Kiah Morris-James Lawton house sold

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BENNINGTON — Former state Rep. Kiah Morris and her husband James Lawton have sold their home on Morgan Street and moved to the Burlington area.

"This was definitely a sad and bittersweet move," Lawton said, when reached Friday by phone. "That house was home to my family for 61 years in Bennington. It was both my childhood home and my son's childhood home, and it is a shame that we could no longer feel safe and protected there."

Morris, who now works as movement politics director for Rights and Democracy Vermont, based in Burlington, declined comment.

According to a real estate listing on the town clerk's webpage, Lawton and Morris sold the house at 122 Morgan St. to Davis Bellanca for $105,400, and the transfer was recorded on July 6.

Re-election bid dropped

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Morris and Lawton had complained of racially motivated harassment and threats, primarily online, beginning during the election campaign of 2016 and resuming during the same period in 2018.

Citing harassment, Morris, who is African American, ended her campaign for a third House term from the Bennington-2-2 District in August 2018, despite having qualified for a Democratic ballot spot on the November election ballot.

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The couple also contended that the Bennington Police Department did not adequately investigate their complaints, an allegation Chief Paul Doucette has denied.

In addition, Lawton has filed a complaint in December 2019 against the chief and department with the Vermont Criminal Justice Training Council. It focuses on what he alleges was unprofessional conduct by Doucette, failure to process evidence in a timely manner by passing computers on to the State Police, and on alleged ineffective investigation of the family's complaints.

Police review

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The harassment of Morris and her family and subsequent national and international publicity was followed by demands for policing changes here and around the state.

In early 2019, Attorney General T.J. Donovan suggested a review of the BPD's policies in light of criticism of alleged racial bias leveled by the NAACP and ACLU of Vermont against the BPD, and the Select Board last fall decided to hire a consultant for that purpose.

The town now is considering changes in BPD policies and procedures, following a report this spring from a consulting team from the International Association of Chiefs of Police that recommended 25 revisions but did not cite systemic racism within the department.

Among changes being considered now are a citizen police oversight committee and a number of policy reforms to foster community policing approaches to law enforcement and greater citizen involvement, especially by those who said in a survey feel marginalized or don't trust the police.

Jim Therrien writes for New England Newspapers in Southern Vermont, including the Bennington Banner, Brattleboro Reformer and Manchester Journal. Twitter: @BB_therrien


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