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Vt. House lawmakers begin impeachment process for Franklin County sheriff and state's attorney

House Speaker Jill Krowinski, and other lawmakers announced on Thursday that they’d start impeachment proceedings for Franklin County sheriff John Grismore and state’s attorney John Lavoie. Both men have been accused of misconduct and refused to resign.
Liam Elder-Connors
Vermont Public
House Speaker Jill Krowinski, and other lawmakers announced on Thursday that they’d start impeachment proceedings for Franklin County sheriff John Grismore and state’s attorney John Lavoie. Both men have been accused of misconduct and refused to resign.

Lawmakers in the Vermont House announced Thursday that they will begin impeachment proceedings for two Franklin County law enforcement officials accused of misconduct.

The decision to start the impeachment process came days after the Department of State’s Attorneys and Sheriffs said an internal investigation into Franklin County state’s attorney John Lavoie found an alleged pattern of “harassment and discriminatory conduct.”

Lavoie, who was just elected to the position in November, has refused repeatedly to resign, and told reporters on Tuesday that he’s prone to “banter” and wasn’t aware how his comments affected his employees.

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Lawmakers had already been mulling starting the process for Franklin County sheriff John Grismore, who’s facing an assault charge after video released last August, before he was elected, showed him kicking a shackled man. Grismore, who was elected sheriff in November, pleaded not guilty to the simple assault charge.

Both Lavoie and Grismore have refused to resign. Impeachment is the only mechanism for removing elected officials from office.

“The people of Franklin County deserve justice and elected officials who they can trust to uphold the rule of the law and to represent their community with integrity,” said House Speaker Jill Krowinski at a press conference Thursday. “These are very rare circumstances, and we do not take them lightly.”

An unusual step by lawmakers

Impeachments are rare in Vermont. The last time the legislature impeached an elected official was in 1976, when Washington County sheriff Mike Mayo was accused of assault, falsifying documents and abusing his authority. Mayo was ultimately acquitted.

A special seven-member bipartisan House committee will be created to investigate the allegations in both cases, said Franklin County Rep. Michael McCarthy.

“It may be that we find that articles of impeachment are not warranted,” McCarthy said during the press conference. “But this is serious enough that we need to take this step and do a thoughtful and thorough investigation.”

More from Vermont Public: Vermont lawmakers mull additional oversight of county sheriffs as controversies mount

If the special committee recommends articles of impeachment, it would require a two-thirds vote in the House to bring the case before the Senate, which would hear the case and ultimately decide whether to convict the person who is impeached.

Krowinski said on Thursday that she doesn’t know how long the investigation will take.

“I want to make sure that the committee has all the time they need to do a good job and do the research,” she said.

Grismore did not respond to a request for comment.

Lavoie, in a phone interview Thursday afternoon, said he was surprised that the lawmakers were pursuing impeachment.

“I thought that the requests for my resignation were a severe sanction for the complaint of conduct and I think the same of impeachment,” he said.

Findings of Lavoie investigation

The Department of State’s Attorneys and Sheriffs on Thursday also released a redacted version of its internal investigation into Lavoie, which provided greater detail about his alleged misconduct.

The investigation, conducted by the law firm Paul Frank and Collins, substantiated numerous allegations of Lavoie making inappropriate or offensive comments about race, religion, sexual orientation, weight and people with disabilities. The report also found at least two instances of unwanted physical contact, including an instance where Lavoie allegedly pinched a woman’s midsection and said “I don’t think you need to eat lunch today,” the report says.

Witnesses told investigators that the conduct had been going on for years, and in some cases they participated in it, the report says.

“Those employees who participated in the past have begun to feel much more uncomfortable in the past several months. Banter that had been accepted to a degree has felt more targeted, prevalent, and damaging,” the report says.

According to the report, Lavoie admitted to making some of the comments.

Lavoie, in a phone interview Thursday, said that while he now realizes some of his comments were inappropriate “it was my belief that such banter was humorous.”

“I used to look at this office as an extension of my home,” Lavoie said in an interview Thursday. “And now, it's clear that that can't be so. And I view it now as more an extension of the courtroom and there's certainly never been a problem or a complaint about my conduct in court.”

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Corrected: May 8, 2023 at 11:25 AM EDT
A previous version incorrectly stated that sheriff Mike Mayo was the first elected official in Vermont to be impeached.
Liam is Vermont Public’s public safety reporter, focusing on law enforcement, courts and the prison system.
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