Judge fails to find probable cause for assault charges against 2 Vt. troopers

Published: May. 24, 2023 at 2:04 PM EDT|Updated: May. 24, 2023 at 5:55 PM EDT
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NEWFANE, Vt. (WCAX) - Just a day after a criminal case against one Vermont trooper was dismissed, another judge has dented the prosecution of two other troopers. It’s a second setback for Attorney General Charity Clark and could be deepening the discord between her office and the Vermont State Police.

Wednesday’s ruling comes in the case of Sgt. Ryan Wood and Tpr. Zachary Trocki who were cited on misdemeanor charges of simple assault and reckless endangerment Monday in connection with a use of force incident that took place last June in Newfane.

Now, the judge says there is not probable cause for the simple assault charge.

That led to strong criticism of the Vermont Attorney General’s office from supporters of the troopers.

“There is simply no basis for a criminal charge here at all and I think this is born out in the facts of the affidavit,” said defense attorney David Sleigh, who represents Sgt. Ryan Wood.

According to court papers, Wood told Tpr. Zachary Trocki to fire the beanbag round at Marshall Dean, 61, who was on a roof at the time, after multiple attempts to get the erratic man to comply with their orders. Thirty seconds to a minute after being hit with the projectile, Dean fell off the roof, seriously injuring himself.

“There are simply no factual allegations that link the beanbag deployment to any injuries suffered by the victim,” Sleigh said.

Now, a judge has ruled there is no probable cause to charge the officers with simple assault, meaning the affidavit fails to establish that shooting the beanbag caused Dean’s fall.

The judge did, however, rule that there is probable cause to cite the troopers with reckless endangerment.

“This is a case where the question is whether or not there is a policy violation,” said Michael O’Neil, who heads the Vermont Troopers’ Association.

O’Neil calls Attorney General Charity Clark’s decision to recommend charges in the case “prosecutorial overreach” and said it undermines the authority of both the Public Safety commissioner and the head of the Vermont State Police.

“If the attorney general is going to weigh in on policy and use criminal charges to circumvent that policy, how do they manage a department?” O’Neil said.

Sleigh goes even further.

“I think the attorney general has declared war on the Vermont State Police,” he said, “second-guessing officers who were doing their very best to comply with their training in incredibly difficult situations.”

I reached out to the Attorney General’s Office for comment, not only on the judge’s ruling but also about the allegations being directed at her. I was told she would not be commenting at this time.

Wood and Trocki are due in court next week.

Earlier this week, a judge threw out charges against another Vermont trooper.

Tuesday, Judge Kerry McDonald-Cady dismissed charges against Tpr. Robert Zink, who was accused of assaulting a handcuffed suspect. That ruling came as Zink’s jury trial was set to get underway in Bennington. His lawyer filed a motion to dismiss stating the Attorney General’s Office was late in submitting evidence in time for a fair trial.

McDonald-Cady dismissed the case with prejudice, meaning the AG’s office cannot refile the charges at a later date.

Vermont Attorney General Charity Clark blamed state police in that case, saying they failed to come up with documents in a timely manner. But state police refuted that claim, calling her decision to blame them “unfortunate.”

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