State Troopers in Trouble for Trying to Fix a Senator's Traffic Ticket
Two state police troopers are allegedly in hot water for trying to void a speeding ticket issued to Sen. Peter Shumlin earlier this summer.
News of the attempted fix comes months after the original traffic stop became public, one week after the Vermont State Troopers union endorsed Shumlin over his Republican rival Brian Dubie, and just weeks before Election Day.
The speeding ticket was originally issued June 17, a traffic stop made public by WCAX-TV. The station aired portions of Shumlin's roadside traffic stop recorded by an in-cruiser camera on the 6 p.m. news. It also posted the entire video of Shumlin's stop on his the WCAX website.
At the time, the station said it was interested in the story because they believed Shumlin tried to use his Senate identification card as a way to weasel out of a ticket.
During the stop he also joked that he hoped the trooper would be “driving him” next year when he was governor. The sweet talk didn’t help: Shumlin got two points on his license and a $152 speeding ticket.
Shumlin was nabbed heading south on Interstate 91 at around 11:30 at night on June 17. He was headed home to Putney after a campaign debate in Craftsbury. He was clocked going 81 miles an hour.
About the same time as Shumlin paid the fine, two troopers tried to void the ticket. News of that ticket didn't surface until this week.
The ticket fix story on WCAX-TV prompted Department of Public Safety Commissioner Thomas Tremblay to issue a public statement to the media about both the ticket voiding and the department's internal response.
"During a review of administrative processing of Senator Shumlin's ticket by the Vermont State Police, it appeared that the ticket had been voided improperly," Tremblay noted in his written statement. "An internal affairs investigation was conducted that determined a Vermont State Trooper contacted Senator Shumlin and offered to see if the Trooper could void the ticket for Senator Shumlin. In response, a Vermont State Police supervisor wrote 'void' across the ticket intending to void the ticket. The ticket was subsequently corrected and processed as a valid ticket."
WCAX reported that the troopers had been disciplined, but Tremblay didn't make such a claim in his public statement.
"Under the circumstances of this case the ticket should not have been voided. We have determined that the actions of these two members of the Vermont State Police are unacceptable and not in line with our high standards of conduct, nor our efforts to deliver equal protection and enforcement," Tremblay wrote.
Tremblay said the rookie trooper who issued the traffic ticket was not involved.
In its statement, DPS didn't say when it launched its investigation, how long it lasted or when it might be fully resolved.
For his part, Shumlin said he had no idea that troopers had tried to void the ticket until he received a call in early July from Commissioner Tremblay. At the time, DPS had officially launched an investigation into the void attempt — just days after the June 28 traffic-stop story aired on WCAX.
By the time the story aired, Shumlin claims he mailed a check to pay the $152 speeding ticket.
"I got a ticket. I paid it on June 24 and mailed the check from my campaign headquarters," Shumlin told Seven Days. "Sometime after that [the traffic stop and before I paid the ticket*] I did get a phone call from someone in the state police about something entirely different. He razzed me about the ticket and my driving and then made what I thought was a joke about fixing it for me. I said, 'Oh, yeah, that'd really help me in my run for governor.'"
Shumlin and the trooper continued their discussion about other matters, and the senator didn't think anything else of the chat until he later talked to Tremblay.
Tremblay told Shumlin that an attempt had been made to void the ticket. That was news to Shumlin.
"I never requested or condoned the voiding of a ticket," Shumlin said. "A trooper made a joke and I laughed about it."
Shumlin might not be laughing now, especially given news of this ticket fix coincides with the near daily advertising blitz by the Republican Governors Association that calls into question Shumlin's ethics.
Read the Department of Public Safety's complete statement: DPS Statement
* Update *
Commissioner Tremblay told Seven Days this afternoon that the two troopers in question have not yet been disciplined for their actions, despite some media reports. Tremblay would not say exactly when the state police began its internal investigation.
Tremblay also said his department did not release a copy of Shumlin's speeding ticket to WCAX-TV. "We don't release tickets to the public because they do contain personal information," said Tremblay.
Also, in a follow-up interview, Shumlin clarified that the conversation between himself and the trooper who offered to void the ticket occurred before he paid the ticket. That timeline may not have been clear in the initial post. Shumlin also said that he paid for the ticket on June 22, not June 24 as he had earlier believed. He received a copy of the voided check from his bank today.
Well, glad we cleared that up.