Murad faces criticism over ER strongarm tactics

Published: Apr. 7, 2023 at 6:32 PM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - First reported by Seven Days, Burlington’s acting police chief is under fire over a complaint that he attempted to strongarm doctors at UVM Medical Center to get access to a victim in a shooting investigation.

The Burlington Police responded on August 11th to Shelburne Road in South Burlington, where they say a teen was shot inside a car that crashed into a utility pole. According to court paperwork, officers were told to accompany the victim to the hospital to find out who was responsible.

An affidavit states while in the ER, the officer was ordered by hospital staff to leave the room. That’s when police say acting Chief Jon Murad was called to the hospital, where he is alleged to have threatened to arrest the surgeon who told officers to leave. The surgeon later filed a complaint with the Burlington Police Commission.

According to records sent to us by the mayor’s office, Murad later apologized to the doctor, even directing officers to comply with hospital staff in the future.

Mayor Miro Weinberger was not available for an interview Friday but said in a statement that “...The Chief’s immediate apology, followed by his communication of new direction to all BPD officers regarding law enforcement’s role in patient care settings give me confidence that this type of conflict will not happen again.”

“You had two very dedicated people who were each doing their job, and their interests conflicted in that moment,” said Burlington City Councilor Joan Shannon, D-South. She said the council was briefed on the incident and she believes neither side did anything wrong. “I don’t believe that anybody in this situation should be vilified. People can have their opinions about the chief’s judgment in that moment but I think we need to remember these are all good people with the best of intentions.”

With a new Democratic plurality, Weinberger is expected to again call on the City Council to confirm his appointment of Murad as permanent chief. But other councilors like Ali Djeng, I-Ward 7, said in a statement that the incident is concerning.

“While I supported Murad’s last appointment, I cannot comment on Murad’s possible appointment attempt as the chief of BPD until the investigation of this matter is concluded,” Dieng said.

Progressives on the council, who blocked Murad’s appointment last year, were even less charitable. “The mayor has not given the council any information on how this issue has been systemically addressed. Moreover, I see this as part of an unfortunate and ongoing pattern the mayor has shown for years -- of choosing to protect his appointees over transparency with the public, the media, or even the council,” City Councilor Zora Hightower, P-Ward 1, said in a statement.

Jessica Brown, a professor at the Vermont Law and Graduate School, says police are allowed to file any charges they see fit, however victims of crimes are not legally obligated to speak to the police. “Law enforcement’s legitimate interest does not necessarily trump a medical professional’s ability or interest to treat a patient. I’m not a doctor but they have ethical obligations that they also have to satisfy,” she said.

UVM Medical Center president Stephen Leffler said in a statement that their priority is on the patient with the expectation that there will be no interference while caring for them. He says all the parties involved “...have been focused on working together collaboratively to prevent a situation like this from happening again, and the UVM Medical Center is not calling for any additional action.”

It’s unclear whether a formal investigation was opened by the Vermont Criminal Justice Council, an independent body in charge of police misconduct investigations.

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