Assault charge for ex-officer seen in video hitting prisoner
MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — A former St. Albans police officer recorded on video hitting a handcuffed female prisoner was charged Thursday with simple assault, police said.
The Vermont State Police and the attorney general’s office said Jason Lawton, 31, of Fletcher was cited on a charge of simple assault for the March 15 incident at the St. Albans Police Department.
The video, some of it from a police body camera and some from a surveillance camera, shows the apparently intoxicated Amy Connelly being thrown against a wall in the broom closet-sized holding cell after she refuses to sit down. When she stands back up and tries to kick Lawton, he responds by punching her in the face.
In the video Connelly is heard repeatedly saying, “Why would you do this?”
State police said the charges were filed after consulting with the Vermont Attorney General’s office.
Lawton is due in court Monday in St. Albans.
Attempts to reach an attorney who represented Lawton during an internal disciplinary action by the St. Albans police were unsuccessful Thursday. A phone number for Lawton couldn’t be found.
While the incident occurred in March, St. Albans Police Chief Gary Taylor has said he did not become aware of incident until late May after the Vermont Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union requested the video after they were contacted by Connelly.
Lawton was fired following an internal investigation by the St. Albans police.
The incident began on the evening of March 14, when St. Albans police were called to a local bar after receiving reports that Connelly was arguing with others and refused to leave.
After she was taken to the police station, the video showed Lawton going into a cell after Connelly apparently kicked the door. He swears at her, punches her in the face and throws her to the ground.
In court documents, Lawton originally said the blow to the face was to gain control of the situation and that it ended her aggressive behavior.
Connelly was charged with disorderly conduct, unlawful mischief and simple assault after the altercation. She pleaded not guilty. The charges remain pending.
Connelly’s lawyer, Albert Fox, said the charge against Lawton means a lot to his client, who was humiliated by the experience.
“She really felt very abandoned and betrayed by the system that pretty much ignored her until” the video was released, Fox said.
Jay Diaz, a staff attorney for the Vermont ACLU who originally asked for the video, said Thursday in a statement that when police use excessive force, they must be held accountable.
“Until we see transformational change in the culture of policing and proactively train law enforcement on de-escalation strategies as a core part of their education, we will continue to see excessive use of force,” Diaz said.
In the aftermath of the incident, Taylor changed his department’s use-of-force reporting policies. Now all exchanges between officers and suspects, even minor ones, must be reviewed by patrol commanders.