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February 10, 2014

Essex Junction Considers New Land-Use Code to Prevent Unscrupulous Massage Parlors

Seiwa PhotoOn Tuesday, the Village of Essex Junction Board of Trustees will consider proposed changes to its land development code that would make it more difficult to open massage parlors that allow criminal activities on their premises. The measure, introduced by village trustee Elaine Sopchak, comes in response to revelations last year by Seven Days that at least three Chittenden County massage parlors, including the now-defunct Seiwa Spa in Essex Junction (seen right in a May 2013 photo), were allegedly offering sex for money, possibly by female workers who were the victims of human trafficking.

The proposal, scheduled for discussion at the board's February 11 meeting, would create a new section of the village's land development code that specifically targets massage establishments. According to Sopchak, the new code would define what constitutes a massage parlor and would require a public hearing before one may open, as well as routine inspections and an annually renewable business permit.

The new code would also place physical restrictions on such businesses, such as prohibiting sleeping quarters on the premises, banning locks on massage room doors and not allowing customers to enter and exit from the rear of the building. Sopchak, who's been working closely on the new code with Essex Police Chief Brad LaRose, said that many of the proposed changes are borrowed from a model ordinances developed by the Polaris Project, an international anti-human-trafficking group based in Washington, D.C.

Continue reading "Essex Junction Considers New Land-Use Code to Prevent Unscrupulous Massage Parlors" »

February 07, 2014

To Simulate a Shooting, Vermont State Police Occupy Burlington Town Center

_MG_2688_1It was only a drill. Five Vermont state troopers were moving through Burlington Town Center on Thursday evening, when suddenly, they came under fire. Four journalists had infiltrated the deserted mall and wouldn't stop shooting at them. 

Click. Click. Click. 

Undettered by the paparazzi's cameras, the troopers went on with their demonstration, proceeding from the mall's Bank Street entrance in a diamond formation, making their way down to the J. Crew store with guns drawn, turning around and exiting the way they came.  

Continue reading "To Simulate a Shooting, Vermont State Police Occupy Burlington Town Center" »

February 06, 2014

This Week's Issue: A Neighborly Noise Feud in Burlington, 'Border' Security and Maple Saplings


Find these news and politics stories in this week's Seven Days...

January 22, 2014

This Week's Issue: Aging Prisoners, Woodstoves and Public TV Trouble


A new issue of Seven Days hits the newsstands today. Here's what you'll find inside:

Get all these stories and more in print, online or on the app.

Cover photo by Tom McNeill

January 17, 2014

Bill Would Give VT Judges New Tools for Dealing With Brain-Injured Defendants

Localmatters-pion2Defendants who argue compellingly that they committed a crime as a consequence of a past traumatic brain injury often go free in Vermont. That's because the state's courts have no way of dealing with such cases.

Judges cannot order defendants with TBI to be incarcerated, hospitalized or placed under state supervision — in contrast to those found incompetent to stand trial due to a mental illness or cognitive deficiency. As Seven Days reported last March in "Why Brain Injured Defendants Often Go Free," judges often have no choice but to let a defendant with TBI walk, even if he or she has committed numerous violent or sexual offenses and remains a threat to public safety.

But that could change this year. On Friday, Rep. Warren Van Wyck (R–Ferrisburgh) presented legislation to the House Judiciary Committee that would let judges order a brain-injured defendant to be committed to the custody of the Vermont Department of Mental Health, just like someone diagnosed with schizophrenia. And, like a person with mental illness, he or she could be tried for the crime if later deemed competent to stand trial.

Continue reading "Bill Would Give VT Judges New Tools for Dealing With Brain-Injured Defendants" »

January 14, 2014

Wife of Man Fatally Shot by Police says Burlington Must Do More for Mentally Ill

DSC_0869Barbara Brunette, the wife of a man fatally shot by police in November, implored the Burlington City Council Monday night to invest resources into taking better care of the mentally ill.

A police officer shot Wayne Brunette on Nov. 6 after receiving a call from his parents who said their son was acting irrationally. Police say that Brunette, a 49-year-old who struggled with schizophrenia, threatened two officers with a shovel before he was shot. 

