Vermont State Trooper, Former Police Officer Deny Assault Charges | Off Message

Vermont State Trooper, Former Police Officer Deny Assault Charges


Mark Schwartz using his Taser during the incident that led to his arrest - BODY CAM FOOTAGE
  • Body cam Footage
  • Mark Schwartz using his Taser during the incident that led to his arrest
Two law enforcement officers pleaded not guilty this week to misdemeanor assault charges related to on-duty conduct.

Vermont State Police Trooper Robert Zink is accused of punching a handcuffed man in the head during a February arrest in Shaftsbury. Former St. Albans Police Department corporal Mark Schwartz was charged more than two years after he shocked a man with his Taser seconds after arriving on scene. Seven Days published police body camera footage of the incident more than a year ago.

Both citations were issued last week at the request of the Vermont Attorney General’s Office, according to state police, which investigated the cases.

Zink was on paid leave during the investigation and was moved to unpaid leave last week, state police said in a press release.

An internal complaint from a fellow officer sparked the criminal investigation. Zink was responding to another trooper’s request for backup at the scene of a car crash where one of the drivers was visibly intoxicated.

The man, Christopher Campbell, was handcuffed after an initial scuffle. But he was able to spin around and bring two officers, including Zink, to the ground, according to court papers. The documents describe body cam and cruiser video of the struggle; that video has not been publicly released.

Trooper Robert Zink - VERMONT STATE POLICE
  • Vermont State Police
  • Trooper Robert Zink
According to the documents: Zink and Trooper Jeremy Sullivan both punched Campbell, who continued to “try to break free.” While facedown and handcuffed, the suspect kicked Zink. Sullivan yelled that Campbell was also reaching for his Taser. At least 17 seconds later, Zink punched Campbell again in the leg or buttocks. He then struck Campbell four times in the back of the head, before Sullivan pushed Zink’s arm away.

Sullivan told the state police investigator that Zink’s blows were “too much” and that the last one “sounded like a bowling ball hitting the ground.” He saw Campbell bleeding from the head and watched as Zink dragged the handcuffed man to the nearby police cruiser. A third officer at the scene, David Pfindel, also told the investigator that he didn’t believe the punches to Campbell’s head were justified.

Zink’s attorney, David Sleigh, said he was "dismayed" that Attorney General T.J. Donovan would charge the trooper with criminal conduct for his actions under "extraordinarily difficult, emergent circumstances."

"I don't understand why Bob is charged with a crime when troopers who shot people are never charged with crimes," Sleigh said.

The latter comment echoed a critique of Donovan levied by Chittenden County State’s Attorney Sarah George on Vermont Public Radio the day before Donovan asked state police to cite Zink.

George and Donovan have been feuding over a trio of high-profile murder and attempted murder cases that George dismissed on the grounds that the defendants were criminally insane. Donovan refiled charges in all three cases, arguing that a jury should decide the matters. George said the attorney general was being hypocritical by not applying his same standard to police shootings, none of which he has prosecuted.
The Attorney General’s Office did not make Donovan available for an interview on Tuesday.

At the attorney general’s request, state police began investigating Schwartz’s use of a Taser in May 2020, more than a year after the incident and three months after Seven Days published body cam video showing the encounter. The St. Albans Police Department had previously defended Schwartz’s force as justified.
But in a charging affidavit dated April 5, 2021, Vermont State Police Det. Sgt. Drew Cota concluded that the man was not attempting to flee when Schwartz shocked him.

During Schwartz’s arraignment in Franklin Superior Court on Tuesday, Judge Michael Kupersmith seemed to look askance at the unusual case. “This is only simple assault, instead of an aggravated assault?” he said to assistant attorney general Earl Fechter. “I thought those Tasers could do some real damage.”

“The attorney general is pursuing this, huh?” the judge added.

Schwartz, who resigned in March 2020, is the third former St. Albans police officer to face an assault charge for excessive force after an incident that garnered media attention. Former sergeant Jason Lawton is accused of punching a handcuffed woman in a holding cell; the criminal investigation began two days after Seven Days published video of his actions.

Donovan’s office initially declined to prosecute former officer Joel Daugreilh, who pepper-sprayed a teen in the same holding cell in 2017. But Donovan reopened the case when VPR requested documents from the investigation. Those cases are pending.
Meantime, Franklin County State’s Attorney Jim Hughes said he is continuing to call the three former officers as witnesses in other criminal cases.

“The pending charges are not offenses of moral turpitude or dishonesty,” he wrote in an email.

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