hill country observerThe independent newspaper of eastern New York, southwestern Vermont and the Berkshires


News September 2015



Witnesses in police case tell of sex, lies and racism


A court case over racism and racial profiling in the Rutland police department has lately revealed allegations of a much broader range of misconduct by several current and former city officers.
The civil case, which is expected to go to trial this fall, is the result of a lawsuit brought by Andrew Todd, who for many years was the only black officer on the Rutland force.

Todd, who resigned in 2012 and is now a state trooper, claims a supervisor and a co-worker in the Rutland department regularly used racial slurs on the job, creating a hostile work environment, and repeatedly engaged in racial profiling on the beat.

Among other incidents, the lawsuit claims, city police repeatedly subjected black passengers getting off an Amtrak train in downtown Rutland to questions and even strip searches despite a lack of probable cause for suspecting criminal activity. White passengers were not searched.
Court papers and sworn depositions filed in the case in recent weeks support these claims – and also contain reports of city officers “drinking on the job, fabricating probable cause, lying in court, having sex with informants, keeping weapons obtained in searches and acting cruelly to police dogs,” the Rutland Herald reported late last month.

Both the Herald and The Boston Globe reported that in multiple depositions, fellow police officers and dispatchers told of two officers – Sgt. John Johnson and patrolman Earl Frank Post, both married middle-aged men – who engaged in on-the-job sexual activity with women considered “confidential informants” in drug cases. The Globe reported that police allowed the women to avoid drug charges by becoming informants -- a status that allowed Johnson and Post to “cultivate” them for sex.

The newspapers also cited court documents revealing that when one woman complained to city police that Post was having sex with her teenage daughter, Johnson assigned Post to investigate.

Johnson and Post both were placed on administrative leave in late 2011. In May 2012, Post resigned, while Johnson retired with full benefits. Neither has been charged with any crime.
Johnson was Todd’s immediate supervisor. In his lawsuit, Todd claims that when he reported the behavior of Post and Johnson to city police Lt. Kevin Geno in 2010, Geno took no action. Todd, a corporal in the department, then went to Capt. Scott Tucker. He claims Tucker responded by telling him he was being insubordinate.

The city did eventually hire an investigator from outside the department to look into Todd’s claims. That investigator, Thomas R. Tremblay, a retired Burlington police chief and former state public safety commissioner, interviewed numerous witnesses and delivered a written report to the police chief at the time, James Baker. Although the report led to the suspension of Johnson and Post, its contents have remained secret until now.

But the Herald reported last month that in a videotaped pretrial deposition, Trembley said he believed Todd’s allegations and that the facts supporting them “were substantial.”

And Globe columnist Farah Stockman quoted in some detail from Trembley’s investigative report. In one analysis, she said, Trembley concluded that when Johnson found white people with drugs, he arrested them 12 percent of the time, while when he found black people with drugs, he arrested them 87 percent of the time.

In one case in March 2011, Johnson stopped a car carrying Mark Allen, a black man from Brooklyn who had just gotten off a train from New York City. After a search of the car turned up a marijuana pipe, Johnson let the car’s white driver and a white passenger go on their way, but he took Allen back to the police station to be strip-searched. No drugs were found, and Allen later sued the city and received a $30,000 settlement.

Citing Trembley’s report, Stockman reported that Johnson then tried to retaliate through two white women who were police informants, pressing them to lure Allen into selling them drugs.
The accusations of police misconduct in Rutland have already become an issue on presidential campaign trail, where Vermont U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders has faced criticism from some activists upset about police brutality.

Stockman picked up on this call in her column, noting that Sanders responded to the criticism by saying that “no president will fight harder to end institutional racism.”
“He could start right now, in his own back yard,” Stockman wrote.


-- Compiled by Fred Daley