Former cop pleads not guilty to punching prisoner

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ST. ALBANS, Vt. (WCAX) A former St. Albans police officer was formally charged on Monday for punching a handcuffed suspect.

Our Kiernan Brisson was in court for the arraignment of Jason Lawton, 31, of Fletcher.

We have seen other cases of cops punching people and not being charged. The prosecutor says what different in this case is the specific and whether the use of force was necessary.

Lawton pleaded not guilty to a charge of simple assault for punching Amy Connelly in the face while she was being held on a disorderly conduct charge last winter.

According to surveillance video and witnesses, Connelly repeatedly kicked her cell door and refused Lawton's order to stop. That's when he's seen entering the cell. Lawton told investigators she kicked him in the shin and he responded by pushing her up against the cell wall and punching her in the face.

T.J. Donovan, D-Vt. Attorney General, says he decided to prosecute because Lawton's actions were unnecessary.

"This is a woman who is in the care and custody of the police who was handcuffed behind her back in a holding cell, she was assaulted, that's a crime and I'm going to prosecute the case and we'll see what happens in court," Donovan said.

The charge of simple assault is only a misdemeanor and often results in minimal if any jail time.

Lawton was released on conditions but he is not being held in police custody. He was fired from his job with the St. Albans Police Department.

Amy Connelly was charged with two counts of disorderly conduct, a charge of unlawful mischief and an additional assault charge for kicking Lawton in the shin. She has since been released from custody.