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Ex-police officer pleads guilty to punching handcuffed woman

May 19, 2022 GMT

ST. ALBANS, Vt. (AP) — A former Vermont police officer recorded on video punching a handcuffed woman in custody has pleaded guilty to a charge of simple assault.

Jason Lawton will face up to six months in prison, and could face punishment other than incarceration, Assistant Attorney General Paul Barkus said during the change-of-plea hearing Wednesday, Vermont Public Radio reported.

The video, some of it from a police body camera and some from a surveillance camera, showed the apparently intoxicated woman on March 15, 2019 being thrown against a wall in a holding cell at the St. Albans Police Department after she refused to sit down. Lawton, who was a St. Albans police officer at the time, punched her in the face when she stood back up and tried to kick him.

State police said charges were filed after consulting with the attorney general’s office. Lawton was fired following an internal investigation by the St. Albans police.

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Judge Martin Maley on Wednesday questioned why the misdemeanor charge was not a felony or multiple misdemeanors. Barkus said he believed the decision in large part rested on the fact that there was only one punch.

The woman has filed a federal lawsuit that is still pending against the city of St. Albans, accusing police of excessive force and the city of not properly training and not disciplining officers.

Attorney General T.J. Donovan has reviewed 29 use-of-force incidents since he took office in 2017, bringing charges in four cases, VPR reported. Three are against former St. Albans officers in cases that received media attention, the station reported.