Burlington voters are set to vote on a new charter change that would create an independent community control board with oversight of the city’s police department. Mayor Miro Weinberger and Acting Police Chief Jon Murad have voiced their opposition to the ballot measure. After Weinberger vetoed a similar measure approved by the City Council in 2020, local activists and organizers bypassed City Hall by gathering enough signatures to have it placed directly on the ballot.
Local opponents, including University of Vermont Medical Center President and COO Stephen Leffler, use the argument that while national policing has its faults, Burlington’s police are “good partners.” Our timeline of 27 different incidents of violence, incompetence, or malfeasance since 2019 should not only put this argument to rest, but also show why activists have good reason to conclude that the mayor, council, and various police chiefs can never hold police accountable.
April: Officer Cory Campbell angrily punched Douglas Kilburn at the UVM Medical Center. It was revealed several months later that Campbell was only reprimanded by the Burlington Police Department for swearing, but not for escalating the situation or for his use of murderous force while Kilburn was in a mental health crisis. Campbell’s punch that would later kill Kilburn was found to be a homicide by the state’s medical examiner’s office. Mayor Miro Weinberger and former Chief Brandon Del Pozo would try to influence the investigation, which was harshly criticized by Thomas Anderson of the Vermont Department of Public Safety and Governor Scott’s Chief of Staff Jason Gibbs. In July 2021, Burlington settled with the Kilburn family for $45,000 in a wrongful death suit.
May: The City of Burlington agreed to a $270,000 settlement with the family of Wayne Brunette, who was murdered by police while suffering a mental health crisis in 2013. Michael Schurling, who was police chief at the time, refused to comment even after it was revealed that witnesses contradicted police officers’ statements.
June: Burlington Police concluded that pepper spraying a six-year-old child of color was acceptable. The 2018 incident only surfaced after the department mistakenly released video of the encounter on social media a year later.
July: After lawsuits against the Burlington Police Department are filed, the City of Burlington denied that its officers used excessive force in incidents against Black African men, Jeremie, Charlie and Albin Meli and Mabior Jok. In February 2022, a federal judge ruled both cases can proceed after the city asked for a summary judgment in its favor, dragging the lawsuit into its fourth year.
October: Reed Doyle, who had witnessed Burlington officers in 2017 use force against and arrest a teen in the Old North End of Burlington and threaten to pepper spray several others, won a $65,000 settlement from the city after his request to inspect records from the police use-of-force incident was denied.
December: Two police chiefs, Del Pozo and acting chief Jan Wright, were caught lying to the public about using sock puppet social media accounts over the course of a few months to harass local critics. Mayor Weinberger and future Chief Murad hid the targeted harassment from the city council and public for months before one activist came forward with accusations. [Note: this person is a member of The Rake editorial collective.] Further accusations suggest that Del Pozo may have collaborated with Howard Center’s CEO to silence that activist. Both chiefs resigned but nothing changed regarding the department’s social media policies.
January: An African American resident of Burlington filed a lawsuit against the city which names several officers for excessive force stemming from an October 2018 incident. The suit would be dropped in June 2020 for undisclosed reasons.
Also January: City Councilor Joan Shannon tried to get a job for her daughter as Chief Murad’s executive assistant using back channels. No city investigation was opened into either of their behavior.
March: A Vermont state commission concluded that the 2016 murder of Phil Grenon (who was in a mental health crisis alone in his apartment) by Burlington Police, which was defended by former chief Del Pozo and Mayor Weinberger, could have been prevented in numerous ways.
May: Burlington Police officers beat a black teen in his own bedroom over stolen vape pens. Paramedics injected the teen, who has a history of mental health issues, with ketamine, leading to accusations of chemical compliance being used instead of de-escalation techniques.
August: Protestors camped out in Battery Park demanding change in the Burlington Police Department, calling for firing of three three officers: Jason Bellavance, Cory Campbell and Joseph Corrow, all of whom had been involved in incidents of excessive force.
