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Alleging discrimination, Essex man says police chief’s apology is not enough

Ashley DeLeon (VTDigger)

Photos by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

A man who said he was racially discriminated against by the Essex Police Department rejected a public apology made by the police chief Thursday afternoon, saying he wanted to hear it from the officers themselves.

Essex police had cited Brandon Williams with one count each of aggravated and simple assaults following a multi-person fight at a Pearl Street residence July 13, according to a news release issued by police Monday.

But Police Chief Ron Hoague said the charges have been dropped — at least for now — and he apologized publicly on behalf of the police department during a demonstration outside its building, which was organized in support of Williams by a social justice organization.

Williams, who is Black, was the only person charged in the fight. He has alleged one of the other people involved in the fight directed a racial slur at him. He and his supporters are seeking charges against the other four people involved in the fight, reimbursed medical expenses and legal fees, designation of the incident as a hate crime, and an official apology from police and the people involved.

“What happened to Williams should not have occurred until more facts of the case had been gathered and viewed by the state’s attorney,” Hoague said. “For this, we apologize to Mr. Williams.”

Speaking to the crowd of a couple dozen people, Williams rejected the apology, stating he wanted to hear from the officers themselves and that Hoague was simply “a representative.”

“Racism is real. It’s still in America. Everything I went through will not stop it, but maybe my voice will help,” Williams said.

The protest outside the police department was organized by The Black Perspective, a nonprofit social justice group based in Vermont, after Williams was cited in connection with last week’s altercation.

Essex police issued a press release on Monday about the incident.

When officers arrived at the scene, they were told the altercation resulted from a dispute over mechanical work on Williams’ motorcycle, according to the release. The resident of that address asked Williams to leave the property, but he allegedly refused.

After Williams began to record the interaction with his phone, another man snatched the phone, throwing it onto the ground, police said. The male resident retrieved the phone, and Williams allegedly attacked him by “strangling him to the point of nearly losing consciousness,” according to the release.

Williams called police on the night of the fight, he said. When they arrived, he was taken to UVM Medical Center for a large cut to his left ear, allegedly from being bitten, before he was charged. Williams also reported that his head was struck several times.

Police said they cited Williams on two assault charges. Upon receiving the citation, however, Williams said he had only been charged with one count of aggravated assault. “When I got the ticket, the word simple had been crossed out,” he said.

Hoague on Thursday said the case is still under investigation. It’s unclear if others involved in the incident will be charged or if Williams could face new charges, according to Hoague. No other names have been released.

During the protest, which lasted about an hour and a half, Williams said he tried to leave the scene of the incident, but was harassed by the other people at the house before calling the police.

“I knew I needed my property before I left, which is why I called [the police] to help me get out of there in one piece,” he said.

Prior to the physical altercation, racial slurs were directed toward him, he said. “They called me a [N-word] right on camera,” he said, referring to the recording he made on his phone.

“After she said it, the mechanic called his friend to get rid of the evidence, which is why he slapped the phone out of my hand,” Williams said.

The person who directed the slur toward Williams disregarded that they were being recorded, repeatedly saying, “I don’t care,” Williams said.

During the protest, Williams and others asked the chief if the officers will face any repercussions for their behavior. The police chief said they will not be disciplined.

“They followed procedure. They are not going to be disciplined. They have not violated any policy that I could find,” Hoague said.

The statement resulted in immediate uproar from the crowd.

Hoague, who departed before the end of the event, said the department will be “going to go back to our training and procedures to make sure this doesn’t happen again.” He said he plans to work with Tabitha Moore, the former Rutland-area president of the NAACP, to conduct training on how to “consider all factors, not just probable cause.”

Mohamed Abdi, director of The Black Perspective, said he learned about the incident from Williams’ mother and then extended the offer to host a demonstration at the Essex Police Department, publicizing information about the incident on Facebook and Instagram.

“I listened to him. I listened to his mom. We wanted to offer a demonstration to let the community know what was going on because a lot of people didn’t,” Abdi said.

Lydia Diamond, Williams’ mother, expressed frustrations with the police’s actions at the protest. “Four people against one. He didn’t ask to be called the [slur]. He’s a father of three beautiful children who need their father,” she said.

The Essex Police Department distributed the news release after The Black Perspective publicized the demonstration, Abdi said.

“They actually completely contradicted the video itself,” he said. “They made it seem as if Brandon initiated the whole incident.” Williams declined to publicly share the video, saying he wanted to protect identifiable children in the video.

State Rep. Tanya Vyhovsky, P/D-Essex Town and a member of the Government Operations Committee, attended the protest.

Her committee “has oversight on the Criminal Justice Council to see if this is something that can be looked over and look into additional disciplinary actions that need to be taken,” she said in an interview.

Vyhovsky said she was glad people attended the demonstration to ensure that the incident is not forgotten.

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