December 8, 2011
MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) - A news website wants the state Supreme
Court to compel the Hartford Police Department to release the
records of a case in which a naked man with a medical condition was
pepper sprayed and forcibly handcuffed inside his home.
An attorney for the Vermont chapter of the American Civil
Liberties Union, working for vtdigger.org, told the court Thursday
that, in most cases, state law requires that such documents be
"Occasionally, yes, sometimes police work must be done behind
closed doors and people understand that, but that doesn't mean that
every document is protected forever," said ACLU attorney Dan
But attorney Joseph Farnham, who represents the town of
Hartford, told the court that only records kept after the man was
released from custody should be made public.
"I understand that the media wants to be able to understand to
be able to find out what law enforcement is up to, what happened at
this gentleman's condominium in those 10 minutes because something
really bad may have happened," Farnham said.
He said the man who was pepper sprayed could tell the media what
happened if he wanted to.
Police went to the Wilder home of Wayne Burwell on May 29, 2010,
after a cleaning service employee called 911 and reported a
possible burglary in process. The caller said a man was upstairs,
and the home appeared to be ransacked.
Officers who arrived at the home heard a smoke detector beeping
and smelled smoke. They then came across Burwell, who refused to
raise his hands and appeared to be under the influence of alcohol
or drugs, police said. He ignored police orders and officers used
pepper spray and force to handcuff him.
Police later determined that Burwell was suffering from a
medical condition involving low blood sugar that left him
disoriented. The handcuffs were removed, and he was hospitalized.
Hartford police asked the attorney general's office to
investigate the case. That investigation determined the officers
did nothing wrong.
Vtdigger.com asked police for information on the case, but
police refused. They then appealed to the Hartford town manager and
later the Windsor Superior Court.
The Superior Court judge ordered the release of some of the
documents produced after Burwell was released from custody but none
from before his release, which include audio recordings of the
conversations of the officers involved in the case.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)
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