September: The City of Burlington paid Bellavance $300,000 in a “separation agreement” to resign. Bellavance was embroiled in use of force lawsuits involving the Meli brothers.
Also September: Burlington interim police chief Jennifer Morrison, who had previously worked for the department for more than 20 years and became a deputy chief, resigned from her interim position. In a letter to the Mayor, Morrison stated that the main reason she left is because the city council is more interested in “social activism than good governance.”
December: In a report released by the city, data showed the highest ever disparities in violence used against Black people, accounting for 28 percent of total incidents, while 37 percent of incidents in which an officer drew their gun also involved Black people. Only 6 percent of Burlington residents are Black.
Also December: City Councilor Joan Shannon used Burlington Police and Chittenden County State’s Attorney Sarah George to intimidate several anti-police protestors into silence after they prank called her publicly available phone number during a virtual city council meeting.
January: Burlington police used “less lethal force” and tasered a Black teenager in the Old North End after refusing to explain to him why he was being detained.
March: Weinberger removed Tyestia Green, Burlington’s recently hired equity director, from directing the police transformation study that Dodson had resigned from, replacing her with Darren Springer, Burlington Electric Director. The next day Weinberger reversed course after accusations of sexism and favoritism. In February and March of the following year, Green and three other racial equity and inclusion staffers would quit their positions.
Also March: Greater Burlington YMCA CEO Kyle Dodson, after being chosen in September 2020 by Weinberger to lead a police transformation process, (paid $75,000 for 6 months of work) returned to his role at the YMCA after Seven Days found that he plagiarized large parts of his report on policing.
June: An investigation by Seven Days showed that Murad had been purposefully understaffing police late at night during the weekend when downtown is known to be most hectic. This act of a police slowdown holds the city hostage and reinforces that narrative that there are not ‘enough’ police.
September: The ACLU of Vermont accused Murad and Weinberger of lying to the public and presenting misleading crime data to support their agenda to hire more police officers. The ACLU calls their argument a “false narrative,” fear mongering by using misleading and inflammatory rhetoric.
Also September: An independent report on the Burlington Police Department by a Virginia company hired by the city found that the police departments’ current staffing shifts are inflexible and inefficient, and agrees with activists that the department should reduce the number of armed officers and add non-armed social workers. Most importantly, the report also found that the department had very poor oversight regarding police complaints and there is little internal accountability. Lastly, the report supported the independent civilian control board that is supported by Progressive city councilors and local abolitionist groups.
October: Weinberger and Murad were caught pressuring the Virginia independent consultant to change part of the report to better align with their pro-police ideology.
June: Murad followed his mentor, former NYPD chief Bill Bratton, and became an advisory board member of a think tank sponsored by Shotspotter. Shotspotter is a controversial technology using sound to pinpoint gunshots, and has been heavily criticized by researchers and civil liberties advocates in cities where it has been deployed.
August: Officer Simon Bombard shot a man in a mental health crisis in Burlington’s Old North End less than five minutes after arriving on the scene. Bombard’s shots almost hit another officer and came just inches from hitting a bystander sitting in a car in the head. Both Bombard and the other officer on the scene, Brock Marvin were considered highly trained in de-escalation by the department, leaving residents questioning the value of training.
Also August: Burlington increased wages for police officers amid a national and local shortage of teachers, para educators, nurses, community mental health workers and child care workers. Burlington officers now start at $71,000 a year with a $15,000 signing bonus after only a few weeks of training, more than educators with teaching licenses and master’s degrees.
January: Chief Murad was caught withholding information from Mayor Weinberger about police officers doing nightly private patrols for a single condo association. Burlington police officers had been turning down department overtime shifts while Weinberger and Murad were claiming the department is understaffed. No officers faced consequences for their actions.
February: Even after nearly four years of incidents in which police officers lied or used violence against people of color and those in mental health crises — with few meaningful consequences — Weinberger and Murad came out against independent civilian oversight of Burlington police department.
Additional reporting by Rose Fern.
Matt Moore is a writer from Vermont. He is on the editorial collective of The Rake Vermont.