Lawmaker Offers an Apology, but No Explanation, for Soaking a Rival’s Stuff | Politics | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Lawmaker Offers an Apology, but No Explanation, for Soaking a Rival’s Stuff

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Published June 12, 2024 at 10:00 a.m.


A still from the surveillance video - COURTESY
  • Courtesy
  • A still from the surveillance video

Rep. Jim Carroll thought he was losing his mind.

The Democrat from Bennington would hang his canvas tote bag on a hook outside his committee room in the Statehouse every morning and, by the end of the day, it would often be soaking wet.

He racked his brain for possible explanations. Was his bag under a leaky ceiling pipe? Did snow fall in it on his way into the building? Did he fail to secure the cap of a bottle?

At his wits' end, he turned to a trusted colleague, Rep. Angela Arsenault (D-Williston).

"He asked me one day, 'Am I an asshole?'" Arsenault recalled.

Carroll explained himself: While it was "going to sound crazy," his bag was repeatedly getting soaked. "He was like, 'I think someone's doing this on purpose,'" Arsenault said.

That someone, according to spy camera videos that Carroll released on Tuesday, was Rep. Mary Morrissey (R-Bennington).

Carroll provided the two videos to Seven Days in response to a request under the state Public Records Act. He initially declined to release them, through a legislative attorney, arguing that the documents were his personal property. The paper appealed, pointing out that the videos were taken by a public official in a public building involving potential misconduct by a public official.

Last Friday, Seven Days broke the story about the videos and a confidential ethics investigation into Morrissey's conduct.

"I have been very reluctant to disclose the video because I believe it will deeply embarrass Representative Morrissey," Carroll wrote in a statement. "However, it has become clear to me that the media are aware of the details of Representative Morrissey's behavior, and likely will continue to report on that behavior in the near future."

The videos, which Carroll took using a small spy camera, show Morrissey, 67, approach Carroll's bag, which was hanging outside his Commerce and Economic Development Committee room, and pour a cup of liquid into it. Portions of both videos are obscured, as though the camera lens is partially blocked by something, but what it captures is perfectly clear.

Rep. Mary Morrissey - COURTESY
  • Courtesy
  • Rep. Mary Morrissey

Morrissey's face is not shown in either video, but her distinctive shock of long gray hair leaves little doubt that it is she. Her Corrections and Institutions Committee room is directly across a Statehouse hallway from Carroll's.

The first video, taken on April 23 at 9:10 a.m., shows Morrissey, wearing a gray suit jacket, enter the frame. She walks directly to Carroll's white-and-green bag, reaches up and, as though watering a houseplant, pours a cup of liquid into it.

In the second, taken on April 26 at 12:21 p.m., Carroll sticks his arm into the bottom of the bag, apparently checking its contents. The bag has a Statehouse logo on it, and it rests against a blue sport coat on a hanger. He then walks out of the frame and toward his committee room. Seconds later, Morrissey, wearing a rose-colored jacket and scarf, pops into the frame. She quickly lifts a clear cup of water up to the top of the bag, pours the liquid in and scurries off.

"What that tells me is that she was watching me," Carroll told Seven Days.

Carroll said he noticed his bag was getting wet beginning in January, and it happened more frequently in February.

On February 21, Carroll, 62, was arrested for drunken driving at 8:30 a.m. in a Statehouse parking lot. A Montpelier police officer noticed his car's muffler was too loud and then reported signs that he was impaired. He went to rehab for a couple of weeks, then returned to the Statehouse in early March.

"That's when it started happening over and over and over again," he said.

Carroll initially told his committee chair, Rep. Mike Marcotte (R-Coventry), and asked for help figuring out how it was happening.

"At first we thought, Is it near a source of water? Could it be something dripping from the ceiling?" Marcotte recalled.

Carroll said he also brought the issue to the attention of House Speaker Jill Krowinski (D-Burlington), once showing her his bag with ice cubes in it. He also told former sergeant at arms Janet Miller and Capitol Police Chief John Poleway. But he realized the only way to get the evidence he needed was to catch the culprit in the act. So he plotted a Statehouse sting.

