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Northfield settles excessive force allegations from 2017 welfare check

Red and blue lights on a police car go off during the day.
The town of Northfield will pay $150,000 to settle allegations that two officers used excessive force on a woman during a 2017 welfare check. As part of the settlement, the town is not admitting any wrongdoing.

The town of Northfield will pay $150,000 to settle allegations that two of its police officers used excessive force on a woman with a physical impairment during a 2017 welfare check.

According to a 2019 lawsuit, Northfield Police officers Brian Hoar and Michael Gero allegedly broke down Debra Kew’s door during a welfare check on Aug. 22, 2017, then forced her on the ground, handcuffed her and left her on the floor for 45 minutes. At the time of the incident, Kew used a wheelchair and couldn’t walk without support, the lawsuit says.

Kew also suffers from PTSD, chronic depression, borderline personality disorder and anxiety, the lawsuit says. The Northfield Police Department had conducted about 20 welfare checks on Kew between 2000 and August 2017, according to the lawsuit.

“The police department knows her,” said Ron Shems, Kew’s attorney, during an interview on Monday. “She's disabled. They know that she was wheelchair bound. They know that she has emotional issues. And they also know that she's harmless. There was no need for excessive force.”

Kew required surgery and was hospitalized for six days after her hand was injured during the incident, the lawsuit says. Her arm was “permanently disfigured” and she likely won’t regain full use of her arm, according to the 2019 complaint.

“It shouldn’t have happened,” Kew said in a written statement on Monday. “They shouldn’t have treated me that way. No one should be treated that way. I just wanted my dignity.”

Northfield’s insurance carrier will cover the settlement amount, according to Jeff Schulz, the town manager.

“The allegations in the case remain disputed,” Schulz said during an interview on Monday. “And the settlement is not deemed to be admission of any liability.”

Neither of the officers involved in the incident were disciplined for their actions, and both still work in law enforcement, Schulz said. Gero is still employed by the Northfield Police Department and Hoar works for the Barre City Police Department.

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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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