Murad Used ‘Menacing Tone’ and Threatened to ‘Cuff’ Surgeon, Complaint Says | News | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice


Murad Used ‘Menacing Tone’ and Threatened to ‘Cuff’ Surgeon, Complaint Says


Published April 11, 2023 at 4:39 p.m.
Updated April 25, 2023 at 1:38 p.m.

Acting Burlington Police Chief Jon Murad - DARIA BISHOP
  • Daria Bishop
  • Acting Burlington Police Chief Jon Murad
Acting Burlington Police Chief Jon Murad threatened to “cuff” a surgeon and drag him to jail during a hospital dustup last summer, according to a complaint filed by the surgeon.

Seven Days broke the news about the confidential complaint last week. The paper has since obtained the 500-word document, which contains more details about the August 2022 incident at the University of Vermont Medical Center. It also names a witness to the altercation, who corroborated the surgeon's account during an interview on Tuesday.

The trauma surgeon, whom Seven Days is not naming because of the confidential nature of his complaint, was treating an 18-year-old gunshot wound victim when the altercation began. Officers were at the hospital as they investigated the shooting, one of many during a record spate of gunfire in the city last year.

In interviews last week, both Murad and Mayor Miro Weinberger initially dodged questions about the threat of arrest. On Tuesday afternoon, however, the mayor's communications director, Samantha Sheehan, released a statement saying "the Chief does, and has consistently, disputed the allegation that he threatened to arrest the complainant."

But the surgeon's complaint, which he filed a few days after the incident, was unambiguous. The hospital has backed the doctor's account, as did the witness, a surgical resident who was in the patient's room.

“I've been a part of many traumas where people, including police, have been asked to clear the room for patient privacy, and it's never been a problem,” the resident told Seven Days. “I was shocked that it escalated this much.”
In the surgeon’s telling, there was an “overwhelming” police presence in the emergency room “that was extremely atypical.” Officers insisted on being in the trauma bay, which “is against our policy as our patient privacy is protected by federal HIPAA laws,” the surgeon wrote in his complaint, referring to the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.

The surgeon asked the officers to leave several times, including when they followed the patient to the CT scanner. “I have never seen this happen at any other hospital or at UVM,” the surgeon wrote.

The doctor said he would be filing a complaint, and one officer “in an exaggerated fashion pulled up his name tag on his uniform and said, ‘I look forward to your complaint,’” the surgeon wrote.

Murad arrived shortly afterward.

"He positioned him self [sic] uncomfortably close to me and said in a menacing tone, 'I hear you got a problem with my officers,'" the surgeon wrote, adding that he told Murad that the officers “had no right to be in that room” due to privacy laws.

“Chief Murad argued with me. He then threatened to arrest me if I didn’t back down,” the complaint reads.

The resident said Murad placed his hands on his handcuffs.

“I had another surgeon's number ready to dial just in case the patient had to go to the OR,” the resident said. “I'm a trainee, so I can't take a patient to the OR myself. [The surgeon] was the only person in-house who was qualified if the patient were to need an emergent surgery.”

Murad, according to the complaint, told the surgeon that by barring officers from the room, he would be interfering with a police investigation if the patient was in custody.

Murad said "he would 'cuff me and drag me to jail,'" the doctor wrote. “I have been told this is not the case by our in house councel [sic] and believe he lied about a law to intimidate me and my team.”

The surgeon had to ask Murad several times if the patient was under arrest before the acting chief said he was not, the complaint says.

“At this point I very loudly and assertively demanded that he leave the room and he did,” the surgeon wrote of Murad, adding that witnesses outside the room overheard officers “discussing several charges they could make to justify my arrest.”

Late on Tuesday afternoon, after being informed that Seven Days had spoken to a witness to the exchange, the mayor's office provided a written statement from Officer Sergio Caldieri, who disputed the surgeon's story.

"Caldieri recalls that the surgeon specifically said 'are you threatening me' to which Chief Murad replied, in sum and substance, 'no, I am telling you that if he were in custody you would be impeding,'" the statement says.

Police commissioners subsequently forwarded the surgeon's complaint to the Vermont Criminal Justice Council, a state body that investigates misconduct. Weinberger has asked that body to expedite its review. Christopher Brickell, the council’s deputy director, said he can’t confirm the existence of any complaint due to confidentiality rules.

