in the State House of Representatives
on April 15, 2022, by a vote of
Purpose: The purpose of S.254 was to make police officers more accountable to those they serve. It originally stripped Vermont police officers of qualified immunity (immunity from citizens' ability to sue individual police officers), but this was pared down to a study.
In Zullo v. State (2019), the Vermont Supreme Court decided that individuals may sue the Vermont state police for damages if they can prove “discriminatory bias,” a more restrictive right relative to qualified immunity.
- Codify the Zullo ruling into Vermont law for all state and local police.
- Expand data collection and reporting by police, to include “use of force” data, broken down by demographics, with annual reports to the Legislature. Current law mandates police roadstop demographic data collection.
- Create a 'Giglio (jil-io) database' to store pending misconduct allegations about all Vermont police officers, for use in trials (but not to the public).
- Mandates the recording of all police interrogations related to all felony investigations, rather than just homicide and sexual assault, which is the case now.
- Commissions a report on police interrogation, regarding when police can gather evidence using deception and/or coercion, and when that evidence can stand up in court (such as police giving suspects false promises of leniency, and similar techniques promoted by Vermont’s Criminal Justice Council that are illegal in other states).
Analysis: Those voting YES believe Vermont’s police conduct laws are outdated, having been passed in the 1970's. A harder look at Vermont police officers covered by qualified immunity is needed to ensure that a George Floyd case will never happen in Vermont. Some voting YES believe the study will lead to the legal protections of qualified immunity being removed from Vermont's police, allowing claimants to more easily receive compensation for police misconduct against them.
Those voting NO believe a study of removing qualified immunity sends the wrong message to law enforcement. Providing allegations of police officers, even to a limited number of people, is fundamentally at odds with the American belief that all individuals are innocent until proven guilty. They believe qualified immunity is being applied fairly in Vermont, resulting in millions awarded to claimants wronged by police over the past several years. This bill would add to the severe legislative restrictions placed on Vermont police in recent years. S.254 sends the police a message that they are not trusted, which makes police recruitment and retention more difficult.
As Recorded in the House Journal, Friday, April 15, 2022: “…Shall the bill pass in concurrence with proposal of amendment?, Rep. LaClair of Barre Town demanded the Yeas and Nays, which demand was sustained by the Constitutional number. The Clerk proceeded to call the roll and the question, Shall the bill pass in concurrence with proposal of amendment?, was decided in the affirmative. Yeas, 95. Nays, 40.” (Read the Journal, p. 1041-43).
Sally Achey (R - Middletown Springs) – NO
Paul Lefebvre (R – Newark) – YES