Joint Statement of Vermont Branches of NAACP & ACLU of Vermont
In Response to Reports That Bennington Officials Failed to Disclose Key Evidence in Kiah Morris Investigation
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Feb 11, 2019
Bennington, Vt.—The Vermont branches of the NAACP and the ACLU of Vermont are calling for a broader inquiry following revelations that Bennington officials failed to disclose information directly related to the safety of Kiah Morris and her family to investigators with the Attorney General’s office. On Thursday, Attorney General Donovan acknowledged that information should have been provided, though he did not elaborate.
The significance of Bennington officials withholding relevant evidence must not be overlooked, particularly considering Bennington law enforcement’s track record.
As the Burlington Free Press has stated, Bennington’s Police Department has long been “in the center of controversies over how [it] handles race and racial bias.” The ACLU has a pending racial profiling lawsuit against Bennington PD, based in part on police stop data showing Bennington PD has some of the worst racial disparities in the state. A recent study of traffic stop records showed disparities in 22 of 24 Bennington PD officers’ stops. Nonetheless, Chief Doucette has repeatedly denied that bias exists in his department.
When the investigation was announced in September, Attorney General Donovan referenced a “breakdown in Bennington” and said his office would look into “the reasons why.” Up to this point, however, the Attorney General’s conclusions and public statements in this case have focused on the conduct of private citizens, while remaining silent on the actions and inactions of Bennington officials.
For all of these reasons, the Vermont branches of the NAACP and the ACLU of Vermont are calling for state officials to conduct a more thorough assessment of Bennington law enforcement’s involvement in this case, including whether any other relevant information or evidence was improperly withheld, and by whom. Additionally, we call for a broader public inquiry into systemic bias and discrimination in Bennington’s criminal justice system.
The dysfunction of that system is one of the worst kept secrets in Vermont, as local residents and the lawyers who interact with that system daily can attest. The fact is that Kiah Morris’ ordeal—including Bennington law enforcement’s handling of it—would be almost inconceivable if the races of the individuals involved were reversed. That is the definition of systemic racism. It cannot be ignored any longer.