Investigation launched into handling of protest in St. Johnsbury

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ST. JOHNSBURY, Vt. (WCAX) What started as a peaceful protest ended with four arrests. And now, St. Johnsbury Police are getting backlash online after a Black Lives Matter protester fell down a set of steps after contact with a police officer.

Police tell us that the arrested protesters are from the area -- three from St. Johnsbury and one from Littleton, New Hampshire.

WCAX spoke with St. Johnsbury's police chief and town manager. They agree an independent investigation is needed but Chief Tim Page stands behind his officers' actions.

"I believe his actions were warranted, I'll say that, but I don't want to go beyond the investigation I don't want to taint an investigation," Page said.

On Wednesday, the chief estimates around 150-200 people peacefully protested near the police department on Main Street. He says he was contacted about the demonstration and he asked that protesters not block the sidewalk or traffic.

"I didn't have a problem with that, as long as they were just following the rules I put out," Page said.

The chief also says he knelt with protestors during a moment of silence and to show solidarity.

"I do not agree with what happened in Minneapolis with the police officers," he said.

As the day went on and protesters marched through the town, Page says they returned to the police department and eventually made their way into the road. One person was arrested after blocking traffic. At the end of the day, four were charged with disorderly conduct.

"The crowd became angry, started pushing, shoving myself and another officer, literally throwing elbows at us, stomping at our feet, blocking our way so we couldn't get to the police station," the chief said.

Protesters surrounded the entrance to the building.

"It became necessary to take them out of the way. During the course of that, one of the girls took a tumble down the steps. That was unfortunate, but that's all people had to do was move themselves out of our way," Page said. "I know there's hard feelings and I apologize it had to come to that."

An Instagram account called NEKBLM called the incident police brutality. Another person who posted pictures said police were the ones to change how peaceful the event was.

Town Manager Chad Whitehead says the town does not take what happened lightly and says an independent investigation is necessary.

"We don't want our investigations to be tainted by ourselves. We do want to get a clear look at what's going and sometimes a third party coming in from the outside can review things in an unbiased manner and give us that feedback that we need," Whitehead said.

The St. Johnsbury Police Department says they've received a lot of support from the community within the past 24 hours and are grateful for it.

In a Facebook post, they said many residents and businesses came to the station to leave tokens of appreciation and kind words.

WCAX reached out to a number of people who posted videos and pictures from the protest to get their take on what happened but no one responded to any of my messages before this story was published.

We want to thank all of the citizens near and far for the support, appreciative words, and generous acts of kindness for...

Posted by St Johnsbury Police Department on Thursday, June 4, 2020