Sheriff Newton is target of a complaint

I feel your (David Atherton’s) actions of trying to use your position as a tool is very very very wrong, as I am sure the general public would agree.
— Addison County Sheriff Peter Newton

BRANDON — Elected officials in the Rutland County town of Brandon are defending their town manager from complaints lodged by Addison County Sheriff Peter Newton. And the Brandon selectboard is filing its own complaint against Newton.

On Monday, the Brandon selectboard unanimously voted to release a statement defending Town Manager David Atherton against Newton’s charge that Atherton had acted “unprofessionally.” Furthermore, the selectboard told the state criminal justice council that Newton’s actions were “inappropriate.”

The brouhaha bubbled up after a Brandon resident alleged that an Addison County Sheriff Department deputy had acted in an intimidating manner during a traffic stop in mid-July, told Atherton about it and Atherton made a request to the Addison County Sheriff’s Department to see the deputy’s bodycam footage from the incident.

Atherton said he filed an official FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request to see the bodycam footage to verify whether the Brandon resident had a legitimate complaint against the sheriff’s department. Newton initially rejected Atherton’s request to see the footage.

In emails between Newton and Atherton, in which the selectboard was included, Newton asserted that Atherton had tried “to use your position as an intimidation factor to my business manager. I believe that action is very inappropriate and very unprofessional. Please provide me with a sworn written statement as to how my deputy acted intimidating.”

As for including the selectboard in the correspondences, Newton stated in an email, “I included the board because I feel your (Atherton’s) actions of trying to use your position as a tool is very very very wrong, as I am sure the general public would agree.”

Atherton responded to Newton in an email: “I mentioned this during the conversations because we also have a Police Department in Brandon and I know that if someone called our Police Chief stating that they felt intimidated during a traffic stop, he would want to see the bodycam footage to determine what took place and to watch our officer’s behavior.

“Also, when you denied my original request for the bodycam footage,” Atherton wrote in the email, “I reached out to our Chief to discuss how he handles public records requests and he was a bit surprised that you would not comply. So, my second phone call was to ask again, and also relay that as a municipality we are required to provide this information.”

In the end, the sheriff’s department agreed to release the bodycam footage and Atherton was able to pick it up, which he did with Brandon Selectboard member Tim Guiles.

Following the collection of the footage, Newton said in an email, “Selectboard Member Tim Guiles was just here at my office with David Atherton while David picked up his FOIA request which was sent to us through a town of Brandon email address. Mr. Guiles thinks it was inappropriate to include the Selectboard in this, I do not. I would like an official response from the Brandon Selectboard about your stance on this matter.”

The board went into executive session to discuss the matter and afterward issued the following statement defending Atherton’s request and professionalism: “On July 19th, the Brandon selectboard was notified by the Addison County Sheriff Peter Newton that our town manager, David Atherton, had made a public records request to his office. It appears that Sheriff Newton was trying to intimidate David Atherton from following through with his records request. The Brandon Selectboard finds this action on the part of Sheriff Newton to be inappropriate and is filing a complaint with the Vermont Criminal Justice Council with their Act 56 Professional Regulation Intake Form.” The selectboard also unanimously agreed that Newton’s decisions to include the emails to the selectboard were inappropriate.

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