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Franklin County sheriff candidate pleads not guilty to kicking a handcuffed person

A man in a red t-shirt and shorts has his foot against a man on a bench.
County Courier, Courtesy
Former Capt. John Grismore, the only candidate whose name is on the ballot for Franklin County sheriff, pleaded not guilty on Monday to a charge that he allegedly kicked a handcuffed man. The County Courier released video of the incident the day after his primary victory. Officials in both political parties have endorsed a write-in candidate who's running against Grismore.

The only Franklin County sheriff candidate whose name is on the ballot pleaded not guilty on Monday to assaulting a handcuffed man.

John Grismore, a former captain at the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office, is facing a simple assault charge, a misdemeanor which could land him in prison for up to a year.

Grismore was granted a waiver to not appear in court on Monday and entered a not guilty plea through his attorney. Grand Isle State’s Attorney Doug DiSabito, who’s prosecuting the case, didn’t request any conditions of release.

“He's local here, he's got ties to the community,” DiSabito told reporters after the arraignment. “I don't see a need for a condition of release to make sure he shows up to court.”

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Grismore won the Republican primary for sheriff in August and received enough write-in votes to win the Democratic primary as well. But shortly after his victory,theCounty Courierpublished a video of the alleged assault, prompting leaders from both political parties to call on Grismore to withdraw his candidacy. So far, he’s refused to drop out of the race.

State police launched a criminal investigation into the incident. Grismore was placed on administrative leave and ultimately fired.

DiSabito said the upcoming election wasn’t a factor in his decision to charge Grismore.

“I do not live in Franklin County — I don't have any dog in that fight,” he said. “ So I reviewed it like I reviewed every other case.”

“I do not live in Franklin County — I don't have any dog in that fight. So I reviewed it like I reviewed every other case.”
Doug DiSabito, Grand Isle State's Attorney

The alleged assault took place on Aug. 7, two days before the primary election. Grismore wasn’t on duty at the time, but had gone into the office to catch up on some work, according to the affidavit of probable cause filed on Monday.

Two deputies had arrested a man for disorderly and combative behavior and brought him back to the sheriff's office. The man’s legs were shackled to the bench and his hands were cuffed behind his back.

At one point, the man, who was intoxicated, tried to stand up and walk away, but he fell on his face, according to video of the incident. The deputies stood the man up and he tried to walk forward again. When he moved forward, Grismore, who was watching from the doorway, entered the room and kicked the man in the abdomen, knocking him onto the bench and then kicked him a second time, the video shows.

Grismore told the deputies not to report the incident and that he’d document it, court records say. Both deputies felt Grismore’s use of force was excessive and they reported the incident, according to the affidavit.

Grismore has denied using excessive force and in a September interview with Northwest Access TV, he said the man tried to spit at the deputies.

“I went in and with my foot, pushed it on his lower abdomen in his hip area, in an effort to seat him back on the bench,” Grismore said in the interview. “And why I use my foot was because I wanted to make sure that I kept my face as far away from his face as possible.”

When the deputies arrested the man earlier in the day, he did spit on one of them, according to the affidavit. But one of the deputies told state police that the man didn’t try to spit on anyone while he was detained at the department. Spitting on a law enforcement officer is a crime, according to Vermont law.

The man who was kicked told investigators that Grismore kicked him three times, including two hits to the groin, and that the pain was a six out of 10, the affidavit says.

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The pending criminal charges would not prevent Grismore from taking office if he wins November’s election.

Addison County Sheriff Peter Newton refused to resign earlier this year despite facing several charges, including two counts of felony sexual assault. Sheriffs, as elected officials, can only be removed from office by impeachment, which would have to be initiated by the Legislature. Only one sheriff in Vermont’s history has been impeached.

Two people have mounted write-in campaigns to try to beat Grismore. The Franklin County Democrats and Republicans endorsed Mark Lauer, a lieutenant in the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office.

Gale Messier is also running a write-in campaign. He spent two decades working at the Chittenden County Sheriff’s Office and ran in the GOP primary for Franklin County Sheriff in 2010.

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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