A Rutland man is being held in jail after being arrested Nov. 24 with about half a kilogram of cocaine that had an estimated street value of about $75,000, according to police.
Four local residents, a man from Massachusetts and a woman from New York, are facing criminal charges based on the investigation in Rutland City that focused on a Killington Avenue home.
A news release issued Monday stated the alleged drug sales were investigated by officers with the Rutland City Police Department, the Vermont State Police Field Force Division, the Vermont Drug Task Force and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
Lawrence Jackson, 50, of Rutland, was arraigned in Rutland criminal court on one felony count of trafficking cocaine, three felony counts of selling cocaine and one misdemeanor count each of cocaine possession and being a felon in possession of a firearm.
Jackson, who pleaded not guilty, was ordered held without bail.
For the felonies, Jackson was charged as a habitual offender, a sentencing enhancement under which a person convicted of three or more felonies could be, if convicted of another felony charge, sentenced to up to life in prison. Paperwork filed in Jackson’s case said he has nine felony convictions, dating back to 1988, mostly for drug-related charges.
In an affidavit, Jackson was described as having a lengthy criminal history in New York, including a recent conviction for possessing cocaine with the intent of selling it on Nov. 10.
Others were arrested and cited or charged during the investigation.
Reginald Watson, 45, of Rutland, was arrested on a warrant for credit card fraud.
Briana Arnold, 30, of Rutland, was arrested after police stopped a vehicle driven by Jackson on Killington Avenue. Arnold was named on two out-of county Vermont warrants for drug-related offenses.
Christopher Carey, 30, of Poultney, was named on a cite and release warrant for failing to appear in court. Carey, like Watson, was allegedly inside the Killington Avenue apartment when police entered after the Rutland City Police Department’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation obtained a warrant.
While police were executing the warrant on Nov. 23, David Jordan, 31, of Springfield, Massachusetts, jumped out of the building from a second-floor window and fled on foot, but law enforcement officers caught Jordan a short distance from the home, the press release stated.
He was cited to appear in Rutland criminal court on Feb. 22 on a charge of impeding police officers.
Another person allegedly in the apartment, Linda Vandenburgh, 57, of Whitehall, New York, was cited to appear in Rutland criminal court on Jan. 10 on a charge of possession of cocaine.
Police said the search of the Killington Avenue apartment yielded cocaine, three handguns and other evidence of drug trafficking.
Detective Cpl. Adam Lucia, of the Rutland City Police Department, submitted an affidavit describing the allegations against Jackson that said a man known to police as being “active in the drug trade” had been arrested last week after allegedly buying drugs from Jackson.
Lucia said police already had received information from “numerous” sources that Jackson was selling drugs from the home and had guns inside the apartment, which he was not allowed to possess because of his felony convictions.
A member of the Vermont State Police Narcotics Investigation Unit told Lucia the NIU officers had been investigation Jackson and already had planned to cite Jackson for three charges of selling crack cocaine from alleged incidents in August and September 2020. Those charges were based on Jackson allegedly selling drugs to confidential informants.
Lucia said police spotted Jackson in a rented 2007 Ford Freestyle on Lafayette Street where he was stopped on Tuesday and taken into custody for the three charges of selling cocaine.
Lucia said Jackson had more than $2,000 in cash when stopped, including a folded $1 bill, inside of which was a substance that field tested positive as fentanyl. The material inside a baggie taken from Jackson during the arrest field tested positive for cocaine base, according to the affidavit.
After police were granted a search warrant for the vehicle, Lucia said he found five plastic bags containing suspected cocaine base, commonly called crack cocaine, and suspected cocaine.
The total amount of material weighed about 468 grams, with the packaging, the affidavit stated. The material field tested positive as cocaine.
The release from Monday estimated the street value at about $75,000.
Police are asking that anyone with information about this investigation to contact the Rutland City Police Department by phone at 802-773-1820 or the Vermont Drug Task Force at 802-773-9101. Anonymous tips can be submitted online at vsp.vermont.gov/tipsubmit
Health care leaders in Vermont say they are preparing to respond to omicron, the latest identified variant of the COVID-19 virus, although it hadn’t been identified in the state as of Monday afternoon.
Information posted by the World Health Organization on omicron on Sunday stated scientists are not yet sure whether the variant is more easily spread or causes more severe disease than the initial virus or the delta variant. There also are no answers yet about how effectively vaccines will contain it, but there is some preliminary evidence of a greater risk that omicron may reinfect patients who have had COVID before.
A statement from Dr. Mark Levine, the commissioner of the Vermont Department of Health, directed Vermonters to healthvermont.gov/MyVaccine so they can get vaccinated or schedule a booster.
“Right now, vaccines are still our best defense against COVID-19. If you have not yet gotten your vaccine or booster shot, now is the time. Both take about two weeks to be fully effective, and as we get further into the holiday season, the more people who are protected, the better off we will all be,” he said.
Dr. Rick Hildebrant, chief medical information officer for Rutland Regional Medical Center, said COVID has mutated into variants before and it’s expected to happen again.
