Middlebury man, town official cited after altercation
MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury police on Tuesday formally cited both a town employee and a citizen with disorderly conduct in connection with an alleged physical altercation between the pair that occurred at the Middlebury municipal building while voters were casting ballots during the Aug. 9 primary.
Local police confirmed that Addison County State’s Attorney David Fenster has agreed to pursue the disorderly conduct charges against a citizen named Rocket and Jamie Gaucher, director of the town’s Office of Business Development & Innovation.
Both men are scheduled to answer to the charges in Addison Superior Court, criminal division, on Oct. 3.
Gaucher, 49, was placed on administrative leave, with pay, following the Aug. 9 incident. Middlebury Town Manager Kathleen Ramsay said Gaucher will remain on leave pending the results of an ongoing, independent investigation of the incident.
Ramsay, during a brief phone interview Wednesday morning, said a representative of the Brandon Police Department is spearheading the probe. In the meantime, Ramsay said it would be “premature” to comment on what, if any, impact the disorderly conduct citation might have on Gaucher’s continued employment with the town.
Gaucher declined to publicly comment on the charge filed against him, citing the pending court action.
Rocket, 24, formerly known as Ryan Kim while an undergraduate at Middlebury College, spoke to the Middlebury selectboard about the incident at their Tuesday evening meeting and requested that the town consider reimbursing him for such things as lost income and his broken cell phone (allegedly damaged during the Aug. 9 incident).
Middlebury police took statements from seven witnesses and reviewed building security video as part of their investigation into the Aug. 9 incident, according to Chief Tom Hanley.
Police said the incident began as a verbal confrontation outside the municipal building — on the walkway between the library and municipal building — shortly before 8:30 a.m. Primary elections were in progress inside the municipal building at the time and people were inside lining up to vote, according to police. The town offices were also open at the time to both the staff and public.
“A few minutes later, the confrontation continued in the stairwell of the building and escalated to a physical fight on the second floor landing,” a police account of the incident reads. “In the ensuing melee, Gaucher received head and facial lacerations and bruises, Rocket received contusions on the forehead. Both later sought medical treatment reporting they had received concussions.”
In an interview with authorities, Rocket admitted striking Gaucher multiple times with his cell phone, Hanley said on Wednesday. Hanley added that police could not say for sure how Rocket got contusions on his forehead, though he indicated that the injuries occurred during the fight.
Police said municipal building staff broke up the altercation and called authorities.
Both men subsequently filed temporary “no-stalking orders” against one another, according to Middlebury police.
Hanley said the disorderly conduct citations emerged from an investigation that concluded both men “mutually escalated a verbal dispute into a physical altercation, without any consideration that this was in a public venue, that there was an election going on and people were coming and going and queuing up for the election, nor that town business was being transacted.”
Middlebury police provided State’s Attorney Fenster with “a reconstruction of the events based on witness statements, physical evidence, and the security camera footage, and (he) agreed with our opinion that both should be charged with disorderly conduct,” Hanley said.
The Middlebury Police Department’s full investigation will be made public once Gaucher and Rocket are arraigned on Oct. 3. The newspaper will report those additional details when that information is released.
Vermont state statutes (Title 13, VSA 1026) indicate a person can be found guilty of disorderly conduct “if he or she … recklessly creates a risk of public inconvenience or annoyance,” including engaging in “fighting or violent, tumultuous, or threatening behavior.” The statute also indicates that a person can be found guilt of disorderly conduct if he or she, “without lawful authority, disturbs any lawful assembly or meeting of persons.”
Disorderly conduct is a misdemeanor, and a first offense carries a maximum penalty of a $500 fine and/or up to 60 days in prison, according to state statutes.
BEFORE AUG. 9 INCIDENT
Rocket helped lay the groundwork for the Middlebury Business Development Fund (MBDF) in 2011 as a student at Middlebury College. He legally changed his name to Rocket and recently moved back to Middlebury. In his role as director of Middlebury’s Office of Business Development & Innovation, Gaucher represents the MBDF and the town to private enterprises.
During his time in Middlebury, Rocket has been producing videos. He shot a series of videos about the Bristol community and made a similar pitch to Middlebury, according to an email exchange between Rocket and Gaucher on March 31.
Gaucher, in an April 8 email to Rocket, replied, “Thanks for following up, but the MBDF isn’t interested at this time.” Rocket’s same-day response to that email, according to town records, was, “Who sits on the MBDF that I can reach out to directly? I’d love to at least have coffee and discuss the project before I get pushed off another six months.” Rocket presented Middlebury officials with an official proposal for a series of 3-4 minute video shorts dubbed “America’s Best Friend,” which were to be published online on his Facebook page and YouTube channel. Rocket, in his proposal, said he would narrate the videos, which he offered as a “storytelling project celebrating everyday life in the U.S.A.”
He specifically proposed a potential series of “8-10 videos” at an average cost of $1,000 per episode, according to his project outline.
His video project failed to win town support.
Rocket has been questioning the performance of the MBDF.
On June 11, Rocket made an emailed request for back articles written by the Addison Independent in his quest for information “on what progress has been achieved by Jamie Gaucher and his office.”
Municipal records show Rocket a few months ago submitted 10 questions to municipal officials relating to the MBDF, its functions and its accomplishments. Municipal officials provided their answers to those questions on July 11, according to town records.
Rocket on July 27 met with Ramsay to against talk about economic development issues in town, at which he made eight additional requests for information, according to town records. Those requests included the job description of the MBDF director, yearly budgets with more information on contractual services expenses, more information about Midd TAP (Technical Assistance Program), and more information about July 13 and July 14 MBDF Advisory Board meetings.
AT SELECTBOARD MEETING
Rocket reiterated at Tuesday’s selectboard meeting that his personal inquiries into the MBDF were unrelated to the town’s denial of funding for his proposed video series.
“I know in my heart why I did what I did; making an inquiry was for good reasons,” Rocket said. “But it doesn’t matter, is the truth. Any citizen, as you know, has the right to inquire about town business and the way our tax dollars are being spent.”
He said he was spurred by the responses he said he received to questions about the MBDF that he had asked “young” people in local business community. He alleged having spoken with “several businesses owners” who had “very negative experiences” with the MBDF office, as well as some that had derived no benefit from it. He alleged some of these complainants were “afraid” to make their displeasure known.
“I felt like it was both my right, and also the right thing to do, to keep asking these questions,” he told the selectboard. “I did everything by the book.”
He said he had “no idea” that his inquiry would “lead to a physical confrontation. If I had known I might not have asked any of these questions. And I definitely would have avoided the town offices that day.”
Rocket on Tuesday announced an end to his inquiries about the MBDF.
He also made a pitch for some financial assistance.
“I’d like to make a request for your consideration,” Rocket told the selectboard. “At this point, I’ve incurred a lot of cost in the last couple of weeks, including $2,000 in lost business, damage to my phone — which is extremely important to my business — medical expenses from two trips to the (Porter Hospital Emergency Department) … So in the event that your inquiry into the office — your review and maybe restructure of it — saves the town some money, I would ask that you consider supporting me through my own costs of this, raising these questions to begin with.”
Board members did not respond to Rocket’s comments or request, but thanked him for his comments.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected]
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