Protesters have been camped out in a park adjacent to the Burlington, Vermont Police Department for nearly a month. They want the city to fire three police officers who were involved in past use-of-force incidents. Following an executive session Monday night city councilors emerged with a resolution that partially addresses protesters’ demands.
For weeks activists and protesters have been jamming the public comment lines during city council meetings and since August 25th an encampment has been set up at Battery Park adjacent to the police station. Demonstrators want police officers Jason Bellavance, Joseph Corrow and Cory Campbell to be fired in the wake of past use-of-force incidents. City officials say they cannot be fired because the officers have already been investigated, exonerated of any use-of-force charges and disciplined.
During a special meeting of the council on September 8th activist Ashley LaPorte described body cam video that has motivated the protests. “I don’t know if many of you have re-watched the footage of Sargent Jason Bellavance walking up to Jeremie Melie without working to engage or deescalate him first. But he immediately shoves Melie into the wall and you can hear his head crack.”
On Monday night councilors went into executive session as requested by city attorney Eileen Blackwood. “As you know we have been looking at and discussing issues related to requests that the city and demands that the city fire three police officers and we have been doing some work on that and I would like you to go into executive session to hear what we’ve been doing both to receive legal advice about it and that this may involve the negotiations of contracts as well as various employee matters that could be considered their employment or discipline discharge.”
Following the executive session a resolution was put forth authorizing Mayor Miro Weinberger to execute a separation agreement with Sergeant Bellavance. The officer has agreed to resign effective October 5th with approximately three years’ compensation.
North District Democrat Franklin Paulino called the council action unprecedented. “Many of us want to move forward, want to get to the real work. The real work involves systemic racism and this is a big deal. We are doing a separation. I think it’s a fair one. It’s a lot of money but I think it is the best possible outcome and I think it should bring closure to many.”
Ward 7 Independent Ali Dieng opposed the resolution setting the terms of the separation agreement. “I do believe the resolution in front of us is putting the taxpayers of Burlington in jeopardy. This is not a call for justice. This is not solving the issue and this issue could have been done long time ago.”
Mayor Weinberger said he supports the separation agreement, but will not approve similar agreements, if drafted, for the other two officers. "I do not support pursuing voluntary separation agreements with officers Corrow and Campbell. Their uses of force were found to be consistent with the policy and training that were in place at the time. And to pursue separation agreements under these circumstances would set an unmanageable precedent that would challenge the department for years to come by suggesting that future employment decisions will be decided not by fair deliberative processes but rather by the passions of public opinion.”
The agreement with Bellavance includes separation pay of approximately $300,000; health insurance for 18 months, three years’ service credit toward retirement; legal fees and releases of claims. The resolution passed on an 11 to one vote.