BURLINGTON — The U.S. Attorney’s Office for Vermont has dropped — at least for the time being — the lone criminal case it filed after an early morning raid last month in Rutland City that uncovered possible evidence of gun violations and drug and human trafficking.
Jackson “Sunny” Grant, 37, of Brooklyn, was named in a federal criminal complaint with being a convicted felon in possession of a 9 mm handgun during the raid led by special agents from Homeland Security Investigations on Oct. 22. Two neighboring homes — 47 Baxter and 146 Maple streets — were hit during the early morning swoop.
Prior to executing a search warrant at the Maple Street apartment, law enforcement had received indicators that women might be confined there against their will, officials said. HSI and police found evidence signifying potential human trafficking, including a padlocked apartment door and multiple chain-link storage areas. Several women were identified and interviewed.
“New York authorities are pursuing parole violations for Grant. The government will continue the investigation of Grant’s activities in Vermont,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul J. Van de Graaf wrote in the notice of dismissal.
During a federal court hearing on Oct. 26, he had requested up to 10 days to explore whether New York parole authorities would be interested in taking custody of Grant again.
Grant was convicted for assault with intent to cause physical injury with a weapon in Kings County, New York, in 2016, records show, HSI Special Agent Seth Fiore said. Grant was sentenced to six years in prison and was recently released on parole, records show.
Grant, also known as “Jay,” left the Northwest State Correctional Facility in St. Albans Town on Tuesday in the company of two New York officers, a prison representative told the Rutland Herald.
Grant said he had been staying at an apartment on Baxter Street for about a week before the raid, HSI said.
A HSI spokesman, who had said after the raid it would take time to sort through the evidence seized and statements provided, repeated on Wednesday that the investigation was ongoing.
It was unclear Wednesday if any citations were issued or state charges filed in connection with the raid. Attempts to reach State’s Attorney Rose Kennedy were unsuccessful.
Three women, including two locals, were discovered behind a padlocked apartment door, Rutland City Police said.
The gun linked to Grant was found in a living room couch at 47 Baxter Street, Homeland Security said.
Van der Graaf had maintained Grant was a danger to the community and a risk to flee. The veteran prosecutor said the mix of guns and drugs also is a dangerous situation.
While Grant was charged with only the gun case, he “faces the potential of being charged with other serious crimes, including drug trafficking,” Van der Graaf said in court papers
Van de Graaf added, “the evidence showing that Grant possessed a firearm and dealt drugs while on parole undercuts any basis that Grant would abide by this Court’s release conditions.”
Magistrate Judge Kevin J. Doyle did agree to the 10-day hold request. It gave New York Parole officials time to seek Grant’s return.
A Vermont Drug Task Force detective reported he found hundreds of bags of suspected heroin and a large amount of cash in a black backpack during the raid, which included state, county and local police.
A second firearm, more cash, four smartphones and one flip phone also were confiscated, officials said.
A woman was found by investigators in a back bedroom, and another woman was found nearby, HSI reported.
The first woman acknowledged she had allowed various people to stay at her apartment and she had been provided an older gun that was in a bag in the living room, court records show.
Several men were found at the Maple Street apartment and were detained, officials said.
A Rutland City Police Department officer, Cpl. Christopher Rose, will not be charged after fatally shooting a man at the South Main Street McDonald’s on Aug. 25, according to Attorney General T.J. Donovan.
Rose told investigators the man had an object he believed was a gun although law-enforcement officers later determined it was a cellphone.
A news release sent Wednesday said their investigation of the fatal shooting of Jonathan Mansilla, 33, of Coral Gables, Florida, was justified.
Under Vermont’s self-defense law, deadly force is not considered justified if the accused person was the initial aggressor — the person must also indicate he or she reasonably believed there was an immediate danger of harm or death and that he or she believed force was necessary to avoid this danger.
The release provided a detailed description of the events which preceded Mansilla’s death, which were investigated by the Vermont State Police. Around 2:30 p.m. Aug. 25, Rose spotted Mansilla’s black 2009 Chevrolet Cobalt on Allen Street. The car had already been part of a police pursuit from earlier the same day.
However, Rose said what caught his attention was that the car crossed the center line and then passed his police cruiser at a “high rate of speed” and almost hit the cruiser by going left of the center line.
Rose turned his cruiser around to pursue the Cobalt. He caught up with the car Mansilla was driving at the intersection of Allen Street and Route 7.
Rose saw the Cobalt hit the rear of a UPS truck. His cruiser video captured Mansilla, outside his car, but then leaning in to grab some object that Rose said he could not identify.
