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Unopposed Franklin County Sheriff candidate faces criminal investigation; bipartisan effort to endorse a write-in challenger underway

A man in a red shirt stands with his foot on another man who is sitting.
Cpt. John Grismore, the sole candidate for Franklin County sheriff, faces a criminal investigation for allegedly kicking a handcuffed man. The County Courier released video of the incident the day after his primary victory. Officials in both political parties are working together to find a write-in challenger.

Democratic and Republican officials in Franklin County are close to endorsing a write-in candidate for sheriff to challenge the current candidate, who faces a criminal investigation over allegations of excessive force.

Cpt. John Grismore, a deputy with the Franklin County Sheriff’s Department, won both party primaries. He ran as a Republican, but also received enough write-in votes to win the Democratic primary.

The day after Grismore’s primary victory, the County Courier published a video of him kicking a handcuffed man twice in the groin. Grismore is currently on administrative leave and state police are investigating the incident. He didn’t respond to a request for comment.

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The Democratic and Republican party chairs called on Grismore to withdraw from the race after the video was released, which he didn’t do by Friday’s deadline, according to the Secretary of State’s office. (Vermont law gives primary winners 10 days to withdraw their name from the general election ballot.)

Party leaders in Franklin County say they’re hoping to work together to endorse one write-in candidate.

“It appears we have a candidate that both parties are agreeable to,” said Joe Luneau, chair of the Franklin County Republican committee. “Obviously, we can't nominate this individual, but we can endorse them.”

The Franklin County GOP will meet next week to discuss the issue, Luneau said.

Franklin County Democrats also expect to make a decision shortly, said party chair Zach Scheffler.

“It's true that reaching political agreements isn't easy these days,” Scheffler said. “But the past 24 hours have left me optimistic that we can come together and get where we need to be.”

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The sheriff isn’t the only county-wide law enforcement position up for election. In November, residents in Franklin County will also pick a new top prosecutor and both candidates in that race say Grismore should withdraw his candidacy .

Zach Weight, the Republican nominee for Franklin County State’s Attorney, condemned Grismore’s actions after the video was released, but on Tuesday Weight said that if Grismore was elected sheriff, he’d find a way to work with him.

“I would have to honor the results of the voters until another avenue opens up,” Weight said. “I would look to meet with him, and as I would with anybody who's elected sheriffs, and try to clear the air and have an open line of communication and dialogue.”

The Democratic nominee for Franklin County State’s Attorney, John Lavoie said if elected state’s attorney he’d have to work with the heads of all law enforcement agencies in the county.

"If Cpt. Grismore were the head of that agency, I would have to work with him,” Lavoie said. “It is my sincere hope that that never comes to pass.”

The only way to remove a sheriff from office once they’re elected is through impeachment. That’s only happened once in Vermont’s history.

Lavoie said if Grismore was elected, he thinks the impeachment would be a “viable option.”

Lavoie, who’s also a deputy state’s attorney in Franklin County, said he expects the state police will finish their investigation into Grismore before the November election. Franklin County prosecutors will likely refer the case to the Attorney General’s office for review, Lavoie said.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or get in touch with reporter Liam Elder-Connors @lseconnors

Liam is Vermont Public’s public safety reporter, focusing on law enforcement, courts and the prison system.
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