, said Wednesday that the department has a number of “district advisers” on hand to assist town listers, and that the adviser for Pittsford’s district, Teri Gildersleeve, has been working with Michael and that the town’s assessments are in good shape.

Anyone wanting to serve as a lister should contact Haverstock at the Town Office.

keith.whitcomb

@rutlandherald.com


Local
Officials mark completion of Creek Path segment

The Creek Path is up to three segments.

Organizers and local officials gathered at Meadow Street Playground on Friday for the ribbon-cutting of segment four, which runs for 1,200 feet between the playground and River Street. Segment three was temporarily skipped over but is up next.

“We have to celebrate our successes and this is a great success to see another segment of Rutland Creek Path happening,” said organizer Susan Schreibman, who bicycled the length of the path from Giorgetti Park with a handful of other backers just before the ceremony. “What a great collaborative community project this is.”

The development of the path has been a volunteer effort, funded by grants and private fundraising. The first two segments run from Earle Street, near Giorgetti Park, to West Street. The third, when built, will connect those to the fourth at the playground. The fifth and final segment will continue on from River Street to College of St. Joseph.

Developers originally planned to do the segments sequentially, then decided to save segment three for last due to the expense of rehabilitating the bridge over East Creek. Earlier this year, organizers announced they were moving the middle segment back up in the schedule. Organizer Paul Gallo said engineering would begin in the next couple months.

“We’ll be connected to Giorgetti Park,” he said. “We’ll have a lot better flow.”

For segment four, Schreibman said Riverside Veterinary Clinic, the Diocese of Burlington and Mount St. Joseph Academy all donated easements, and that the clinic was discussing placing a dog water fountain on the path. Numerous in-kind donations allowed them to cover the local match without tapping any of their privately-raised cash, she said, letting the group apply that money toward segment three.

Gallo said the state officials who handle the grants used in the project were amazed by the level of in-kind donations.

“It’s not happening anywhere in the state,” he said.

Gallo said segment three has a roughly $1.3 million budget. Gallo said they have the necessary grants but were still working to cover the 10% local match.

“We’re good,” he said. “We’re just looking for those in-kind and cash pledges. We’re about halfway there. Put the word out.”

gordon.dritschilo

@rutlandherald.com


News
Racial equity director found for Vermont

A woman with a history of public service in New York City has been appointed Vermont’s first executive director of racial equity, where she will “identify and address systemic racial disparities and support the state’s efforts to expand and bring diversity to Vermont’s overall population,” according to a press release from Gov. Phil Scott.

Xusana Davis’ previous positions include director of health and housing strategic initiatives for the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and director of the New York City Council’s Black, Latino and Asian Caucus.

In a statement, Scott said Davis’ leadership and experience are a “perfect fit” for the position.

“In this role, she will be critical to our work to ensure state government is demonstrating a full commitment to equal opportunity and treatment for all Vermonters, our visitors and our employees. This is an important step forward in our efforts to improve state government and strengthen our communities, both socially and economically, through real equality that values diversity,” Scott said.

In a statement released from the state, Davis described herself as “honored” to have the position.

“I look forward to the pportunity to work collaboratively with all branches of government to make Vermont more accessible to all, regardless of ethnicity or place of origin,” she said.

Rebecca Kelley, communications director for Scott’s administration, said Friday Davis would not be available for interviews until closer to when she starts her new position at the end of next month.

Kelley said the Legislature had created the position of director of racial equity in 2018.

Candidates for the position were recommended to Scott by a five-member Racial Equity Advisory Panel. Scott, Speaker of the House Mitzi Johnson, the members of the Human Rights Commission, the senators on the Committee on Committees and Vermont Supreme Court Chief Justice Paul Reiber each chose one member of the panel.

Kelley said the panel had found a number of qualified candidates.

“The governor, what he talks about is the ‘four C’s.’ He looks for, in every candidate, competence — What is their competency, their experience for the position itself? — character and integrity; showing a commitment to public service to the position that they’re going to be undertaking; and chemistry with the overall team that they’re going to be working with,” Kelley said.

Asked if the position was created in response to national issues of racial equity, Kelley said she was reluctant to speak for the members of the Legislature, but said Scott and legislators have been looking for ways Vermont can be more inclusive and welcoming.

“From the administration’s standpoint, as the governor works to recruit more people to Vermont, he’s put an emphasis on also ensuring we are recruiting more of a diverse population,” she said.

Davis will oversee a “comprehensive organizational review” of the three branches of state government to weed out systemic racism. Also, she will look for existing policies and procedures that could inadvertently allow racial disparities.

Davis will work with state agencies to address fairness and diversity policies, look at reporting, gathering and analyzing race-based data to determine the nature and scope of racial discrimination, develop training to improve inclusion and develop performance measures.

The position is overseen by the Office of the Secretary of Administration

Davis has a Juris Doctor with a concentration in International Human Rights Law from New York Law School, where she also directed a civil liberties education program for low-income and minority youth.

patrick.mcardle

@rutlandherald.com


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Matthew Grant Winston, center, plays the Pirate King in Unadilla Theatre’s production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Pirates of Penzance, opening Thursday.


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