A neighbor caught a Winooski Police officer on camera when he shot an unarmed mentally ill man in the leg. Whether the officer was justified is under investigation. And thanks to a new police records law, details from the investigation could be public once the case is closed.
"One of the ways that citizens can hold government officials including police officers accountable is through access to information," said Allen Gilbert of the American Civil Liberties Union of Vermont.
Right now, police and prosecutors can deny access to closed investigations into on-duty police conduct. Starting Monday, those records-- or at least parts of them-- will be open, along with other closed criminal case files.
Gilbert points to the case of Wayne Burwell of Wilder. He was suffering a medical emergency, but Hartford police did not know that when they were called to his home and beat and pepper-sprayed him. Advocates claimed racial profiling. But police refused to release records in the case.
"We think they should have been released. And under this new standard, the federal FOIA standard, I think they would have been released," Gilbert said.
The Vermont law is based on the federal freedom of information act or FOIA. Twenty-one other states have similar public records laws.
"This is a complete change from current Vermont law," Winooski Police Chief Steve McQueen said.
McQueen is one of the law enforcement officials who testified in favor of the change. He says most police departments in Chittenden County try to be open with information. But the new law creates guidelines for others that have kept information secret.
"I think some of it is lack of understanding, and to some degree, fear of releasing information you shouldn't," McQueen said.
Police still have some discretion in what gets released. The FOIA standards try to balance the public's right to know with personal privacy. And departments can redact details. Police can also still deny access to information in ongoing investigations.
"We don't want to accuse somebody that really isn't guilty of a crime. And we also don't want to tip our hand," McQueen explained.
The public can still challenge police when they deny access to information. A judge would then decide if records should be released.
Saturday, December 7 2013 7:39 PM EST2013-12-08 00:39:59 GMT
Police say a couple tried to use a baby to smuggle drugs into jail. Police say the baby arrived the Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility, with 27-year-old David Willette of Bennington, for a scheduledMore >>
Police say a couple tried to use a baby to smuggle drugs into jail.More >>
Saturday, December 7 2013 9:24 AM EST2013-12-07 14:24:20 GMT
"St. Johnsbury has enough to offer that you don't get too bored," says resident Riley Barter. She has a new appreciation for the place she calls home. "I guess I never realized how unique St. JohnsburyMore >>
Hundreds of St. Johnsbury Academy seniors take risks with their Capstone projects.More >>
Saturday, December 7 2013 9:12 AM EST2013-12-07 14:12:35 GMT
In Burlington's Old North End there are still hints of what used to be -- a bustling Little Jerusalem years go. But one symbol of the area's past is not so obvious."It's priceless, it literally is oneMore >>
In Burlington's Old North End there are still hints of what used to be -- a bustling Little Jerusalem years go. But one symbol of the area's past is not so obvious.More >>
Saturday, December 7 2013 8:32 AM EST2013-12-07 13:32:27 GMT
If you're lucky, you may have seen a snowy owl in Vermont. Researchers say the birds are traveling even farther south than usual -- some even as far south as North Carolina. We spotted one Friday afternoonMore >>
Researchers say snowy owls are traveling even farther south than usual, and that means more sightings here in Vermont.More >>
Saturday, December 7 2013 7:51 AM EST2013-12-07 12:51:22 GMT
South Burlington police say a shoplifter tried to hide her drugs by swallowing them at the police station. Police arrested Diana Matt Friday night at the University Mall Kohl's for allegedly stealingMore >>
South Burlington police say a shoplifter tried to hide her drugs by swallowing them at the police station.More >>
Saturday, December 7 2013 7:49 AM EST2013-12-07 12:49:56 GMT
Police in Brattleboro are looking for the driver of a car that hit and killed a pedestrian Friday night. Police say, just after 7 p.m., the car struck the man at Western Avenue and Union Street and thenMore >>
Police in Brattleboro are looking for the driver of a car that hit and killed a pedestrian Friday night.More >>
Friday, December 6 2013 11:16 PM EST2013-12-07 04:16:55 GMT
A Connecticut man is charged with DUI after police say he admitted to overdosing on prescribed Ritalin when he was pulled over. The incident happened on Route 105 in Berkshire late Friday afternoon. AuthoritiesMore >>
A Connecticut man is charged with DUI after police say he admitted to overdosing on prescribed Ritalin when he was pulled over.More >>
Friday, December 6 2013 10:03 PM EST2013-12-07 03:03:22 GMT
In Dorset, a car crashed into a bank and there was no drive-through lane.The car jumped the curb in front of the Berkshire Bank Friday morning, taking out a railing and getting hung up on the front steps.More >>
In Dorset, a car crashed into a bank -- and there was no drive-through lane. More >>