A former St. Albans police officer who used a Taser on a man within seconds of encountering him has been cited for assault more than two years after the incident.
Cpl. Mark Schwartz, who resigned in March 2020, used the weapon on a man who was walking away from a bar where a glass door had been smashed. Schwartz deployed the stun gun within five seconds of stepping out of his cruiser, just as the suspect was asking him, "What'd I do?"
The man's body stiffened, and he fell to the sidewalk, bodycam video published by Seven Days in January 2020 showed. The incident occurred on February 28, 2019.
The man later filed a handwritten complaint to the St. Albans Police Department, arguing that he had been Tased "without justification." The department subsequently cleared Schwartz of wrongdoing. When Seven Days questioned him about the incident in January 2020, then-chief Gary Taylor defended Schwartz's use of force as being in line with state guidelines governing Taser use.
"Hopefully this charge will allow some measure of justice to be done and prevent the all too often unnecessary and excessive use of Tasers across Vermont," said Jay Diaz, a staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union of Vermont, which initially obtained video of the encounter. "Sadly, those outcomes still remain to be seen."
It's unclear why Schwartz is facing charges now, or what prompted the criminal investigation. In a short press release on Tuesday, Vermont State Police indicated that the Attorney General's Office didn't ask troopers to investigate until May 2020 — more than three months after Seven Days published video of the encounter — and that the AG's office more recently "requested that Schwartz be cited."
Attorney General T.J. Donovan was not made available for an interview on Tuesday. A spokesperson said his office would not comment on the case before Schwartz' arraignment and probable cause hearing, which is currently scheduled for April 13.
Schwartz resigned from the department on March 4, 2020, while under internal investigation for a separate on-duty issue, Seven Days previously reported. Taylor said then that his department had decided to examine other incidents involving Schwartz as a result of the public scrutiny brought about by the stun-gun case. It found another troubling instance in which Schwartz used force during a "warrantless, unauthorized search," Taylor said.
Little about that case has been publicly disclosed. The former chief said he referred it to the Vermont State Police for a criminal investigation last spring. At some point between June and September 2020, the state police forwarded its findings to Donovan's office for review, a spokesperson told Seven Days at the time.
The AG's office would not confirm or deny on Tuesday whether it has any other active criminal investigations involving Schwartz. Donovan told Seven Days in June 2020 that he expected to evaluate three incidents involving Schwartz; two were still under police investigation at that time, he said.
Schwartz is the fourth former St. Albans officer to face criminal charges in the last year. Jason Lawton faces a pending assault charge for punching a handcuffed women in a holding cell. Joel Daugreilh faces a pending assault charge for pepper-spraying a teenager who was handcuffed inside the same holding cell.
The AG's office also brought felony charges in April 2020 against Zachary Pigeon for burglary, kidnapping, aggravated assault, simple assault, obstruction of justice and sexual assault. The office moved to dismiss the charges without prejudice last December, stating only that "it cannot meet the elements of the charged crimes beyond a reasonable doubt at this time."
The Vermont State Police listed Schwartz, 32, as living in Cambridge. A man with the same name and a Jeffersonville address is licensed with the Vermont Office of Professional Regulation as a private armed security guard and as the owner of a security services and clothing company called Northern Watch USA.