Essex chief admits officers’ response damaged community trust

Published: Jul. 23, 2021 at 5:54 PM EDT
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ESSEX, Vt. (WCAX) - The Chittenden County State’s Attorney is reviewing a racially charged case involving the Essex Police Department. It comes after the department apologized Thursday for their response to a fight last week that ended in charges against a local man.

According to the initial police report, the fight on July 13 between Brandon Williams -- a Black man -- and a group of white people he knew, was sparked over repairs being done on a motorcycle. Responding officers issued a criminal citation only against Williams.

Now, Essex Police Ron Hoague is rescinding the citation and will be re-doing the investigation, saying they acted too soon. “I would say that this is a sign that we have some work to do, that we need to be better informed by the trauma that is carried by people of color, and we have to be sensitive to more things than just probable cause,” Hoague said Friday.

The next day, Williams arrived at the police department with evidence from the Pearl Street confrontation that indicated he had been the one assaulted, including a bite wound to his ear. He also showed police a video of the woman he says bit him, who is seen uttering a racial slur. That led police to re-examine the case and ultimately rescind the citation and apologize to Williams.

“There was other information that came to light the next day that was very very critical, as we all saw, and we should have done better by waiting until we had that before just simply issuing him a citation and not issuing anything to anyone else,” Hoague said.

The case is now being reexamined by an uninvolved supervisor and interviews will be conducted again with all the parties involved,l before passing it off to the state’s attorney. The incident comes as police around Vermont and across the country are re-examining training, tactics, and treatment of people of color, amid growing calls for police reforms.

James Lyall with the ACLU of Vermont said the chief’s apology isn’t enough. He says mistakes should not happen in policing and the footprint of law enforcement in communities needs to be reduced. “Admitting that there’s a mistake is the first step in fixing it, but again, that’s not really enough. There’s a lot more that we need to do to stop these kinds of things from happening in the first place and to do that we need to reimagine policing in Vermont,” he said.

Over the course of the last eight months, the Essex Police Department has been involved in conversations with the community and other racial sensitivity training. Chief Hoague says he realizes last week’s incident damaged that relationship and he says he hopes that the department can work to rebuild trust. He says the officers involved will also be going through further specialized training.

Brandon Williams declined to comment on the incident.

Related Story:

Essex Police apologize for citing man following Pearl St. fight

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