Mansilla then ran off in the direction of the McDonald’s at the corner of Allen and South Main streets.
Rose chased Mansilla on foot, identifying himself as a police officer and ordering Mansilla to stop, but Mansilla continued to flee and entered the restaurant.
The release said Mansilla appeared to try, unsuccessfully, to lock the door after he entered the restaraunt.
There were at least two families in the dining area, and two children, 2 and 7, the report said.
Mansilla ran into the men’s restroom as Rose entered the dining area.
Mansilla entered the restroom seconds before Rose arrived. The officer tried to open the door but was unable to push it open, apparently because of resistance from Mansilla.
Rose walked away briefly, but then returned to the restroom door. This time, it opened but Rose backed away, clipped his radio into his belt and placed his right hand on his holstered firearm.
Rose then entered the restroom with his firearm drawn. Mansilla was in a locked stall and Rose identified himself again as an officer and commanded Mansilla to show his hands. Mansilla did not respond.
About 10 seconds later, Mansilla “abruptly” exited the stall, the release said, and ran towards Rose, while screaming, with his arm raised around head level and carrying in his hand what Rose believed to be a weapon.
Rose fired three rounds, two of which struck Mansilla in the chest as they both stumbled out of the restroom and into the hallway. Mansilla fell to the floor of the hallway.
Investigators found Mansilla was not armed when he was shot. Instead, he was holding a cellphone.
Rose’s account of the event of Aug. 25 was corroborated by an independent eyewitness.
“In this case, Corporal Rose reasonably believed that he was in imminent danger of being killed or suffering great bodily harm when Mr. Mansilla abruptly exited the bathroom stall and ran toward him with what Corporal Rose believed to be a weapon. Under these facts and circumstances and consistent with Vermont law, the actions of the officer were justified. The Attorney General’s Office has declined to file charges against Corporal Rose,” said a release from Donovan’s office sent on Thursday.
The release from Donovan’s office said the shooting was also analyzed under Vermont’s “justifiable homicide” law although that version did not become effective until Oct. 1.
Inside the restroom, Rose announced his presence and told Mansilla to show his hands. Instead, Mansilla charged directly at Rose giving Rose “only a split second in which to respond,” the release said.
It does not appear that Corporal Rose’s decision to enter the restroom to see if anyone was in danger was unreasonable. Rose had seen Mansilla put people in jeopardy before they got to the restaurant and learned Mansilla had fled from multiple officers.
Rose thought Mansilla might be armed and didn’t know if anyone else was in the restroom when Mansilla went in.
“Therefore, under the totality of these circumstances, during and leading up to the shooting, a reasonable officer in Corporal Rose’s situation would have concluded that there was no alternative to the use of deadly force to prevent death or serious bodily injury,” the release said.
On Aug. 25, Mansilla was on probation out of Connecticut for enticing a minor. A violation of probation was pending and, according to the New Haven Probation Office, Mansilla had absconded from supervision.
Officials at the Vermont State Police and Vermont Attorney General’s Office said investigators believed Mansilla, who lived most of his life in the Miami area, was visiting family in Vermont in August.
Rutland City Police Chief Brian Kilcullen said the department appreciated the work done to investigate the shooting death involving Rose, who has been with the RCPD for more than five years.
“We’re pleased the investigation cleared the officer and we’re appreciative of the thoroughness of the investigation conducted by Vermont State Police and appreciative of the thorough review of the investigation done by the Attorney General’s Office,” he said.
Kilcullen said Rose has been on paid administrative leave while the investigation was conducted. With the decision from the Vermont Attorney General’s Office, the city police will conduct their own investigation and Rose will be expected to return to active duty after catching up on some training. While the RCPD is looking to fill some position, Rose’s position was not considered open so his return will not change the department’s total number of officers.
The State Board of Education heard about the unprecedented workforce challenges facing Vermont’s education system Wednesday.
Representatives from several organizations addressed the board during its regular monthly meeting to outline the severe staffing shortages facing K-12 schools, as well as to offer some potential solutions.
Jeff Francis, executive director of the Vermont Superintendents’ Association said his members are reporting acute shortages in all positions, with a particularly great need for custodians, bus drivers, para-educators and cafeteria workers.
“For teachers and administrators, the burdens that are placed on them in terms of having to fill and cover for positions that are not in the school systems — it adds to the stress and anxiety,” he said.
