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Statement from Mayor Miro Weinberger on the City Reaching a Separation Agreement with Sergeant Jason Bellavance

September 21, 2020
Contact: Olivia LaVecchia
                (802) 734-0617

Statement from Mayor Miro Weinberger on the City Reaching a Separation Agreement with Sergeant Jason Bellavance

Burlington, VT – Tonight, the City Council voted 11-1 to approve a separation agreement with Burlington Police Department Sergeant Jason Bellavance. The full text of the resolution and details about the agreement are available online. In response, Mayor Miro Weinberger shared the following statement at the Council meeting:

“For approximately a year and a half, there has been significant community discomfort with the actions of three police officers, each of whom was involved in a separate use of force incident in the fall of 2018 or early 2019. In the wake of the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis and a national reckoning with police violence and systemic racism, many more members of the community, including the protesters at Battery Park, have expressed concerns with those officers continuing to serve, and the City has been exploring the legal and moral implications of a range of actions.

“Tonight, the City Council is taking action on a proposal that the Administration brought forward and negotiated, which is intended to bring some measure of resolution and finality to the controversies surrounding these three officers. The resolution authorizes me to enter into a separation agreement with Sergeant Jason Bellavance, setting forth that he has agreed to resign in return for the equivalent of approximately three years’ compensation.

“Further, tonight, I am announcing my final decision not to support separation agreements with Officers Joe Corrow and Cory Campbell. Although the three officers have been grouped together in public discussions, the three use of force incidents are distinct, and the City Council and I must consider each individually.

Actions of Sergeant Bellavance

“In this moment of unprecedented community discord that is intertwined with an overdue national reckoning on racial justice and policing, I support a separation agreement in the case of Sgt. Bellavance because both his actions and position within the department were significantly different than those of the other two officers.

“Although the Police Department’s internal investigation found that Sgt. Bellavance did not use excessive or unlawful force, it did find that the force used was not necessary given the circumstances. The investigation concluded that, consistent with his training, there were a number of de-escalation techniques that Sgt. Bellavance could have used, but did not attempt, before using physical force. These findings are different from what occurred in the other two cases, where Officers Corrow and Campbell were not found to have violated departmental use of force training and policy that were in place at the time.

“An aggravating factor for Sgt. Bellavance is that, as the sergeant in charge on the night of September 9, 2018, he was in a leadership position where the officers under his command were looking to him to model what was expected of them. We must apply a higher standard to our leaders, and we must look to our leadership to establish a culture in the Police Department that is in line with Burlington’s values.

“Finally, in my discussions with Burlingtonians over the past years, I have listened carefully and heard clearly the many who have expressed that, of the three incidents that led to this moment of community anger and discord, they find Sgt. Bellavance’s actions the most troubling.

Actions of Officers Corrow and Campbell

“At the same time, I do not support pursuing voluntary separation agreements with Officers Corrow and Campbell. Their uses of force were found to be consistent with the policy and training that were in place at the time. To pursue separation agreements under these circumstances would set an unmanageable precedent that would challenge the department for years to come by suggesting that future employment decisions will be decided not by fair, deliberative processes that are clear to employees at the time, but rather that those decisions will be subject to retroactive reopening by the passions of public opinion.

“Further, Officers Corrow and Campbell had been with the BPD for only a few years at the time of the incidents and deserve a chance to show the public that they can serve the community in a manner consistent with Burlington values.

Moving Forward to Achieve Systemic Change

“I encourage Burlingtonians to consider that the most effective way to address today’s challenges is by moving forward with action steps designed to address systemic racism. Such steps include police training, governance, discipline, body camera footage policies, and more. We must advance changes that are responsive to concerns that have been raised in our community and that improve accountability and transparency, while providing a foundation for moving forward.

“I am committed to that significant systemic change. The Administration – in partnership with the City Council and Police Commission – already has embarked over the last 18 months on numerous, substantive efforts to improve these systems and policies.

“Later this week, I will announce additional steps to accelerate the reform processes underway and ensure that they lead to meaningful change. I hope the public will see tonight’s action by the City as a sign of our seriousness and commitment to complete that work.

“Even as the City is limited in our ability to change what has happened in the past, I urge the Burlington community to join me in completing the hard work of systemic change so that our policing fully aligns with the values of our community going forward. Through my conversations with protestors, other Burlingtonians, and the police, I remain confident that we have much opportunity for common ground when we are looking to the future of policing in this community.

“Now, there is great consensus that we must work together to overcome our country’s racist past and ensure that Black and brown Burlingtonians feel fully safe and supported in this community by the police and the City. I look forward to working alongside Burlingtonians to realize the great promise and potential of this moment.”

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