Protestors claim racism in Burlington arrests - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Protestors claim racism in Burlington arrests

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BURLINGTON, Vt. -

Protesters gathered to show their support in a case that they say is a result of racial profiling by the Burlington Police Department.

"I got people on my side, that's all it means," Susalyn Kirkland said.

Kirkland is charged with resisting arrest and impeding an officer after she found herself in the middle of a physical altercation involving her three sons and Police Sgt. Brad Trombley earlier this month. It all began with a phone call from an Old North End neighbor who said the boys shot at her with a BB gun. Court papers say the boys jumped the officer and they face multiple charges.

But protesters say that's the police side of the story.

"A teenage boy was straddled by a much larger white cop who punched the boy, restrained the boy, pepper sprayed the boy, pepper sprayed the mother, who was just trying to find out what was happening to her kids," said Helen Scott, an organizer for the Vermont Change Committee.

"I didn't do nothing," Kirkland said. "I ain't jump on no cop, I ain't resist no arrest, I didn't do none of that, none of that and why they lying? I don't know why they lying."

Ms. Kirkland now faces eviction from her home on Spring Street as the city reduces the number of Section 8 vouchers due to financial cutbacks. Scott says they are using this case as an unfair process of elimination.

"It looks like they are trying to find ways of getting people off of section 8 and this seems like an excuse to remove somebody," Scott said.

Protesters want all criminal charges against Kirkland dropped. But Chittenden County Prosecutor T.J. Donovan feels otherwise.

"The facts of the case that occurred, whether or not there was criminal wrongdoing, that will be litigated in this courthouse and that's the appropriate place," Donovan said.

Burlington Police say they have also reviewed the case and will address any concerns of racial profiling.

"I think one of the most important things here is to emphasize that we take the issue of bias in law enforcement and bias in the criminal justice system very seriously. It has been among our top priorities for the past decade, even going back before that," Burlington Police Chief Mike Schirling said.

But police have not yet received any formal complaints from protestors about the allegations.

"No one's contacted us with any information," Schirling said. "We're not aware of any facts or specific evidence that anything here was handled with anything other than professionalism in the face of an overwhelmingly challenging set of circumstances."

Police could not comment any further because it is an ongoing investigation, but the incident was also cause for probation violation for Susalyn Kirkland's 21-year-old son, Heiheem Kirkland, stemming from a 2008 case of assault and robbery with a weapon. He appeared in court Wednesday. His brother, Hasaan Williams, and the youngest brother are also in state custody. Susalyn Kirkland will return to court Aug. 14.

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