A Remark Caught on Hot Mic Leads Deputy to Resign From Criminal Justice Group | News | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice


A Remark Caught on Hot Mic Leads Deputy to Resign From Criminal Justice Group


Published February 7, 2024 at 9:46 p.m.

Michael Major - FILE: JAMES BUCK
  • File: James Buck
  • Michael Major
Updated on February 8, 2024.

A member of the Vermont Criminal Justice Council — the state body that regulates the law enforcement profession — resigned during a public meeting on Wednesday after he was heard making disparaging comments regarding a migrant worker.

Michael Major, a now-former deputy sheriff in Chittenden County, represented the Vermont Police Association on the 24-member council. The body was taking testimony on proposed changes to the broad set of rules known as “fair and impartial policing" that seek to prevent state and local cops from collaborating with federal immigration authorities.

Advocates say Vermont's current policy contains several loopholes that allow cops to still share information about someone's immigration status with the feds, leading to several widely publicized detentions. The council planned to pass a revised policy this week but postponed a vote after hearing some last-minute pushback from Vermont police chiefs.

The council took testimony from several people in favor of the changes on Wednesday, including a man named Eduardo, who said many undocumented people are wary of going out in public — even for something as simple as a doctor's appointment — over the fear that police may report them to immigration authorities.

Partway through the testimony, Major interrupted. “You’re fucking here illegally,” Major said, “and you’re worried about being taken? Oh, yeah. Unreal.”

The remarks spurred some initial confusion, as Major had called into the virtual meeting using an unnamed account. "Whosever stating that opinion, it’s not welcome, and wait your turn," said former attorney general Bill Sorrell, who chairs the council.

After members of the public asked for the speaker's identity to be memorialized in the minutes, Major confirmed his identity and said he had not intended to be heard.

“I was having a discussion with my daughter,” he said. “I apologize for that, extremely.”

A half-hour reckoning ensued. Council members questioned Major’s explanation and said he had undermined the council's work. In addition to certifying police officers, setting policies and overseeing the Vermont Police Academy, the council also investigates cops accused of wrongdoing.

In response to the criticism, Major said he would step down immediately. “I cannot apologize enough,” he said. He did not respond to a voicemail on Wednesday.

A longtime cop, Major worked for the Chittenden County Sheriff's Department for more than three decades but resigned in 2018 following a failed campaign to unseat his boss, Kevin McLaughlin. He was rehired as a part-time deputy last year by Sheriff Daniel Gamelin, who said Thursday that he had accepted Major’s resignation.

Major also had a part-time gig with the Bristol Police Department but only worked a couple shifts last year, according to the town's chief, Bruce Nason.

In an email on Wednesday, Nason said Major called him to resign. "Major's comments do not reflect the views of the Bristol Police Department," Nason wrote.

The council also took steps to distance itself from Major.

Heather Simons, its executive director, addressed Major directly at Wednesday's meeting and said he would no longer be welcome at the Vermont Police Academy.

“I would imagine that you are mortified, and if you’re not, then you have even more work to do," she said, adding that he took his "colleagues in law enforcement 20 steps backwards."

Migrant Justice, an advocacy group leading the push for a revised fair and impartial policing policy, said in a statement that Major's remarks show exactly why Vermont needs stronger protections for migrants.

“How can any immigrant in Vermont hear those words and not fear that the police will turn them over to ICE or Border Patrol if given the chance?” the statement read.

Correction, February 8, 2024: A previous version of this story misstated Major’s employment status with the Chittenden County Sheriff’s Department.

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