Editorial: Newton should resign — now
Sheriff Peter Newton, who was arrested Tuesday and charged with two counts of sexual assault, one count of domestic violence and one count of unlawful restraint, got a partial reprieve by Chittenden County Superior Court Judge John Pacht when the judge allowed him to continue administrative duties as sheriff. The judge put heavy restrictions on Newton, however, by stripping him of his rights to carry a firearm, access to data from law enforcement resources, and said he was not to engage in any law enforcement activities.
The judge’s caveat that Newton be allowed to continue to work as sheriff, however, afforded Newton the opportunity to boast, with what reporters described as a smirk and smile as he was led out of the courtroom, that, in his words, “I’m still the sheriff.”
The condition that Newton be allowed to retain the title, a wage and any authority is a disservice to the community.
The state police account of Newton’s charges and the incidents that led to them, which has been investigated over the past several months, demonstrates that Newton is unfit for the job, has violated the public trust, and potentially poses a threat to community members in his position as sheriff — in whatever capacity he holds.
Dave Silberman, the high bailiff in Addison County, spoke well for the Addison County community when he released a statement Tuesday calling on Newton to resign.
“Like all people charged with crimes, Sheriff Newton deserves a presumption of innocence pending trial and conviction,” Silberman wrote. “However, it is simply impossible for Sheriff Newton to continue serving the community in a law enforcement capacity under the cloud of these very serious charges. Accordingly, I am calling for Sheriff Newton to immediately resign from office.”
Newton’s gloating comment that he’s still sheriff, and his stated refusal to resign, is further evidence he is unfit to serve the county.
Moments before Newton made that statement, he was served in the courtroom with a temporary Extreme Risk Protection Order prohibiting him from possessing dangerous weapons. An Extreme Risk Protection Order allows a prosecutor to petition a court to keep dangerous weapons away from a person who poses a risk to themselves or others. In comments in support of that order, an unnamed deputy with the Addison County Sheriff’s Department reached out by email this spring to Michael Schirling, commissioner of the state Department of Public Safety, to further state Newton’s inability to serve as sheriff.
“It is my opinion that due to his current behavior he is mentally/emotionally unfit to continue to serve in his role as Sheriff or to even continue to serve in any capacity in law enforcement,” the deputy wrote in an email to the public safety commissioner.
“I firmly believe that if he isn’t removed from office immediately,” the deputy added in the email, “and doesn’t get the help that he greatly needs, there will be dire and tragic consequences for the community.”
The combination of concerns is more than enough for the entire community to call for Newton’s resignation. That should start with staff at the sheriff’s office, the county’s elected state representatives (some already have as of late Wednesday), and area town officials. If he won’t resign on his own, perhaps an overwhelming show of public angst at such an irresponsible position will help him reconsider, and for the good of the community, step down immediately.
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So much of this situation rides on money, apathy, and our resistance to change.