Hearing to determine if Franklin County sheriff used excessive force to be continued later this month
A hearing to determine if Franklin County Sheriff John Grismore violated Vermont's use-of-force policy when he kicked a handcuffed and shackled man will be continued later this month.
The Vermont Criminal Justice Council, a statewide body responsible for regulating law enforcement credentials, heard nearly eight hours of testimony on Tuesday. But it was unable to finish the proceeding by the end of the day.
If the council determines Grismore used excessive force, he could face sanctions, including being stripped of his law enforcement credentials.
The council only focused on whether Grismore’s behavior violated the state’s use-of-force policy and not if his actions rose to the level of criminal behavior. Grismore is facing a simple assault charge in Grand Isle County criminal court. (The case was initially filed in Franklin County and then transferred to Grand Isle County to avoid a potential conflict of interest.) He pleaded not guilty, and that case is still pending.
Vermont State Police are also investigating financial issues at the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office.
During the day-long hearing on Tuesday, the Vermont Criminal Justice Council heard testimony from the two deputies who were in the room at the time of the alleged excessive use of force, a use-of-force expert, and Grismore.
The incident stemmed from an Aug. 2022 report that Jeremy Burrows was drunk and disruptive at his parents' house. When Franklin County Sheriff Deputies Christopher Major and Karry Andileigh arrived at the scene, they said Burrows vacillated between being calm and aggressive. The deputies said that Burrows tried to punch Major and spat on him. The deputies subdued Burrows, handcuffed him, and brought him back to the sheriff’s department.
At the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office, Burrows was handcuffed and shackled to a bench. At one point he tried to stand up and he fell on his face, body camera video shows. Major and Andileigh helped him back on his feet, but Burrows wouldn’t sit back down.
Grismore, who wasn’t on duty that day and had come in to do paperwork, entered the processing room, kicked Burrows back onto the bench and then held his foot on Burrows’ midsection, the video shows. Burrows got back up and Grismore kicked him again in the midsection, according to video of the incident.
Both Major and Andileigh testified on Tuesday that they felt Grismore’s kicks were unnecessary because Burrows was handcuffed and shackled to the bench. After Grismore kicked Burrows for a second time, Andileigh tried to put herself between the two men.
“I repositioned my body in an attempt to redirect Grismore from contact with Mr. Burrows,” Andileigh said during the hearing. “I was worried another kick was going to happen.”
“The use of force felt aggressive,” she added later during her testimony.
Grismore’s attorney, Robert Kaplan, argued that Burrows was a threat to the deputies, as demonstrated by his actions during his arrest earlier that day — spitting at Major and threatening to assault him. Major and Andileigh were also inexperienced and needed help controlling the situation, Kaplan said during the hearing.
”Sheriff Grismore did not kick this person — he used his foot to shove this person back onto the bench,” Kaplan said during his opening remarks.
Grismore, during his testimony, said he was concerned that Burrows might try to headbutt, bite or spit on the deputies. (Spitting on a law enforcement officer is considered assault under Vermont law.)
The first kick, which Grismore described as a shove, was intended to get Burrows to sit down. The second kick, Grismore said, was in response to Burrows’ alleged attempt to spit on him.
“He’s forming his mouth in a spitting fashion, so at this point and time I’m perceiving that he’s about to assault me with spit,” Grismore said. “It was just a quick reactionary use of my foot again to interrupt his spit and try to create some distance.”
But a use-of-force expert who analyzed the case said Grismore’s actions were unnecessary and unreasonable.
“Spitting is the ultimate contempt of cop,” said Eric Daigle, an attorney and former Connecticut State Police trooper. “Unfortunately you can’t respond to spitting with a violent response.”
Grismore was fired from the Franklin County Sheriff's Office after video of the incident was published. He’d previously announced a bid for sheriff and just before he was fired, he won the Republican and Democratic nomination for sheriff. Grismore refused to drop out of the race and was elected sheriff in Nov. 2022. He took over the office in February.
As the Vermont Criminal Justice Council hearing neared its eighth hour on Tuesday, the council decided to break for the day and finish the hearing at a later date. Grismore still has an expert witness, and the council will need time to deliberate.
The council didn’t decide on a day or time to continue the hearing, but the group doesn’t expect to meet again until after Thanksgiving.
Grismore has previously said that he wouldn’t resign if he lost his law enforcement credentials.
“I’m not saying it's not going to hinder my abilities,” Grismore told Vermont Public in July. “I'm just saying it's not going to prevent me from being the sheriff.”
Sheriffs, as elected officials, can only be removed from office through impeachment. A legislative committee started that process earlier this year and recently started taking testimony about the case, mostly behind closed doors.
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