Ripped-up flowers net suspended jail time

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BRATTLEBORO — A friendship turned sour took an even

uglier turn when one of the former friends pulled flowers from the ground in front of a Western Avenue property.

"She tore them up ... she ripped them out of the ground," said Leah Stuart, who planted the flowers in front of her home, during a bench trial that was held Tuesday.

"This is just ugliness. ... You have to be an ugly person to do this," Stuart said prior to sentencing. "Helen Mican, you are an ugly person to do this to me and goddamn you for that."

Windham County Superior Court Judge Michael Kainen heard from Brattleboro Police Officer Jason Hamilton and Virginia Gaudette, senior property manager at Windham Windsor Housing Trust, who both told the judge they believed Helen Mican was responsible for tearing up flowers planted by Stuart, a tenant of the WWHT property at 929 Western Avenue, and for stealing planters put out by the housing trust.

Gaudette told the court that the first report of damage at the property occurred in the fall of 2016.

"We were having plantings removed from the front of the building," she said, which resulted in the installation of security cameras.

Surveillance video presented during the trial showed Mican walking up to the front of the building on two occasions and walking away with planters. Gaudette told the court she walked in the direction in which Mican left the scene and spotted the flower pots in the Whetstone Brook where it crosses under Western Avenue.

Stuart told the court she struck up a friendship with Mican in 2015 at the church they both attended, but a little less than a year later, the friendship "dissolved."

A short time later, someone ripped the flowers she had planted out of the ground.

"The flowers I planted there were very precious to me," said Stuart, who began to fear that Mican might physically harm her. "That is what she wanted to do to me, tear me up and throw me in the brook ... just because I didn't want anything to do with her."

Stuart said she was also distressed because her fellow tenants began to fear Mican, too.

"They were scared to death of her and they were a little bit mad that I was her friend and let her in," she said.

Brendan Scherer, law clerk with the Windham County State's Attorney's Office, and Deputy State's Attorney Steven Brown prosecuted the case. Joshua Atkisson, from the Windham County Public Defender's Office, represented Mican, who declined the opportunity to testify in her defense. Kainen found her guilty on one charge of unlawful mischief.

"There can be little doubt that what she did was intentional," he said. "The state has proven at the beyond-a-reasonable-doubt level that Ms. Mican is the one who damaged the plants."

Scherer suggested Kainen order Mican to pay restitution to Stuart, about $250, and to the Windham Windsor Housing Trust and if she fails to do so, fine her $500. Scherer said his office had offered Mican a plea agreement that included restitution, which she declined.

"Normally we hear an unlawful mischief, it's vandalism," said Kainen. "We think it's a petty thing. We send it off to diversion. We send it off to a [reparations] board and there's no real consequences. In this case, someone was really hurt ... somebody destroyed something, something of beauty that she created. ... I don't doubt that that hurt her very much. It's not just about $200 worth of flowers that were destroyed."

Because he didn't think Mican would pay the fine, he sentenced her to 15 to 30 days in jail, all suspended, with one year of probation.

"Absent further misbehavior, I will not send you to jail," said Kainen, who urged Mican to seek mental health counseling, to attend a reparations board and, if Stuart is willing, to engage in victim/offender mediation.

He also issued conditions that include she not contact Stuart and that she stay at least 100 feet away from 929 Western Ave.

Bob Audette can be contacted at 802-254-2311, ext. 151, or raudette@reformer.com.

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