Haskell Garrett, 54, had a pretty good day last week. Nah, make that a terrific day! And he earned it. Unlike most folks charged with violent crimes, Haskell Garrett knows how to play the system for all it's worth. And he certainly demonstrated his street smarts.
See, last winter, Garrett got into a little jam, though not his first little jam by any means. On December 21, 1998, he was arrested at gunpoint outside the emergency room at the Mary Fanny. He was charged with kidnapping, stalking and aggravated domestic assault. Pretty serious stuff, right?
But Haskell Garrett isn't just anybody. In the booming Burlington of the 1990s, Mr. Garrett became well known around town and in official circles as an outspoken member of the increasingly vocal minority community. He'd certainly come a long way from his younger days when, according to his rap sheet, he was picked up regularly in his native New York City on heroin possession, assault and burglary charges.
But Garrett came to Vermont and changed his ways. He reformed. Haskell was the founder and executive director of ALANA, the minority-operated health-care nonprofit that received favorable press while garnering almost $100,000 in grants from the Vermont Health Department. According to the department, Garrett also received checks totaling $5700 for his role on the HIV advisory committee.
ALANA reportedly closed down a couple weeks ago. But over at the Palace of Justice on Cherry Street last week, its founder lucked out big-time. Judge Harold Van Benthuysen decided there was no good reason to lock up Haskell, the kidnapper and abuser of women. If anything, Garrett's case demonstrates that all the bunk you hear from Gov. Howard Dean and the Corrections Department about how violent offenders in Vermont go to jail, is just that — bunk!
On April 27, the court received a memorandum from Probation and Parole. The memo, obtained by Inside Track, qualifies as the proverbial "red flag." In the document, Courtney Gourley, a probation and parole officer, and Niel Christiansen, the district manager, practically beg the judge to sentence Garrett to a reasonable vacation as a guest at the Gray Bar Hotel. They noted Garrett's prior record for domestic ibuse and his use of force in the December incident. They suggested "3-8 years to serve" to "allow for an adequate period of supervision should he ever be granted parole."
According to the memorandum, "The victim was dragged by her hair and pushed into the defendant's vehicle. Garrett then drove this victim to his own house and made her go to the bedroom, where he showed her a handgun and bullets. He described how the bullets he was holding would do considerable damage to her if she was shot by one. [The victim] said Haskell made threats to use the gun on her, stating he was not afraid of 'doing time' in Vermont since Vermont had no death penalty."
Pretty savvy guy, that Haskell.
So savvy, in fact, that three days after that memo was filed, Garrett offered to cop a plea. In return, he asked that his case be "re-referred" to Corrections with the understanding he would voluntarily enter the Intensive Domestic Assault Program (IDAP). And he wanted a "pre-approved furlough," which means he would skate without having to spend even one night in jail.
Deputy State's Attorney Ed Sutton agreed, though he told Inside Track this week that he never expected Corrections to buy it.
Simultaneously, Mr. Garrett went to work on the public relations front and Sam Hemingway, the "award-winning" columnist at the local Gannett-chain shop — The Burlington Free Press — was only too happy to oblige.
On May 5, Sam the Sham's column, titled "Man finds friends hard to come by during times of trouble," went as far as humanly possible to destroy whatever vestiges of credibility Shameless Sam has left. Poor Haskell, lamented Hemingway. Ever since he kidnapped and beat up the ex-girl- friend, his pals just turn the other way! Bummer.
The Freeps' scribe quoted Garrett: "It's hard being an African-American in Vermont." (Gannett will probably give Sam the Sham an award for the column. Just you wait.) According to Hemingway, Haskell said he just "pushed" the victim, not intending "for her to hit her head."
Sam probably didn't know Haskell had stalked her, attempted to break into her apartment the previous day, and slashed the tires on her and her boyfriend's cars. He even left a "Happy Valentine's Day" note on her windshield. Such a sweet guy.
In court last week, Garrett stood up and sang a psalm of repentance. Sutton said it was one of the best hymns he's ever heard a defendant sing at sentencing. Garrett, he said, expressed deep remorse and "promised he'd never do it again." His courtroom speech was so good, Judge Van Benthuysen, a former Franklin County prosecutor with a "lock 'em up" reputation, responded by going the extra mile. The judge lowered the agreed-upon sentence to just five years on furlough. "It was a little unusual," said Sutton.
Mr. Garrett says he'll be on his best behavior from now on. We hope so. Because if he isn't, that means there's one more person out there who will have to suffer at his hands before he finally gets his room at the Gray Bar Hotel.
So if you run into Haskell in your travels — and you will, because he is out there — you might want to extend "congratulations" and even ask for a few pointers. Because when it comes to playing the system, Haskell Garrett is a bona fide all-star.
Media Notes — The Rutland Herald/Times Argus took the bait Sunday and put their cards face up on the table: four kings, and GOP U.S. Senator Jim Jeffords’ face was on every one.
Last week, Inside Track dubbed Jeezum Jim's hometown paper a political action committee of the Jeffords 2000 campaign. Devoted readers have noticed of late that Congressman Bernie Sanders can't do anything right. And Jim Jeffords can't do anything less than brilliant! Yes, it's time Rutland Herald Publisher R. John Mitchell registered his Jeffords media PAC with the Federal Elections Commission. Come clean and all.
On Sunday, veteran Montpelier bureau chief Jack Hoffman locked his jaws around Ol' Bernardo's ankle like an overheated cocker spaniel. "Another Snit Proves Sanders Protests Too Much," was the title.
The snit was all about a phone call to Sanders last week by Jack's subordinate, Diane Derby. Jack wrote, "the reporter" was "just chasing a tip." When Ol' Bernardo got on the phone he "berated the reporter — and news media in general — for being obsessed with the horse-race aspect of politics."
Turns out the tip — that Bernie was about to declare his candidacy for the U.S. Senate — was bogus. But Hoffman, one of Vermont's best, squeezed an entire column out of it anyway. Meanwhile, turn the page, and there was Jeezum Jim's mug on an op-ed piece "Vermont Must Preserve Its Rich Past."
Now that's one topic the Big Mouth From Brooklyn knows very little about, right?