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Burlington to pay $750K to settle police brutality allegations from 2018

 A black and white car that says police on the side. A blue light on top of the car is flashing.
Angela Evancie
The city of Burlington will pay $750,000 to settle a lawsuit that alleges a former city cop used excessive force against a Black man during an incident in 2018.

The city of Burlington has agreed to pay $750,000 to settle allegations that an officer used excessive force when he shoved a Black man into a wall during a 2018 incident.

The City Council approved the settlement earlier this week, but details weren’t made public until Friday. According to a press release, the city’s insurer, Travelers, will cover $500,000 of the payment, and the city’s liability insurance reserve fund will cover the remaining $250,000.

More from Vermont Public: Lawsuits allege police brutality by Burlington officers, videos show encounters

Mayor Miro Weinberger and the Meli family, who filed the lawsuit, issued a joint statement on Friday announcing the settlement.

“The Melis are longstanding and valued members of the Burlington community, and this incident was an important catalyst for change,” the statement said. “At a recent meeting between the Mayor and the Melis, the Meli brothers described the harm they experienced and their wish to support positive change, especially involving police interactions with people of color.

"The Mayor expressed his sincere regret for the lingering harm this incident caused their family and gratitude to the Melis for their desire and commitment to engage the City in these important issues," the statement concluded.

The 2019 lawsuit stems from an incident in September 2018, when Sgt. Jason Bellavance, while responding to a call about a fight downtown, shoved Jeremie Meli into a wall and knocked him unconscious, according to body camera footage. Jeremie’s brothers, Charlie and Albin, were also at the scene. Officers tackled Albin, and arrested all three of the Meli brothers, according to the lawsuit. Prosecutors ultimately dropped charges against the Meli brothers.

Bellavance was suspended for several days without pay after an internal investigation into the incident.

More From Vermont Public: City Council approves buyout of Burlington cop after a month of protests

Video of the incident sparked calls for police reform in the city. In 2020, protesters occupied the park in front of the Burlington Police Department for a month and demanded the city fire Bellavance and two other officers involved in recent use-of-force incidents. Bellavance ended up accepting a $300,000 buyout from the city.

Burlington still faces another pending lawsuit alleging police used excessive force against another man. That lawsuit, filed at the same time as the Meli’s case, alleges that officer Joseph Carrow approached Mabior Jok, who’s Black, without announcing himself, and slammed Jok into the ground.

The city has settled two other lawsuits alleging excessive force by Burlington police. In 2021, the city paid $45,000 to the family of Douglas Kilburn, who died after a Burlington officer punched him. And in 2019, the city paid $270,000 to the family of Wayne Brunette, a man in the midst of a mental health crisis who was shot and killed by police in 2013.

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