He discussed the issue with Poleway and decided to set up a tiny spy camera in the hallway. The $23 camera, which his brother, who lives in New York, sent to him, operates remotely via an app on his phone. He said he was on solid legal ground to secretly record.

"There is no expectation of privacy in a public building," Carroll said. "It's a public space, and the chief backed me up on that."

Poleway declined to comment.

Rep. Jim Carroll - COURTESY
  • Courtesy
  • Rep. Jim Carroll

Once Carroll had the goods on Morrissey, he shared them with Poleway, Krowinski and others. The speaker confronted Morrissey about it, and she initially denied responsibility, Carroll said. In a follow-up meeting with Krowinski, Morrissey apologized to him, he said.

"It was a very uncomfortable meeting," Carroll recalled. He referred questions about her motives to her.

In a prepared statement, Morrissey on Tuesday said she was sorry but did not explain her actions.

"Quite honestly, I don't know why I did it. I was not meaning to hurt him," she said. "It is something very out of character for me and I am ashamed. I have personally apologized to Jim and I am publicly apologizing to Jim and the legislative body in this statement. I will take every step that is needed to repair what I have done."

Asked whether she would stand for reelection, she declined to answer. Morrissey has filed to run and faces no primary challenger.

After Morrissey apologized in the meeting with Krowinski, the speaker subsequently blocked her from serving on a key legislative committee. The matter was referred to the House Ethics Panel. The five-member board operates in secret and only makes details about complaints public if the accused person agrees or if the panel determines that the person violated ethics rules.

In a statement on Tuesday, Krowinski confirmed the basic details of the story and added that she had recommended Carroll file an ethics complaint. The status of the complaint is unclear.

"This is a truly disturbing situation that is at odds with our legislative practices," Krowinski's statement reads. "I strive to ensure that our time in the State House is focused on collaborative, bipartisan work on behalf of all Vermonters. The integrity and decorum of our legislative proceedings and of legislators are of paramount importance, and any actions or behaviors that compromise these values will be thoroughly investigated and addressed. I want to assure everyone that the matter is being taken seriously."

Rep. Martin LaLonde (D-South Burlington), chair of the House Ethics Panel, declined to be interviewed or even acknowledge that a complaint had been filed. Krowinski said she herself doesn't know the status of the complaint.

Minority Leader Rep. Pattie McCoy (R-Poultney), who was present when Krowinski confronted Morrissey, did not respond to multiple messages seeking comment.

In his statement, Carroll said various factors played into his decision to release the videos "on advice of counsel." Continuing to withhold the video "would only subject me to continued and more amplified media criticism, litigation and continued warnings of more litigation to follow."

He added: "I believe it is right that I release the video and be fully transparent to my constituents and all Vermonters."

If there's any bad blood between Carroll and Morrissey, he claims to be unaware of it.

Morrissey was injured in Bennington in 2000 when a blind horse named Joker got loose from its enclosure and knocked her to the ground. She sued its owners, Rhoda and Tim Carroll, but lost the case, according to court records. Carroll said there is "no relationship whatsoever" between that Carroll clan and his family.

His father, Joe Carroll, and Morrissey's father, Gerry Morrissey, were longtime politicians in the town, both serving on the selectboard and in other roles.

"They came from very different political viewpoints," Carroll said.

That said, he never noticed any animosity between his father and the Morrisseys.

Regardless of Morrissey's motivation, Arsenault said she wanted the matter made public because it highlights behavior she considers both juvenile and unconscionable. After returning from rehab, Carroll needed the support of his colleagues, not their harassment, she said.

"This is the type of thing that is designed to make someone feel like they are going nuts, to make someone question themselves," Arsenault said, "which to me is straight up cruel."

Correction, June 13, 2024: An earlier version of this story misstated the dates that the videos were shot.

The original print version of this article was headlined "Candid Camera | Video obtained by Seven Days shows a Republican lawmaker soaking a Democratic rival's stuff"

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