While Francis didn’t see measures that could alleviate the problem in the short term, he made several suggestions from a policy perspective that he believed would help, including relaxing regulations to make it easier for retired educators to return to the workforce, instilling confidence in current educators about the future of the state pension system, and getting a commitment from the Legislature not to enact any substantive new education-related initiatives in the coming session.
He said superintendents have told him that uncertainty about the long-term sustainability of the pension system is leading some teachers to consider employment in neighboring states and others to take retirement earlier than planned.
Jay Nichols, executive director of the Vermont Principals’ Association echoed Francis, stating there are job openings in nearly every position at all grade levels, including teachers, special educators, speech language pathologists, school nurses, guidance counselors and mental health staff.
“When I was superintendent at Essex town, we had a third-grade position open (and) we had over 300 candidates. Places like that now get 40 or 50 candidates. And in rural areas, you might only get one or two, and they might not even be licensed,” he said.
Nichols said there are currently situations in schools where unfilled teaching positions are being continuously filled by subs.
He said the VPA has been working with stakeholders around the state to develop new strategies for education workforce recruitment and retention.
Strategies discussed include updating requirements to make it easier for employees to transfer licenses or certifications from other states or countries and creating teacher pipelines through career and technical education program or the Community College of Vermont.
“In terms of recruitment and retention, things don’t look great. Nationally and in Vermont, (fewer) teachers are coming into the field, more teachers are leaving the field earlier and in Vermont, we also have the disadvantage of having the weakest teacher pension and retirement program in the Northeast. We pay less on average than the states around us with the exception of Maine,” he said.
Nichols expanded on the VPA’s plan to bring retired teachers back into the workforce, explaining that fully retired teachers would be able to serve in a position for one year while still receiving retirement benefits — though they would pay into the system like any other teacher.
“It will allow us to access teachers who have retired in the last little while that are still very talented individuals, but aren’t willing to give up their retirement to come back and help us out in a crisis,” he said.
He added that some House Education Committee members have expressed interested in the plan and lawmakers may introduce it as a bill in the upcoming session.
Nichols also supported making it easier for people to transfer licenses from another state or country, adding that the state should also do what it can to simplify the process and ease any financial burdens.
“We need to step up as a state and help these people. Otherwise, we’re not going to diversify our workforce, we’re not going to fill these needed positions,” he said.
Mill Moore, executive director of Vermont Independent Schools Association, said the state’s more than 30 therapeutic schools, which serve students with severe disabilities, are facing a particularly acute staffing crisis.
“Some of those schools are offering bonuses of up to $5,000 to get somebody with a credential to work in their schools,” he said. “In other words, they are desperate — desperate for credentialed employees because those schools cannot function without adequately credentialed people.”
Moore added that several therapeutic schools have had to turn away students because they cannot operate at full capacity due to a lack of personnel.
Don Tinney, president of the Vermont-NEA, which represents more than 13,000 teachers and school staff around the state, said addressing issues like accessible and affordable child care and student loan debt forgiveness would go a long way to help with workforce recruitment and retention.
In the short term, he pointed to examples from other parts of the country, such as a Pennsylvania school district that is paying subs up to $200 a day, as well as other districts that are offering sizable retention bonuses for teachers.
Tinney noted that additional responsibilities related to various initiatives and directives being heaped on classroom teachers — even before the pandemic — were another factor driving educators out of the profession.
“The pressure this year on educators to, quote, ‘get kids caught up,’ has been unbearable for some,” he said, adding that contending with standardized testing in this climate is only compounding the problem.
In an email to the Herald earlier this week, Slate Valley Unified Union School District Superintendent Brooke Olsen-Farrell reported around 18 unfilled positions across the district’s six schools.
Staff absentee rates are also high, she noted. Due to a combination of normal illness, COVID-19 protocols and breakthrough cases, only about 50% of absences are being filled by substitutes daily.
According to Olsen-Farrell, there were 44 staff absences in the district last Friday and only 22 available substitutes.
“Administrators, office personnel, etc., are all subbing. Teachers are taking on extra duties and we are pulling our interventionists to cover classrooms,” she stated.
Board of Education member Tom Lovett pointed out that the workforce crisis was a broad issue and not unique to education, stating that the solution should be “cross-sectional.”
“So I think there might be an opportunity for either the State Board (of Education), but certainly the state government, to make some changes in those areas. And it would help all sectors of the economy in this environment,” he said.
Beaver dam fails
No criticism of their engineering prowess, a beaver dam fails, emptying Muddy Pond and not for the first time either. A6
The University of Vermont men’s soccer team opens up the NCAA Tournament against Villanova on Thursday in Burlington. B1