Burlington police use of force incident under review
BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - A police use of force incident is under review in Burlington. The incident has some residents and city councilors questioning whether the city has made progress on police reforms.
The incident occurred downtown late Saturday night.
It was a busy weekend for Burlington Police who had requested help from Vermont troopers to keep an eye out after a shooting the night before downtown.
Yelling is heard in the video taken by Faried Munarsyah, a member of BTV CopWatch. The entire video is 6-and-a-half minutes long and shows an interaction between Michael Gbenusola, 39, of Colchester, and police officers at the intersection of Main and Church streets.
Police walk toward Gbenusola, who was yelling, and they then detain him. He continues yelling, asking why officers were stopping him and touching him.
The officers repeatedly asked him to stop encroaching and shove him away, before eventually tackling him and putting him in handcuffs. At some point as officers wrestle him into a police car, the man’s pants also came down.
Wednesday, Gbenusola was arrested for aggravated assault and larceny. These charges stem from an incident that happened on Wednesday afternoon. Police say Gbenusola asked a man to drive him to the hospital for medical treatment. Witnesses told police that Gbenusola’s behavior was “manic and in another world.”
When the man tried to get him into the car, Gbenusola allegedly hit the man in the head multiple times and stomped on him. Police say Gbenusola then stole a firearm from a witness and fled the scene.
As for the incident captured on video Saturday, the next steps will be the police commission looking at the incident, as they do in all use of force incidents. The police chief will decide if an investigation needs to take place. If Acting Chief Jon Murad declines to investigate, the police commission can open their own investigation with a lawyer looking at potential discipline.
However, the final say on discipline lies with the mayor and police chief.
“One of the things we want to know is what is the police training for situations like this? There is some language in department directives on de-escalation, so one thing we would look for is whether the policy was followed or not,” said Stephanie Seguino, the co-chair of the Burlington Police Commission.
For the past two years, the City Council has wrestled with developing a new policy for dealing with officer discipline and complaints from the public. The mayor vetoed a proposal to set up an independent commission. A follow-up proposal that would give the police commission say and add transparency remains in the works at City Hall.
We reached out to the police department and mayor’s office on Wednesday to discuss this incident, but neither were available. However, the mayor will be available Thursday.
Copyright 2022 WCAX. All rights reserved.