“We’ve seen that this is a virus that is susceptible to mutation and with each mutation, it can pose new challenges to us. There’s still a lot we don’t know about the omicron variant. There are concerns around its level of transmissibility or how likely it is to spread from one person to another. We know that, as an example, delta was much more transmissible than the native COVID-19 virus,” he said.
There are concerns, however, because there are many cases and rapid spread in places where omicron has been identified, he added.
Hildebrant encouraged Vermonters to get their vaccines, although he acknowledged there is more to learn about how the omicron variant will respond.
“The real purpose of getting a vaccine is to prevent hospitalizations and deaths associated with COVID. If someone were to get exposed to COVID and get a mild case of sniffles, we would call that a success. I think that as the COVID virus continues to mutate, it’s likely that the vaccine is going to offer less protection against actually contracting the illness, but it will continue to provide benefit against serious illness associated with COVID,” he said.
For now, Hildebrant said the vaccine will protect against the need for serious medical interventions like intubation, but said he expects vaccines will be modified in the future in response to omicron and other variants that are likely to happen.
Asked to comment on the omicron variant, Anna Noonan, president and COO of Central Vermont Medical Center, responded by email: “CVMC’s infection prevention team is closely monitoring information related to Covid-19 and the omicron variant to ensure that our clinical teams are always prepared to provide the best care possible to central Vermonters.”
While omicron hasn’t been identified in the U.S., Hildebrant said he wouldn’t be surprised if it’s identified in America. He said its identification in South Africa is a tribute to their scientific work and testing and not an indication the variant started there.
“This variant is not limited to a single country. It’s global. We’re seeing more and more countries detecting evidence of the variant. This doesn’t mean those are the first cases in the country by any stretch of the imagination. It just means that those are the ones that were detected,” Hildebrant said.
Only a small number of COVID tests are sent to a larger laboratory for sequencing so Hildebrant said he “would not be shocked in any way, shape or form if, in the coming days to weeks, we see news headline of ‘omicron in America.’”
When a variant is more transmissible, causes a more severe degree of illness or resists vaccines, the result is likely to be another surge of COVID, according to Hildebrant.
Rutland Regional has been preparing to respond to that kind of scenario for a year and a half.
“We did not want to be caught in the situation that was going on in the rest of the country when the pandemic first started,” he said.
That means taking steps like finding ways to increase capacity and rearrange operations. Hildebrant said there had even been some improvement in replenishing staff.
“Whether it’s again delta or omicron, we’re going to be in a very good position to be able to take care of the community,” he said.
Levine said the health department continues to obtain genomic sequencing information on COVID specimens and will report any detection of the omicron variant in Vermont.
The COVID dashboard maintained by the Vermont health department was not updated over the holiday weekend but according to numbers posted on Monday, 561 new cases were identified on Wednesday — close to the highest one-day total seen in Vermont. The most recent total was 237 new cases identified.
The question of the nature of Rutland High School’s relationship with its Booster Club loomed large in a recent committee meeting of Rutland City School Commissioners.
Meeting on Nov. 17, members of a committee charged with exploring the implementation of a plan to transition Rutland City Public Schools to its new mascot and team name, found themselves looking for clarity on the role the RHS Booster Club plays in purchasing uniforms for the school’s athletic teams.
Questions arose as Superintendent Bill Olsen presented a list of team uniforms that still feature either the “Raider” name or arrowhead logo. Presently, 11 teams have either the name or logo on their uniforms; the remainder of uniforms simply have “Rutland.”
The estimated total cost for replacing those uniforms was $158,000.
At the committee’s previous meeting on Oct. 20, Commissioner Stephanie Stoodley, who is a member of the Booster Club, explained the club historically has covered a percentage of the cost of uniforms with the balance coming from team fundraising.
Stoodley added that the club would not be contributing to the committee’s effort to replace uniforms.
But funding uniforms was not always the responsibility of the Booster Club, according to Olsen, who explained in an email that the current arrangement came about sometime in the early 2000s when there was no money in the school budget for uniforms, which only were replaced when in dire need.
Olsen stated Athletic Director Mike Norman, was able to get the district to allocate $7,000. The Booster Club decided to match that amount in order to help cover the cost of establishing a replacement cycle.
That budget line, however, was once again cut in a subsequent budget. At that point, Olsen explained that the club agreed to continue to contribute to uniform replacement.
Olsen noted to the School Board committee on Oct. 20 that the athletic budget line in the district’s expenditure budget currently covers only equipment expenses, such as helmets and pads.
Natalie Boyle, president of the RHS Booster Club, said in a recent interview that she was eager to clarify the club’s relationship with the district.
“I feel like it’s getting a little muddy, as far as who we are and what we do,” she said.
Boyle explained that the club, which she described as a “fundraising activity organization” and not a 501©3 nonprofit organization, is composed of a four-person board that represents a larger body of nonvoting members.
In addition to Boyle, board members include: Beth Coughlin, vice president; Ronna Davine, secretary; and Kevin Markowski, treasurer.
Boyle said she was unsure when the club was first established but estimated it was sometime in the late 1970s or early 1980s.