Reached on Monday evening, the surgeon declined to answer further questions about the complaint. He previously told Seven Days that Murad’s behavior interfered with his care for the patient.

Murad said last week that officers were afraid the victim would die before revealing the identity of the shooter, who was friends with the victim and had fled the scene. The doctor’s complaint, however, said the patient was stable by the time they moved him to the CT room.

Weinberger and Murad have said that the acting chief apologized to the surgeon but have not said for what. Murad doubled down in a written statement on Tuesday.

"I was wrong, which is why I apologized. The doctor deserved an apology, and that's what you do when you're wrong," he wrote. "What you don't do is itemize an apology. I'm committed to behaving professionally and courteously, just like any member of this Department, and I should be accountable for living up to that, or, if I don't, for making amends. I think that's what happened here."
Still, at least some of Weinberger’s fellow Democrats on the city council seem to be casting doubt on the surgeon’s account. Councilor Joan Shannon (D-South District) said she doesn’t dispute that the surgeon believed he was “being threatened” but that “I’m not sure it was quite as direct as what’s being said.”

The council, which has seen the full complaint, hasn’t spoken to the surgeon or to Murad about the incident, Shannon said.

Councilor Ben Traverse (D-Ward 5) said “different witnesses to this event have different recollections.” He said he’d defer to the criminal justice council to “figure out what actually occurred here.”

Both Traverse and Shannon said Murad’s behavior doesn’t disqualify him from becoming permanent chief. The council rejected Murad’s bid for the position last year, and Weinberger said he hopes to again bring Murad’s name forward for consideration.

Shannon said she would vote for Murad barring any objections from the hospital. Traverse said his vote is contingent on evidence that the community, not just the mayor, supports the acting chief.

Council President Karen Paul (D-Ward 6), who voted to appoint Murad last year, wouldn’t say how she’d vote now because she first wants to hear from constituents. She also wouldn’t weigh in on the credibility of the doctor’s complaint.

“I imagine some people have an opinion one way, and some people have an opinion the other,” Paul said, “but it's not for me to decide.”
Other councilors, however, said the facts seem clear.

“I have no reason to believe that the complaint’s inaccurate,” Councilor Joe Magee (P-Ward 3) said.

“It’s very clear he’d done it,” Councilor Ali Dieng (I-Ward 7) said about Murad’s threat of arrest.

Dieng was also unhappy that Weinberger hadn’t informed councilors sooner. The mayor told the council about the complaint in late December 2022, four months after the incident. Dieng drew parallels to spring 2019, when the council learned from the media, not Weinberger, that several Black men had sued the city after Burlington cops allegedly used excessive force in arresting them the previous fall.

Dieng also noted that Weinberger kept from councilors that former police chief Brandon del Pozo had created an anonymous Twitter account to mock a private citizen.

The mayor has a record of “defending the police and not being collaborative with the city council,” Dieng said. Some personnel issues can be dealt with privately, he added, “but the city council needs to be at the forefront of these community issues, especially around public safety.”
Dieng also suggested that his vote on Murad’s appointment will depend on the criminal justice council’s investigation.

Stephanie Seguino, cochair of Burlington’s Police Commission, said state statute requires the body to report any credible complaint to the state criminal justice council for further investigation. The body determined Murad’s conduct was a “Category B” offense, which Vermont law defines as “gross professional misconduct” such as sexual harassment and using excessive force. Weinberger disputes that the allegation should be in that category.

The Category B statute also covers violations of police department policy. Seguino said the commission determined that Murad’s behavior violated Burlington's “DD01,” which says police officers’ authority “shall not be used improperly to interfere with the lawful conduct of anyone.”

“In light of the amount of information shared about this complaint … I feel it is important that the public have accurate information on how the Police Commission performed its oversight role,” Seguino said.

Weinberger has criticized the commission’s findings. The city has hired lawyer Pietro Lynn to represent it through the criminal justice council’s proceedings.

The original print version of this article was headlined "Arresting Development | Acting Burlington police chief used "menacing tone" and threatened to "cuff" surgeon, complaint says"

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