Chief Schirling Says Pic 'Clearly' Shows Protester Reached for Cop's Baton, Photographer Disputes Chief's Version
Updated below: Chief Schirling retracts statement, apologizes for mistake.
Does this photograph show a protester from Sunday's clash with Burlington police grabbing a cop's baton?
Burlington Police Chief Michael Schirling said on Vermont Public Radio's "Vermont Edition" today that the photo — snapped by Dylan Kelley and posted online at Seven Days — "clearly" shows the demonstrator in the black bandana grabbing the baton of police Lt. Art Cyr.
"What I see in the photograph, they have a hold of it," Schirling told VPR host Steve Zind. "They are clearly resisting and you can clearly see in the left of the photo, a man in a black bandana grabbed hold of Lt. Cyr's baton, and that is what precipated the first event."
Activists and cops have traded accusations about who's to blame for the incident in which police fired "stingball pellets" into a crowd of demonstrators blocking a bus of dignitaries from leaving a conference of New England governors and eastern Canadian premiers. The tension gave way to a moment of cooperation yesterday when demonstrators and their lawyer called for a dialogue with police about the events that led to the clash.
After hearing Schirling's remarks on VPR, the photographer who took the picture said he was "livid," calling Schirling's claim "an absolute lie."
"If you look at the picture, it clearly illustrates that that person's hand is not wrapped around the baton," said Dylan Kelley, who has photographed occupy protests around the country. "It is wrapped around a flag or banner or something else. If you zoom in on that lower left hand corner of the frame, and you look at that person's hand, it is not wrapped around the baton."
Kelley, who said he was at most four feet away from Cyr, sent Seven Days higher-resolution version of the photograph, which we zoomed in on and cropped to publish here. From the photograph, it's difficult to say what the bandana-clad protester is clutching, and Schirling was not immediately available Thursday afternoon to respond to Kelley's comments.
Update - 4 p.m.
Upon viewing the close-up of the photograph, Chief Schirling has retracted his earlier statement made on Vermont Public Radio. In a statement emailed to Seven Days and VPR Thursday afternoon, Schirling said:
"On the show earlier today I described a photograph from the 7 Days website that was given to us this morning as showing a man grabbing an officer's baton. A few moments ago 7 Days emailed us a much higher resolution enhanced version of the photograph. Upon examination of this new photograph we realize it is not the baton. We will work during our investigation and 'after action' review to try to determine what it is. Our assessment of this portion of the event was based solely on the photograph available earlier in the day. I want to be sure we set the record straight as quickly as possible as new information comes to light. I apologize for the error. We continue to ask that anyone with information about this incident, video, photographic, or otherwise, contact us so we may be as thorough as possible."