Vergennes chief faces new criminal charges
VERGENNES — The Vermont Attorney General’s office released a statement on Friday that Vergennes Police Chief Mike Lowe is facing five new charges in addition to driving under the influence of a drug that had been prescribed to him. The new charges include embezzlement and two counts of fraudulently obtaining a prescription.
Lowe, 50, was already scheduled to be arraigned this Monday in Addison County District Court to face the DUI charge stemming from a June 7 accident in Vergennes in which a cruiser driven by Lowe struck a parked car. Lowe, who joined the force in 2001 and became its chief in 2002, will face the additional charges on Aug. 24.
In its entirety, Friday’s statement read: “The Attorney General’s Office announced today that a citation has been issued to Chief Michael Lowe of the Vergennes Police Department, to appear in the Vermont District Court in Middlebury on August 24, 2009, at 12:30 p.m., to face charges of Embezzlement by a Public Official, Neglect of Duty, Possession of a Depressant, Stimulant or Narcotic Drug, and two counts of Obtaining a Prescription by Fraud/Deceit.”
Lowe’s prosecution is being handled by Stuart Schurr of the Executive Director’s Office of the Vermont Department of State’s Attorney’s and Sheriff’s Association; the Addison County’s state’s attorney’s office referred the case to that office to avoid a conflict of interest.
Vergennes Mayor Michael Daniels said on Saturday the extent of the charges surprised city officials. But Daniels acknowledged City Manager Mel Hawley had been working with investigators looking into Lowe’s work in Vergennes.
“We were privy only to knowledge there was additional information that they were seeking, and the city manager was cooperating with the investigation. We weren’t told what the allegations were,” Daniels said.
Aldermen had planned an Aug. 11 disciplinary hearing for Lowe, who is on paid administrative leave. But Daniels said that hearing has been moved to Aug. 18 because Lowe’s attorney had been on vacation and aldermen wanted to make sure Lowe had “due process.” Daniels said city officials are carefully dealing with Lowe’s case.
“We want to be vigilant on how we handle ourselves,” the mayor said.
Daniels said evidence against Lowe in the DUI case will become public record at his Aug. 10 arraignment. That evidence could include details on the drugs taken and the amount of drugs in his bloodstream. Vermont State Police tested Lowe’s blood after the accident, and when the sample came back positive he was charged.
Hawley will use that material as part of a report to present to aldermen on Aug. 18, and Daniels said aldermen could then move to change Lowe’s paid status.
“That will be up to the council to decide, and that decision will most likely be made on the 18th, based on the information that we will see in the letter that Mel will present us,” Daniels said.
Daniels said he does not expect Lowe to appear at Monday’s arraignment, and that city officials have tried unsuccessfully to contact him.
“We believe he is still out of state,” Daniels said.
In the meantime, former Vergennes chief Ted Minall has been serving as a department consultant. Daniels said Minall’s experience has been invaluable. He noted, for example, that Minall and the force’s full-time patrolmen have straightened out the department’s training records problem, and the department remains certified.
“Ted has been very helpful in this process,” he said.
Still unresolved as of last report was a separate probe by the attorney general’s office into Lowe’s handling of a case in which a bullet was found lodged in the side of a city home. At last word, city officials were still awaiting a report on whether Lowe had a conflict of interest because he did not refer the case to VSP after Lowe made what he said was an offhand remark that even his son could be a suspect.
In all, Daniels said city officials are striking a balance between making sure the city is fully protected by its police force and preserving Lowe’s rights.
“I am still trying to stay as neutral as I can to the allegations,” Daniels said. “We will not do anything to jeopardize the safety and security of the city, but we have to be fair at the same time.”