Baptie family appeals wrongful death case
By Brent Curtis
STAFF WRITER | January 12,2013
The family of a Castleton man murdered in downtown Rutland in 2007 is appealing to the Vermont Supreme Court a decision that found a police officer not liable for failing to arrest Jonathan Bruno before he stabbed John Baptie.
The fatal encounter took place Nov. 1, 2007, at the Rutland Shopping Plaza when police say Bruno used a knife to kill the 24-year-old Baptie.
Three years later, Bruno was convicted of second-degree murder and was sentenced to 35 years to life behind bars.
And in October, a Rutland judge found Bruno liable for $1 million due to Baptie’s family, who brought a wrongful death lawsuit against him.
While that decision was hailed as a success by the family, it was only half a victory.
In August, Judge Mary Miles Teachout decided the family lacked the proof to show that a former Castleton police officer’s handling of an investigation into harassing phone calls to the Bapties days before the stabbing contributed to the killing.
Just before the end of December, the family appealed that decision to the state’s high court.
“They had to wait for the final judgment in the case against Bruno before they could do it, but the family was always committed to pursuing (the appeal). It’s a final step in the quest to achieve justice,” said the family’s attorney, Thomas Costello.
Teachout rejected the family’s arguments that former Castleton Police Officer Aron McNeil was partly liable for John Baptie’s death on the grounds that the case lacked proof of causation.
“(The Bapties) have not shown sufficient evidence upon which a jury could find that Officer McNeil failed to exercise even a slight degree of care or was indifferent to his obligation to investigate and follow through with the matter.”
But the family and Costello have maintained that McNeil didn’t pursue his investigation of the harassing phone calls aggressively enough, that he failed to review Bruno’s criminal history — which at the time included a recent charge of violating a restraining order — and that he had an ax to grind with John Baptie’s father, with whom he had dealt on prior cases.
In prior court filings, Costello also noted that in McNeil’s attempt to deliver a criminal citation to Bruno, he instructed another officer to take it to the address of the former girlfriend whom Bruno was charged with attacking with a knife in the restraining order violation. Bruno was forbidden under court order at that time from visiting the address where the officer delivered the citation.
“This case is all about should a jury decide or a judge whether McNeil was culpable,” Costello said. “And do we treat law enforcement officers like other citizens? ... The judge is saying ‘no.’”