Former St. Albans Cop Pleads Guilty to Assaulting Handcuffed Woman | News | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Former St. Albans Cop Pleads Guilty to Assaulting Handcuffed Woman

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Published May 18, 2022 at 5:01 p.m.
Updated June 14, 2022 at 3:52 p.m.

Jason Lawton, right, with his attorney, Rebecca Otey, at an earlier court hearing - FILE: COLIN FLANDERS ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • File: Colin Flanders ©️ Seven Days
  • Jason Lawton, right, with his attorney, Rebecca Otey, at an earlier court hearing
A former St. Albans cop who punched a handcuffed woman in the face pleaded guilty on Wednesday to simple assault.

Jason Lawton, 33, could have faced up to a year in prison for the misdemeanor charge. But a plea agreement with the Vermont Attorney General's Office caps any possible jail time at six months. His defense plans to push for a more lenient penalty at a sentencing hearing sometime later this year.

The charge stems from a March 2019 incident caught on camera at the St. Albans Police Department involving Lawton, then a sergeant and shift supervisor, and Amy Connelly, who was being held in one of the station's cells.

Video showed Lawton eating dinner with a colleague when he walked over to Connelly's holding cell and told her to stop kicking the door. He then pushed her into a wall twice, slugged her in the face and dragged her to the ground. Connelly spent the next 10 minutes handcuffed to a bar in the cell. Medics eventually took her to the hospital, where she was treated for her bruised face.

"It was the most extreme pain I have felt and I gave birth to my daughter without any drugs," she later told police investigators of the punch.
Police department leaders said they did not learn about the incident until the American Civil Liberties Union of Vermont filed a records request two months later. One retired officer, though, claimed then-chief Gary Taylor knew about the incident well before then.

Vermont State Police investigated the assault and arrested Lawton in November 2019. Six months later, Connelly sued Lawton and the City of St. Albans in federal court for civil rights violations. The case is still pending.

Two other former St. Albans officers are also facing criminal charges stemming from separate episodes of alleged excessive force: Joel Daugreilh, who pepper sprayed a teenager while he was shackled in a holding cell; and Mark Schwartz, who shocked a man with his Taser seconds after stepping out of his cruiser.
Before approving Lawton's plea deal on Wednesday, Judge Martin A. Maley asked state prosecutors why they had only charged Lawton with one misdemeanor.

"I think it came down to the fact that there was a single punch," assistant attorney general Paul Barkus responded.

Maley was unpersuaded. "I don't get to charge cases, but I'm curious, because it appears that the pushing into the wall, times two, the punching of the victim, and then the dragging of the victim out where she hits her head — I count, by that, four assaults," he said. "But again, it's the state's decision as to how this case was charged, and here we are."
Maley also wondered why the state asked for a pre-sentencing investigation — in which a probation officer will interview Lawton to gather his background and other information before compiling a report that the judge can use to help guide his sentencing decision. Such investigations are typically reserved for felony cases, the judge said.

Barkus responded that he believed it would be beneficial to everyone — including Lawton — for the judge to have as much information as possible before he decides on a sentence.

"It is an unusual request," Barkus said, "but this is an unusual case."