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Lawmakers end impeachment process against Franklin County sheriff, but call on him to resign

A man in a suit coat and shirt poses for a picture.
Wilson Ring
Associated Press File
Franklin County Sheriff John Grismore. Lawmakers decided on Tuesday to drop their attempt to remove him from office because the alleged misconduct took place before he was sheriff.

Lawmakers have dropped their attempt to impeach Franklin County Sheriff John Grismore because the alleged misconduct occurred before he took office. But the impeachment committee says he should still resign.

Grismore faces an assault charge for kicking a shackled man in the groin in August 2022 while he was a deputy sheriff. He was fired from the department, but was elected sheriff later that year. State regulators also stripped Grismore of his law enforcement credentials after determining he violated state use-of-force policies during the incident. And Vermont State Police said early last year that they were investigating financial issues at the department. They have not announced any conclusions of their investigation.

But the House impeachment committee, after nearly a year-long investigation, found that there wasn’t evidence that Grismore had “improperly exceeded or abused the powers of his office” since he became sheriff, the committee wrote in a report released Tuesday.

“Nor are the facts here sufficiently clear and compelling for the Committee to base an article of impeachment on pre-incumbency conduct unknown to the electorate,” the report said.

However, the committee called on Grismore to resign, saying that he was doing Franklin County a “disservice” by staying in office.

Grismore, in an interview on Tuesday, said he has no plans to step down.

“Personally, I’m certainly happy that part of this process has finally, you know, come to a close,” he said.

More from Vermont Public: Vermont Sheriffs’ Association calls for 'immediate resignation' of Franklin County sheriff

Sheriffs, as elected officials, can only be removed from office through impeachment — a process rarely used 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.

House lawmakers also launched an impeachment investigation into former Franklin County state’s attorney John Lavoie after an internal investigation last year found he harassed and discriminated against employees. Lavoie resigned before the committee finished its work.

The committee’s investigation into Grismore focused on several areas, including his use of force in 2022, his loss of law enforcement certification, and financial irregularities that cropped up while he was the department’s bookkeeper.

The use of force, while “deeply concerning,” occurred before Grismore was sheriff, and since he took office, the committee found no evidence that Grismore has used any force or instructed deputies about their use of force, the report says.

And while Grismore’s law enforcement credentials were revoked in December, there’s no requirement that sheriffs be certified law enforcement officers. Grismore can’t perform standard police work like going on patrols or investigating crimes, but he can still perform administrative duties.

“You know, a lot of people in chief’s roles won’t even wear uniforms,” Grismore said on Tuesday. “It has certainly not inhibited my ability whatsoever to perform the essential features of the job.”

The impeachment investigation also hired Burlington-based law-firm Downs Rachlin Martin to investigate whether Grismore had improperly compensated himself while he was the department’s bookkeeper.

The inquiry found that Grismore followed the correct process when calculating his own overtime rates.

But the investigation raised questions into whether Grismore ran afoul of the law when he paid himself $16,550 instead of putting the money into the state retirement system. According to the report, Grismore was exploring whether the sheriff’s department could set up its own retirement system. The department was told it couldn’t leave the state employee retirement system and had to pay $20,232 to restore the unpaid contributions to Grismore’s retirement account, the report says.

Grismore hasn’t paid the department back the $16,550 he withdrew, according to the report. The committee also found that it wasn’t clear if Grismore had permission from then-Sheriff Roger Langevin to make those payments. Grismore claims he did have permission. The impeachment committee ultimately determined there was no clear evidence that Grimsore had done anything wrong since taking office.

More from Vermont Public: Addison County's sheriff refuses to resign after sexual assault charges. It's unlikely he'll be forced to step down

Lawmakers have been considering stronger oversight measuresfor sheriffs after a string of controversies, including a sitting sheriff who refused to resign after being charged with sexual assault, another who appeared to be living out of state, and a sheriff who gave himself and his employee questionable bonuses.

This year the Vermont Senate was considering a constitutional amendment to set qualifications for sheriffs, but the enthusiasm for the bill waned after sheriffs lobbied against it, VTDigger reported.

In a written statement on Tuesday, House Speaker Jill Krowinski said in light of the results of the Grismore investigation, the Senate needs to reconsider the bill.

“This process has highlighted a concerning gap in our laws, and without action by the Senate, we risk being unable to hold individuals accountable in the future,” Krowinski said in the statement.

Grismore’s criminal case is still pending. But even if he’s convicted of simple assault, a misdemeanor, Grismore said on Tuesday he wouldn’t step down.

“I won't get convicted, but I certainly will remain in office,” he said.

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Corrected: April 10, 2024 at 1:00 PM EDT
The caption on the photo in this article has been updated to correct John Grismore's title. It is sheriff.
Liam is Vermont Public’s public safety reporter, focusing on law enforcement, courts and the prison system.
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