Burlington officer accused of excessive force agrees to separation deal

Published: Sep. 22, 2020 at 12:41 AM EDT|Updated: Sep. 22, 2020 at 6:40 PM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - One of the three Burlington police officers accused and cleared of excessive force has agreed to leave the department in exchange for three years' pay.

The Burlington City Council voted 11-1 Monday night to approve the deal negotiated between Mayor Miro Weinberger and Sgt. Jason Bellavance.

"The City Council is taking action on a proposal that the administration brought forward and negotiated, which is intended to bring some measure of resolution and finality to the controversies surrounding these three officers,” said Weinberger. “The resolution authorizes me to enter into a separation agreement with Sergeant Jason Bellavance, setting forth that he has agreed to resign in return for the equivalent of approximately three years' compensation.”

The three years' salary comes to $300,000, along with health insurance for 18 months and three years of service credit toward retirement. It calls for his resignation to take effect on October. 5. City Attorney Eileen Blackwood Tuesday said as part of the agreement, Bellavance will not seek a job in law enforcement in Chittenden County for three years. He’s also getting three years of service credit toward his retirement and city pension. Blackwood says she’s not sure at this time how much the pension amount will be.

Councilors say this is the only legal way they can meet protesters' demands. The city has reiterated that it doesn’t have the legal authority to fire the three officers, so leaders chose this option instead.

Bellavance was the sergeant in charge the night he used— what police deemed— unnecessary force in September 2018.

Body camera image from Burlington Police excessive force investigation.
Body camera image from Burlington Police excessive force investigation.(WCAX)

Mayor Weinberger says the city must apply a higher standard to leaders within the police department. “In this moment of unprecedented community discord that is intertwined with an overdue national reckoning on racial justice and policing, I support a separation agreement in the case of Sgt. Bellavance because of his actions and position within the department were significantly different than those of the two other officers,” Weinberger said. “Although the Police Department’s internal investigation found that Sgt. Bellavance did not use excessive or unlawful force, it did find that the force used was not necessary given the circumstances. The investigation concluded that consistent with his training, there were a number of de-escalation techniques that Sgt. Bellavance could have used, but did not attempt, before using physical force.”

Weinberger also stated he does not plan to enter a separation agreement with the other two officers cleared of excessive force— Joseph Corrow and Cory Campbell.

“Their uses of force were found to be consistent with the policy and training that were in place at the time, and to pursue separation agreements under these circumstances would set an unmanageable precedent that would challenge the department for years to come by suggesting that future employment decisions would be decided, not by fair, deliberative processes that are clear to employees at the time, but rather those decisions would be subject to retroactive reopening by the passions of public opinion,” he said.

Protesters in s statement Tuesday said the resolution is a start but doesn’t go far enough. They criticized city leaders for not executing a separation agreement with all three officers.

“We deserve leaders who are willing to go forward in unprecedented ways to set new standards that will prevent acts of police brutality in the future, and who will create opportunities for BIPOC and other traditionally marginalized groups to thrive,” said the statement.

Protesters at Battery Park Tuesday declined to comment.

The Burlington Police Officers' Association Tuesday said they would not be making a comment since Bellavance is a sergeant and is not represented by the union.

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