Police Use Of Force Discussed By Burlington City Council

May 14, 2019

Burlington, Vermont Police Chief Brandon del Pozo was questioned by city councilors Monday night about the department’s use of force policies.  The sometimes contentious session occurred after body cam video from two incidents last September was released and a man died following a third altercation with police in March.

Two federal lawsuits have been filed against the city of Burlington after two separate incidents in September 2018 outside bars; both claim police officers used excessive force.   The lawsuits were filed  less than a month after the Vermont medical examiner ruled as a homicide the March death of another man involved in an altercation with an officer.  That case is being investigated by the Vermont State Police.  Body cam video of the September incidents were released to the public on May 3rd.
During Monday’s City Council meeting Police Chief Brandon del Pozo outlined the department’s current Use of Force policy.  “It is a very serious matter under consideration and what we’re going to do tonight in addition to answer questions that the council has is talk about use-of-force in the police department, our policy, some of our experiences and some of our ways forward.”

Before he began his presentation, the chief faced an uphill battle to regain community trust.  The majority of those stepping up during the public comment period questioned the department’s actions and transparency.  Kevin Rodgers is an emergency department physician.  “I believe that that video footage  documents an unprovoked, unjustified, vicious attack on a citizen of our community.  It is also not right that this comes to light only because of an excessive force lawsuit.”
“My name is Kenzie Hines. I’m going to read the demands of the Black Lives Matter of Greater Burlington.  We demand the termination of Officers Cory Campbell, Jason Bellavance, and Joseph Corrow from the Burlington Police Department as they are a threat to the safety of the community. We demand that all police operating in Chittenden County wear and consistently use body cameras and that the free release of that footage to the public becomes mandatory.”

Some city councilors also criticized the police department. Ward 7 Democrat/Progressive Ali Dieng is the only person of color on the panel.  “The issue to me is the leadership we have in place. You did not bring a letter of resignation to the council.”

Council President Kurt Wright had to admonish observers several times as in this incident when councilor Brian Pine posed a question to the police chief.  “It feels like it’s really disproportionate when the guys who got punished for the stolen beer got a longer punishment than the officers involved here.”
(applause)
Wright:  “Whoa, whoa please don’t do that. Show respect for the process.”
City Attorney Eileen Blackwood:  “Chief I think that’s one you probably should not answer in public session. The um…”
Wright:  “Ex..Excuse me.  We listened to all of you and I would expect you to show respect for the City Attorney when she’s speaking as the Chief as well.”

Progressive members of the Burlington City Council announced on May 4th that they planned to present a resolution at the meeting calling for a thorough review of the police department’s use-of-force policy.  But they did not put it forward.  Ward 3 Progressive Pine says they realized they had not sought input from advocates and so delayed introducing their measure.   “This needs to have community voices and we didn’t do that. We didn’t think of it so our bad and we said let’s hold off for a week. Not a whole lot would happen in a week anyway so we’re trying to bring something together for next Monday the 20th ‘cause that’s when we meet next.”

Audio from the Burlington City Council meeting is courtesy of Channel 17 Town Meeting Television.