Prosecutors: No charges against Rutland Police
By Brent Curtis
staff writer | January 01,2014
A prosecutor in Caledonia County has decided not to bring criminal charges against any Rutland City police officers named in a civil lawsuit lodged against the department.
Seven months after police in Barre City began an investigation into complaints outlined by former Rutland Police Officer Andrew Todd, a prosecutor in Caledonia, where the case was reviewed, reported late last week that there was insufficient evidence to bring any criminal charges.
“I conclude there is no probable cause to prosecute any law enforcement officers of the Rutland Police Department,” Deputy Caledonia State’s Attorney Benjamin Luna wrote in a letter sent to Rutland officials Friday.
The investigation, which started in May at the behest of the Rutland police union, was handled by police in Barre and prosecutors in Caledonia because of conflicts of interest with the Vermont State Police and attorney general’s office.
In Todd’s lawsuit, the former city police corporal — now a Vermont State Police trooper — alleged widespread corruption in the department that he said was conducted by former Sgt. John Johnson and former patrolman Frank Post. Johnson retired and Post resigned in 2012 following an internal investigation into unspecified rules violations. Police Chief James Baker said at the end of the internal review that no criminal conduct was found, but he declined to talk about the specifics of the investigation.
Todd said in his complaint that Johnson and Post engaged in inappropriate behavior ranging from racial profiling during drug investigations to sleeping and having sex while on duty.
When he complained to the department’s lieutenant, Kevin Geno, Todd said his complaints were ignored and Geno began building a case to have him terminated.
Todd said he brought his complaints about Johnson and Post and about Geno’s efforts to have him fired to the department’s captain, Scott Tucker, Baker and the chairman of the Police Commission, Larry Jensen.
He said that instead of responding to his complaints, administrators created a hostile work environment that compelled him to leave his job.
The decision not to bring criminal charges as a result of the complaints doesn’t derail Todd’s civil complaint but it does poke holes in some of the premises of his complaint, according to Andrew Costello, a former Rutland attorney who is handling the case for the city.
Referring to the investigation conducted by Barre Detective Sgt. Hal Hayden, Costello said that while most of the people interviewed during the investigation had heard rumors about unethical and potentially illegal conduct on the part of Johnson and Post, little of it was observed directly by the officers who were interviewed.
“When the investigator in the case scratched beyond the surface and asked people if they’d ever seen any of the activity directly they said ‘no,’” Costello said. “When people were asked if they actually saw something happen or if it was a rumor, no one can say if it actually happened.”
John Paul Faignant, the Rutland Town attorney representing Todd, said he was unable to comment on the criminal investigation or the Caledonia state’s attorney’s decision. “There’s a rule that binds lawyers,” he said. “They cannot be perceived to be seeking advantage in a civil case by talking about a criminal investigation. ... I’m a civil lawyer. I’m in a civil action. Anything criminal that happens is outside my bailiwick.”
Days before the Caledonia prosecutors ended their review in the case, Faignant filed transcripts of interviews conducted with eight former and current members of the city’s department along with two dispatchers.
The interviews, conducted during the last two months, raised questions about a wide range of indiscretions committed, allegedly, mostly by Johnson and Post. However, claims against other officers, including Geno and Detective Sgt. James Tarbell were made.
But in a 10-page report, Hayden said he followed up on most of those claims and found insufficient proof of any criminal activity.
Hayden said he focused on three allegations in particular — that Johnson had falsified time reports, stolen meat from the Elks Club in Rutland and had kept $1,200 he was supposed to return to Price Chopper supermarket.
Hayden said he spoke with about 27 people as part of his investigation, including five of the officers and dispatchers interviewed by Faignant, but could find no evidence to support criminal charges.
“I have not found anything that would amount to probable cause to file criminal charges,” he wrote.
In regards to the allegation involving the Elk’s Club, Hayden said two representatives of the organization told him they had no knowledge of any theft of meat.
As for the $1,200 incident at Price Chopper, Barre Police Chief Tim Bombardier wrote in a supplemental affidavit that a loss prevention manager with the store said the incident occurred at least 10 years ago when Johnson was returning shopping carts to the store while off duty. The store paid him $1,200 in cash with directions to tear up a check for the same amount that was in the mail to him. But Johnson cashed the check and kept the money, Bombardier wrote.
When the supermarket complained, Tucker said “They didn’t feel that it involved the Rutland Police Department and that (Price Chopper) could take Mr. Johnson to small claims court.”
In his affidavit, Bombardier concluded that “Although there may or may not have been a criminal violation at the time these events occurred they are now way past the statute of limitations...In addition to this Price Chopper had civil alternatives to recoup any losses and chose not to pursue them.”