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Protesters Want Burlington Police To Fire Three Officers. The Acting Chief Says He Can't

Protesters block a car on Burlington's Pearl Street, fists raised
Matthew Smith
Protesters with The Black Perspective redirected traffic at the intersection of Burlington's Church and Pearl streets, to allow a demonstration of more than 500 people to march from Battery Park to city hall on Sept. 1.

Burlington's Acting Police Chief Jon Murad says he can't fulfill protestors' demands to fire three officers.

It’s been more than a week since protesters in Burlington began a vigil in Battery Park across from the city's police headquarters, along with nightly protests. The protesters are calling for the firing of Joseph Corrow, Jason Bellevance and Cory Campbell, who were involved in the use-of-force cases last year. Protesters say they’ll continue daily actions until the officers are dismissed.

More from VPR: In Multi-Day Protest, Activists Demand Burlington Police Fire Three Officers

Meanwhile, Burlington police arrested a man on Monday who'd been standing near the protests over several days holding an assault rifle. And protesters allege that another man shot a protest organizer with a BB gun on Monday.

Protesters have also blocked city traffic at times and police alleged that a rock was thrown into an officer on Monday.

VPR’s Henry Epp spoke with Acting Burlington Police Chief Jon Murad. Their interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Henry Epp: So, first of all, protesters are demanding the firing of three officers who've been involved in use-of-force cases. Do you plan to fire those three officers?

Jon Murad: So those three incidents occurred in 2018 and 2019, two of them in September of 2018. Two of them are currently under litigation, and I can't really discuss them. The third was looked at by the attorney general and was ultimately resolved by the attorney general, and then through an internal process compatible with our progressive discipline, as according to the contract.

More from VPR:

All three of these incidents were looked at first by prosecutors and determined not to be criminal acts. They were then independently, externally investigated. They were then subject to our progressive disciplinary process, which included input from our civilian police commission. They were then looked at by our human resources director and our city attorney.
And that progressive discipline process was followed through. Each of those instances had results. Those results were rendered. And that is a process. And a process is one that really can't be revisited.

So if I'm hearing you right, it sounds like the process has been followed, so they cannot be fired at this point?

That is correct.

OK. So given that protesters say they aren't leaving until these officers are fired, and you say they can't be fired because the process has been followed, what's the resolution here?

So, you know, we really want to work with these protesters. Many of the things that they're asking for, aside from the firing of the officers, are things that we are doing that we are willing to do, that we want to work with our community to improve.

They include body cameras, which we already have. They include questions about releasing the body camera footage, which we are working on, both at the city and with our police commission. They include questions about due process, about the ideas of improving the ways in which we communicate with the community.

And all of these are things that are already underway in the city. They include defunding the police, which ourcity council has taken steps on in limiting our headcount to 74 officers through attrition. So to have the protesters come and ask for these things, we're in a position of saying, “You know, we do want to work on these things.”

We're already working on these things with parts of our community, with our civilian oversight through the police commission, with our city council, with the mayor's office. We also respect the idea of people expressing their First Amendment freedoms.

More from VPR: Burlington, Bennington Officials Respond To Demand For Policing Reform

Well, I want to bring up another issue that I mentioned in the introduction, which is that your office apprehended a man this week named Jordan Atwood, who was near the protests holding an assault rifle. Can you explain that situation? What exactly was the conduct he was arrested for? Because Vermont is an open carry state.

That's correct. It is an open carry state. And our Second Amendment is a freedom, just like our First Amendment.

We had a number of calls and we had already been aware of an individual, starting on Saturday, who was in the vicinity of the park, who was apparently armed with what appeared to be an AR-15-style weapon. We observed that individual interact with some of the people in the park in ways that did not seem to be intimidating or antagonistic, although calls indicated that people were intimidated and concerned. And therefore, we had no initially reason to stop him, to attempt to compel an identification from him, much less to do anything with regard to enforcement.

And that really is where I think other departments would have let it stop. We did not. And we went a step further in order to work through investigatory means of determining his identity. And upon determining that, we realized that he was someone who had previously existing conditions from a previous charge. And some of those conditions included a condition not to possess firearms. And that allowed us to begin a process of applying for warrant, if necessary. But ultimately, they found him out in public again with those weapons again, take him into custody and seize those items.

OK. Well, in a broader perspective, we've seen clashes between racial justice protesters and counter-protesters around the country, including deaths in Kenosha, Wisconsin and in Portland, Oregon. Here in Burlington, we have this instance of a man bringing an assault rifle near a protest, as I mentioned.

There's also allegations of BB guns being shot at protesters and rocks thrown at police. So what is your department doing right now to try to protect public safety as these tensions arise and to bring down the overall temperature here?

So let me say that throwing rocks at police is utterly unacceptable. And I condemn the fact that that occurred. That understandably was something that greatly upset my officers, who are our officers, your officers, the officers of Burlington, and they're out there responding to calls.

In this instance, it was a call for a fight that allegedly involved a firearm. And they were attempting to get to that call when they were intentionally blocked by protesters, interlocking their arms and preventing marked cruisers with their lights on from proceeding down the street.

And officers got out and attempted to discuss with the protesters the fact that they were trying to respond to this kind of call for help, that they were doing so in a way that didn't have anything to do with the protest. And in fact, the protesters were, by blocking this road, committing an unlawful act. And it didn't really get anywhere. And they had to go on foot and proceed. And while they were proceeding on foot, somebody threw a rock.

That call to which they were responding was, in fact, a call that may have involved protesters and residents in the vicinity of Battery Park coming into conflict. We do know that there was a BB gun at that. We do not know whether or not it struck anyone. We have not had any complainants. If someone comes forward, we are happy to look into that, and we will then allow our processes, the court processes, to take over and ascertain, you know, what happened in that incident.

But to the broader question, I mean, we have these incidents here. What is the broader answer to bringing down some of the tensions that you're outlining here with some hints of violence in Burlington?

So I think, you know, working together is ultimately the way that we're going to move forward from this and through this. I know that the mayor and city council members are working on this. I know that there are a lot of parties involved in talking to the people who are in the park.

The people in the park do not have leaders according to themselves. And I've sat with them for long periods of time. I sat with them for well over an hour and a half a few nights ago, talking with them after they witnessed an arrest and came to the police headquarters in order to discuss that arrest. And I thought that that was actually a pretty productive conversation, for an hour and a half, in our parking lot, talking with them, not screaming over them, a back and forth where they expressed, you know, opinions and ideas, where I talked about some of the things that our department is doing and the ways in which we work.

That kind of together-communication is the way that we move forward through this. And that's really where it does have to go in order for us to have a resolution that brings our community back to a place where everyone can enjoy our shared spaces, where everyone can transit freely and where everyone feels safe.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or get in touch with reporter Henry Epp @TheHenryEpp.

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Henry worked for Vermont Public as a reporter from 2017 to 2023.
Abagael is Vermont Public's climate and environment reporter, focusing on the energy transition and how the climate crisis is impacting Vermonters — and Vermont’s landscape.

Abagael joined Vermont Public in 2020. Previously, she was the assistant editor at Vermont Sports and Vermont Ski + Ride magazines. She covered dairy and agriculture for The Addison Independent and got her start covering land use, water and the Los Angeles Aqueduct for The Sheet: News, Views & Culture of the Eastern Sierra in Mammoth Lakes, Ca.
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