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Former Cop Pleads Not Guilty To Assault Charge

A former St. Albans, Vermont police officer has pleaded not guilty to a misdemeanor charge of assault on a woman while she was handcuffed in a holding cell.
During his arraignment in Vermont Superior Court in St. Albans, Jason Lawton’s lawyer Rebecca Otey entered a not guilty plea to a charge of simple assault, a misdemeanor.  “We acknowledge receipt of the information and affidavit  and will enter a plea of not guilty as to the count of one charge.”

The charges were filed by the state Attorney General’s office on November 18th following a lengthy investigation by the Vermont State Police. According to the affidavit from investigators, which included witness accounts, surveillance and body camera footage, on March 14th Amy Connelly was kicking the door of a holding cell at the St. Albans Police station. She claims she wanted to get an officer’s attention. Lawton opened the door and told her not to kick it.  Connelly stood up and Lawton told her to sit down. When she said no, he pushed her against the wall. Connelly appeared angry and tried to kick Lawton. Lawton again pushed her against the cell wall  “…and delivers a right upper cut with a closed fist to Connelly’s face. The force of the blow throws Connelly’s head back against the cell wall.”  Lawton and his attorney quickly left the courthouse without comment following his arraignment.
Reporter: “Anything you would like us to know?”
Otey:  “No comment at this time.”

Vermont Attorney General T.J. Donovan, a Democrat, has seen the videos. He said the case undermines the public trust and will not be tolerated.  “This was an individual who was handcuffed behind their back who was in the care and custody of the police department. This punch, which was an uppercut to her face was totally unnecessary and it was an act of violence and it was an assault and it is a crime. And the message here is that nobody is above the law including the police.  And that they had an obligation, a legal obligation, to protect her the minute she was in custody. She was defenseless at that time.”

Donovan says Connelly’s attempt to kick Officer Lawton may be a factor in Lawton’s defense but doubts it would be a valid argument.  “My view is the video tape is the best evidence. Whether or not she attempted to kick or not I would say that she was thrown violently against the wall that started this assault. That if she did attempt to kick somebody that’s not clear to me but if in fact that was determined that threat was neutralized and that the punch to the head was gratuitous, unnecessary and illegal.”

The Attorney General’s office filed the charges against Lawton 10 days after declining to prosecute Burlington Police Officer Cory Campbell for use of force in a March 2019 incident.  Douglas Kilburn died three days after Campbell hit him during an altercation on the grounds of the University of Vermont Medical Center. The state medical examiner determined the manner of death as homicide – struck by other, clarifying it as a medical not legal designation. Donovan says he considers each case based on facts and evidence.  “It is whether or not you are legally justified in using force when force is directed at you that puts you in threat of bodily injury or a threat that is imminent and then you apply the facts to the law. Here we think the fact that Miss Connelly was handcuffed behind her back in a holding cell that she was not posing a threat of harm of injury to the officer.  I came to a different conclusion on the Kilburn matter.”

Lawton was released on conditions. He is suing the St. Albans Police Department for firing him without cause.
The Franklin County State’s Attorney has filed assault charges against Connelly and she is due in court in December.

 

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