On Friday the 13th (before a long three-day holiday weekend) Attorney General Sorrell made available a report that finds no basis for charges against Hartford Police officers involved in two recent incidents involving excessive force – sorry, alleged excessive force.
In one incident a woman involved in a domestic dispute suffered a concussion and assorted bruises when officers attempted to take her into “protective custody.”
In the other event a man was dragged from his home, taken into custody, and cited for leaving the scene of an accident after his unoccupied vehicle was found off the road nearby. However he was released a short time later and charges were withdrawn.
Here is the local paper’s description of the second case:
Darrek Daoust, 49, told the newspaper he had had a pizza and glass of wine at a restaurant earlier in the evening. No alcohol charges were filed. He said he’d intended to deal with his vehicle in the morning.
After police arrived, he talked to officers through his screen door, but refused to step outside. They entered his house and detained him, pressing his face into the crushed rock of his driveway as they subdued him. He also was struck [four times] by an officer wielding a flashlight, a police report said.
No strangers to this sort of problem, the Hartford Police were investigated and cleared by AG Sorrell in another – alleged – excessive force event that took place in May 2010. In that case, following reports of a burglary, Hartford police found an African American man, who was unconscious and had a medical condition, pepper sprayed him, hauled him naked from his own home, and handcuffed him on the pavement. An officer threatened a neighbor with arrest while trying to tell police they were arresting the home owner. (The question of press access to police reports in this case, and potentially others like it, is under consideration by the Vermont Supreme Court.)
In these two recent cases Attorney General Sorrell found no cause to bring charges against officers. Regarding the Daoust case he states:
Although the officers did not obtain a warrant or consent to enter the Daousts’ home, the question of the legality of the arrest does not determine the outcome of the review of the officers’ use of force to the resistance.
Under Vermont law, there is no right to resist an arrest, even an illegal arrest. The remedy for an alleged illegal arrest is suppression of any evidence wrongfully obtained, or the filing of a lawsuit for civil damages. These legal principles support an underlying public policy of discouraging citizens from fighting with police any time they think the police may be acting in error.”
Sorrell’s five-page report notes that the town had taken “steps in the right direction” and should continue ongoing training for officers to properly serve the community. Perhaps there are a few Dirty Harry’s on the Hartford force, but the principle that the ends (arrests, however unsupported by facts or due process details like warrants) ‘justify’ the means usually gets passed down from the top.
Apparently in Vermont there can be lots of smoke, but Attorney General Bill Sorrell – who, among other responsibilities, is supposed to protect Vermonters’ civil rights, even, or especially, against over-zealous police forces – can’t see a fire anywhere. Citizens apparently have no recourse, in his very laissez faire point of view, except by filing a lawsuit for civil damages.
There’s certainly smoke in the Hartford PD – in 2010 when officers were cleared of wrong-doing, and now a relatively short period later, after another two incidents. Sorrell ought to be hosing down the source of the smoke and not simply wagging his finger at those mischievous pyros while waiting for six-foot flames.