BRATTLEBORO — A local activist who claims she was injured by Vermont State Police during a State House protest in 2015 insists she was treated differently due to the color of her skin. In her motion to deny the dismissal of her lawsuit, which was filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Vermont, Shela Linton wrote that of the 29 people who were arrested during the protest, three were people of color. She contends charges were dismissed against 17 of the white protestors, while nine received plea agreements. However, wrote Linton, the state attempted to prosecute all three of the participants who were people of color "to the fullest degree with no plea agreement or dismissal."
Linton also wrote that the video of the arrests submitted to the courts is not complete and the state has submitted a version that "favors them ..."
She has filed suit against the Vermont State Police, Jacob Zorn, Paul White and Tom L'Esperance. Linton alleges Zorn applied excessive force out of his "own personal frustrations, beliefs, and bias ..." which injured her. "Defendant Zorn did not, as a matter of law, apply a type or degree of force to Plaintiff that all reasonable and competent police officers would have understood and agreed was constitutionally excessive under the circumstances," wrote Assistant Attorney General Jon T. Alexander, in a response to Linton's motion to allow the suit to continue. "Even if Plaintiff's allegations of excessive force were facially plausible, Defendant Zorn would still be entitled to qualified immunity because, under the circumstances, he did not violate Plaintiff's clearly established constitutional rights as a matter of law."
The Vermont Attorney General's Office, which is representing the defendants, contends the suit should be dismissed because the defendants are protected by sovereign immunity and Linton's failure to state a constitutional violation. According to court precedent, "The doctrine of qualified immunity shields officials from civil liability so long as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known."
Alexander maintained that "the incorporated arrest videos showing that Defendant Zorn repeatedly asked Plaintiff to stand up — requests that she refused — before twisting her wrist to gain her compliance and remove her ..." He also wrote that Linton's claim the defendants "are hiding something from the Court by 'only providing one angle of the video that favors them,'" can easily be addressed because "the publicly available videos that Defendants filed with the Court .... are not Defendants' videos, but videos taken by others and posted online. They were not edited or manipulated by Defendants." Alexander also noted that Linton has failed her burden of proving an Equal Protection theory because she has not alleged "the existence of a similarly situated group of individuals of a different race who received more favorable treatment on account of their race, such as non-compliant white sit-in protestors who were arrested or removed without the use of 'pain compliance' techniques because they were white. Plaintiff has not alleged that Defendant Zorn, as opposed to other unidentified police officers, treated non-compliant protestors of a different race more favorably than he treated her due to racial bias ..."
As far as prosecutions are concerned, noted Alexander, "... these statements, even if true, do not support her claim against Defendant Zorn because he did not prosecute the criminal cases in court. Defendant Zorn cannot be held liable for the prosecutorial decisions of the State's Attorney." No court date has yet been set for a hearing to discuss the merits of the lawsuit and the ensuing motions.
Bob Audette can be contacted at 802-254-2311, ext. 151, or firstname.lastname@example.org.