According to the its bylaws, the purpose of the club is to “establish a closer adult relationship with the athletic programs of Rutland High School, both on and off the field, to assist as requested by the coaches and school administration in this endeavor, but shall in no event interfere with the coaching staff and administrative function.”
Boyle wrote in a follow-up email that the club supports the student body, including “any club, activity, athletic program, unified sports, drama/music program, etc. that requests funds/assistance.”
In addition to providing money for uniforms, she noted that the Booster Club recently has helped purchase two new scoreboards, new elliptical machines and treadmills for the RHS training room, and helmets for the boys lacrosse team. It also awards 12 scholarships annually to seniors.
Olsen added that the club also recently contributed to the cost of replacing the sound system at Alumni Field.
Boyle stated the club operates “under the umbrella of the district,” with requests being submitted to the athletic office and approval coming from either the superintendent or RHS administrators. The club, however, is not formally part of the district, not governed by the administration or school board and its revenues are not part of the school budget.
Olsen added, “They work with the Activities and Athletics Department and take direction from that office where needed. They make certain that they are aligned with the priorities of the District, and they work very diligently to ensure that that they are equitable in the service of the students.”
Uniform requests, Boyle stated, are submitted by coaches through the RHS athletic office. Once approved, requests are forwarded to the club, which determine whether funding will be approved, the amount to be funded and the amount the club will require the teams to repay to the club via fundraising. She noted that teams typically pay back 50% of the total expenditure, though they often ask to pay less.
Boyle added that all teams are given a team account at the beginning of each year with $500 for the coaches to spend at their discretion.
“Teams are also encouraged to fundraise for bigger ticket items (basketball shooting machine for example),” she wrote. “When teams fundraise, 75% of funds goes to the team account (and) 25% goes to the Booster Club general fund.”
According to Boyle, the club’s fundraising activities include advertising revenue from a sports guide it publishes, selling concessions at athletic events, 50/50 raffles, selling RHS-branded “spirit wear,” and selling concessions and 50/50 tickets at the annual state championship football games, which are held at Alumni Field.
Over the past five years, the club has contributed more than $24,000 to the purchase of uniforms. Over that same period, the teams have raised just over $25,000, according to documents provided by the district.
While Boyle stated she did not have “direct access” to the club’s financial information, she estimated it nets approximately $15,000 to $20,000 in revenue in a typical year.
“Spending fluctuates based on the needs of the schools/teams/clubs,” she stated — some years spending may be around $8,000 to $10,000, other years it may be as high as $30,000 to $40,000.
She noted the pandemic negatively impacted the club fundraising efforts last year since spectators were prohibited from attending athletic events. She added that missing out on the state championship football game, which earns the club around $6,000, also stung.
“So, yes, we took a hit, to say the least,” she said.
RHS Athletic Director Mike Norman declined to comment on specifics about the club’s position stating, “The Rutland High School Booster Club has done and continues to do a great job and provides a lot of great opportunities to the students of the greater Rutland area.”
Boyle clarified the club’s position as stated by Stoodley on Oct. 20, saying, “we replace uniforms that are worn out … We will not be replacing perfectly good uniforms.”
In a follow-up email, Boyle added, the club will “replace old and worn out uniforms, regardless of logo.”
“I feel the need to be very clear that we will not replace perfectly good uniforms because they bear the wrong logo. We have stated in the past and I will reiterate again that we are here to support the students. We do not support one ‘side’ of this issue or another. We support the kids of our community,” she stated.
Boyle noted that once a new logo design officially is selected by the district, the club will begin ordering and selling spirit items with that logo. In the meantime, she said, the club has been using the letter “R,” “RHS” or “Rutland” on items it sells.
Until earlier this year, the club was called the “Rutland Raider Booster Club,” however, Boyle said the club decided to change the name, explaining, “We don’t want to be part of this debate.”
“It was alienating people and we certainly don’t want that. That’s not our goal. Our goal is to support the kids,” she said.
While most school districts have some form of a booster club or clubs that support student activities, the roles they play vary — though operating concessions at athletic events seems to be a common mode of fundraising.
But when it comes to funding uniforms, the RHS Booster Club is an outlier — at least in Rutland County.
Officials at other public high schools around the county all confirmed that uniforms were part of their respective school budgets, with booster clubs providing materials and equipment above and beyond the standard uniform replacement schedule.
“For the most part, this is part of our general fund budgets. Athletic uniforms are typically handled on a replacement cycle (dependent upon the school). From time to time, our sports booster programs (at the high school level) will assist or pay in total for uniforms in an off-cycle year (if needed),” Chris Sell, superintendent of the Greater Rutland County Supervisory Union wrote in an email.
Kim Maniery, athletic director at Mill River Union High School, said their booster club has, in the past, funded up to 50% of uniform costs for new teams or club teams with the district paying the balance, but those instances are rare.
This will probably not come as a surprise: There are not a lot of print facilities in Vermont willing or able to work all night.
Vermont high school winter sports practices started on Monday across the state in preparation for 2021-22 season. B1