Burlington Police Chief Mike Schirling said on Thursday he has apologized to two Burlington residents who had complained about BPD officers telling them early last Saturday that "Church Street is shutting down" and ordering them to leave the Marketplace.
Craig Mitchell and Dennis Ailor (pictured) — the two men confronted by a pair of cops — say they were causing no disturbance and were simply chatting with one another in front of Red Square at about 2:15 a.m. on July 20. The officers implied they were enforcing a curfew on the Marketplace, both Mitchell and Ailor told Seven Days.
"I felt degraded and disrespected," said Mitchell, who works as a DJ at Red Square. "I wasn't causing a scene."
Ailor, who lives nearby on St. Paul Street, said one of the officers told him to "move along" because no one was permitted on the Marketplace after bar closing time at 2 a.m. The officer added, Ailor recounted, that police were extending him "a courtesy" by permitting him to remain on Church Street while purchasing and eating a slider from a food cart doing business in front of city hall.
"There is no curfew on Church Street," Chief Schirling said in an e-mail message in response to Seven Days' questions about the incident.
Following an internal department investigation, Schirling added, "it was found that the problem originated with a field supervisor's instructions to some of the officers working at bar closing that was flawed and unclear." The top cop continued, "We regret the mistake and have corrected it." Schirling said he was also offering an apology "to anyone else impacted by this mistake."
In a subsequent interview on Thursday, Mitchell said he accepted Schirling's apology. "I appreciate the police were extremely responsive and wanted to clear this up," Mitchell added.
The department's late-night policy is to ask individuals "to move along or spread out when safety is an issue," Schirling explained in his message. "This was not one of those instances."
Burlington police have recently begun issuing no-trespass citations to people charged with acting disruptively on the Marketplace. About two dozen people had received one-day banning orders as of June 20 in accordance with an ordinance unanimously approved earlier this year by the city council.
A few councilors have since changed their view of the ordinance, warning that it may violate constitutional rights. The council is scheduled to hear a report from City Attorney Eileen Blackwood at its July 29 meeting in response to a July 9 request by private attorney John Franco urging that enforcement of the ordinance be suspended due to concerns about its constitutionality.
In his email on Thursday, Schirling denied that the incident involving Mitchell and Ailor was related to the no-trespass ordinance, which he says is used only in cases involving alleged violations of state law or local ordinances.
Seven Days also asked Schirling whether the order to vacate Church Street reflected a police crackdown in response to noise complaints.
"Officer presence and general interactions with crowds and people in the downtown at night are related to noise reduction efforts and efforts to minimize violent crime," he replied. But Schirling added that "the interactions addressed here are not part of the department’s efforts on these issues."