Essex Police Change Course After Charging Black Man Involved in Fight | Off Message

Essex Police Change Course After Charging Black Man Involved in Fight


  • Alain Lacroix | Dreamstime
Following public scrutiny, the Essex Police Department on Thursday apologized to a Black man and withdrew a felony assault citation it had issued him for his role in a brawl last week.

In a lengthy written statement Thursday, released an hour after activists were scheduled to protest outside the police station, Chief Ron Hoague said his officers were too quick to cite Brandon Williams.

The department "has been working with community members this past year in an effort to better serve everyone in our community, especially those most impacted by racism and inequity," Hoague wrote. "We have engaged our public in conversation and efforts like never before and we realize that incidents such as this indicate we have more work to do."

Williams was the only one charged of at least four people involved in the July 13 fight, which police said took place at the home of a man who Williams had hired to repair a motorcycle. Police had previously said their investigation was not over and that additional charges could follow.

Seven Days pieced together information about the incident using two police statements and a narrative Williams posted online.

In a July 16 Facebook post, Williams wrote that he had gone to the house to get "an update on something I paid for upfront." At some point, the unnamed resident and others at the home told Williams to leave the property; he "allegedly refused," police said.

The mother of one of the men involved in the altercation uttered a racial slur, according to video Williams provided to the department and posted to Facebook, where it is no longer accessible. In its statement Thursday, police confirmed the woman used a slur, "indicating a racially motivated component to her actions."

Williams had been recording the incident when another man arrived and grabbed Williams' phone and threw it to the ground, according to police.

"Williams is then alleged to have attacked the male resident by strangling him to the point of nearly losing consciousness," a July 19 police statement said.

Others joined in the struggle. Williams wrote that the mother bit him on the ear, and he was taken by ambulance to the hospital for treatment. He posted on Facebook a photo of the injury and other scrapes.

Officers issued him an aggravated assault citation later that night.

Williams wrote that he went to the police station the following day and gave them his video recordings. Two days after that, he asked for the public's help, writing that his attackers had still not been charged.

"I gave Essex police my story and no charges were pressed!!" he wrote on Facebook.

In follow up posts, Williams said that his actions had been in self defense: "I had to fight to get my property back!" he wrote.

The Black Perspective, a local racial justice group, helped draw attention to his story and organized an event for Thursday evening outside the Essex police station.

While officers did have probable cause to cite Williams, Hoague said in his statement, an internal review found that officers should have gathered more facts about the case before deciding whether to do so. 

The chief has reassigned the case to an "uninvolved supervisor," who will reinterview participants and submit evidence to the Chittenden County State's Attorney for charging decisions. The hate crimes unit of the Vermont Attorney General's Office is also reviewing the case, according to Hoague.

"Instead of issuing charges on our own, we are taking this course due to the need for an independent review and transparency," Hoague wrote.

Hoague said the department will also conduct training with all officers "to ensure that we are considering all aspects of a case, not just probable cause, before the determination of charges when there are many complicating factors."

The training will be conducted with the "cooperation" of Tabitha Moore, the former president of the Rutland Branch of the NAACP, with whom the department has been consulting.

"We further agree that there is no room for hate of any kind in this community and we will do whatever it takes to root that out," Hoague wrote.

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