 The Vermont State Police and the Vermont Attorney General’s Office have both cleared the two officers involved of any criminal wrongdoing.

The city council meeting was part eulogy and part plea for more resources.

“My husband was a very caring, poetic, loving, romantic man. He was a fantastic father,” Brunette, pictured above, told the council.  “Policies have to be changed.”

Continue reading "Wife of Man Fatally Shot by Police says Burlington Must Do More for Mentally Ill" »

January 09, 2014

With Focus on Opiates, Shumlin Turns the Page

Shumlin SOS"Well, what's there to oppose in that?" a reporter asked me a moment after Gov. Peter Shumlin concluded his 34-minute State of the State address Wednesday afternoon.

What, indeed?

For the second time in as many years, the second-term governor dispensed with tradition and focused his legislative session-opening remarks on a single topic: in this case, what he called "the rising tide of drug addiction and drug-related crime spreading across Vermont." (See Mark Davis' account of the State of the State.)

But unlike last year's education-themed inaugural address, into which Shumlin shoehorned an array of policy priorities, this year's speech barely strayed from the topic at hand. And unlike the typically jingoistic and self-congratulatory remarks governors tend to make on such occasions, Shumlin's address was a solemn and somber affair, rarely punctuated by applause.

But if you measured the gov's success Wednesday by the frequency of standing ovations, you missed the point. Because Shumlin hit it out of the park.

Continue reading "With Focus on Opiates, Shumlin Turns the Page" »

January 08, 2014

Shumlin Launches Campaign Against "Opiate Crisis"

State of state 1Gov. Peter Shumlin devoted his State of the State address Wednesday to highlighting what he called a "rising tide of drug addiction and drug-related crime" that he said threatens the quality of life in Vermont.

During a 34-minute speech, Shumlin said Vermont is imperiled by opiate addicts who cannot access  treatment and commit crimes to raise money for drugs. The governor proposed steps to bolster treatment for addicts, shift the focus of the court system from punishment to a treatment and slap tougher sentences on out-of-state dealers who bring drugs to Vermont.

"In every corner of our state, heroin and opiate drug addiction threatens us. It threatens the safety that has always blessed our state," Shumlin said. "It is a crisis bubbling just beneath the surface that may be invisible to many, but is already highly visible to law enforcement, medical personnel, social service and addiction treatment providers, and too many Vermont families. It requires all of us to take action before the quality of life that we cherish so much is compromised."

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December 16, 2013

Burlington Officers Cleared in Fatal Shooting of Mentally Troubled Man


Two Burlington police officers have been cleared of criminal wrongdoing in the fatal shooting of a New North End resident with a history of mental illness who threatened them with a shovel last month.

At a press conference this afternoon, Chittenden County State's Attorney T.J. Donovan and Vermont Attorney General Bill Sorrell announced that Cpl. Ethan Thibault was justified in his use of deadly force against 49-year-old Wayne Brunette. Based on a separate investigation by his department, Burlington Police Chief Mike Schirling said that  neither Thibault nor Cpl. Brent Navari had violated departmental protocol.

After laying out those findings, the law enforcement officials expressed their condolences to Brunette's family and acknowledged the need to improve police responses to incidents where mental illness may play a role.

Continue reading "Burlington Officers Cleared in Fatal Shooting of Mentally Troubled Man" »

December 14, 2013

For Artist Rod MacIver, Another Traffic Stop, Another Video Request


For the last year, Monkton artist Rod MacIver has been waging a legal battle with the town of Shelburne. Last December, an officer from the town’s police department wrote MacIver a ticket for running a red light.

But after the artist secured footage from the cop’s cruiser cam that proved his innocence, he sued the town in small claims court. Later, the Vermont chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union took MacIver as a client and filed a suit against the officer in federal court, where depositions are scheduled to take place next month.

But now, it seems, there might be a sequel in the works for MacIver.Last weekend, shortly before 11 p.m. on the evening of December 6, University of Vermont police Officer Mark Schwartz stopped MacIver as he was driving west on Route 2 towards Burlington, near the I-89 ramp. The officer wrote MacIver a ticket for wavering outside the marked lane. 

Continue reading "For Artist Rod MacIver, Another Traffic Stop, Another Video Request" »

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