Scott asks AG for 'thorough review' of dropped cases

Published: Jun. 6, 2019 at 1:52 PM EDT
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Governor Phil Scott has ordered the Vermont Attorney General to review the Chittenden County prosecutor's decision to drop three high-profile cases.

Scott Thursday said he was surprised to see the charges against three people accused of violent crimes dropped. "It seemed pretty clear to me that those who were charged committed the crimes and I believe the victims and their families would like to see something done about it," he said.

In a letter to Vermont Attorney General T.J. Donovan Wednesday night, the Governor said: "I am at a loss as to the logic or strategy behind this decision to drop all charges." He asked Donovan's office for a review of the decision. "I don't believe that Vermonters will stand for this. I think we have an obligation to see this through and at least make the attempt."

Scott says he's concerned about what happens if the Department of Mental Health decides the suspects no longer need hospitalization. Donovan agrees it's a fair concern. "That decision certainly has public safety implications," he said.

Donovan says it's a complex issue to try and bridge two systems -- criminal justice and mental health. "Public safety is always the top priority of government. These folks are in custody. We have to make sure that there is a plan in place to address the public safety concerns, but we also have to respect due process rights," he said. He says his office will meet with Chittenden County State's Attorney Sarah George to go over her decision.

"I feel very strongly that this is the legal option. This is the only legal option for me," George said Wednesday. She says that without psychiatric testimony that the three were sane, it would be impossible -- even unethical -- for prosecutors to take the case to trial against an insanity defense. "If at the end of the day we just don't have the evidence, it is our obligation to dismiss the charges.

But she said she's also concerned about public safety, saying there's no guarantee that the Department of Mental Health will tell the public what happens to the three people accused of very violent crimes. "They are not required to inform us or the victims of what choices they make -- that's the frustration I guess. I would really like to know. I would like to be able to tell the community what's going to happen and how long they will be in their custody, but that's entirely up to them," George said.

But the governor says if the AG's office declines to file charges, they will look to see if they have any other options. "I don't believe justice is being served at this point in time," Scott said.

All three people are still hospitalized with the Department of Mental Health. Mental Health Commissioner Sarah Squirrell says they are responsible for providing appropriate mental health treatment, not an assurance of public safety. And she said the clinical tools that they have to provide treatment are not functional to deal with significant public safety risk.