- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 22, 2020

A Vermont police officer who has been the focus of protests over the use of excessive force is leaving the Burlington Police Department.

At a Monday night meeting, the Burlington City Council voted 11-1 to authorize Mayor Miro Weinberger to enter into a separation agreement with Sgt. Jason Bellavance.

“We must advance changes that are responsive to concerns that have been raised in our community and that improve accountability and transparency, while providing a foundation for moving forward,” Weinberger said in a statement issued late Monday.

In late August in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police and the wounding of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin, protesters set up camp in Burlington’s Battery Park, outside the city police headquarters, demanding the firing of Bellavance and two other officers.

An unsigned email from batteryparkprotest, which has released information from the protesters in the past, said the city’s agreement was “the direct result of the power of the people.”

“We believe that the City Council and Mayor Weinberger are capable of more,” the Tuesday statement said. “Burlington residents deserve assurance that the Burlington Police Department and our elected officials do not tolerate police brutality and excessive force.”

Under the terms of the settlement agreement, Bellavance will receive the approximate equivalent of three years’ salary, $300,000, and additional benefits.

The city is not seeking separation agreements against the two other officers who have been the focus of the protesters.

In the cases in fall 2018 and early 2019, police investigations determined the three officers did not use excessive force.

A federal lawsuit against Bellavance, a second officer and the city alleges that Bellavance approached two men as they were arguing and without announcing his presence shoved one of the men to the ground. The person who was shoved fell backward, hit his head on a wall and was knocked out, the suit says.

“This was a very reasonable compromise on Jason’s part,”said Bellavance’s attorney John Franco, who noted details are still being finalized.

Weinberger said that while Bellavance, did not use excessive force, the force he used was not necessary and there were a number of de-escalation techniques he could have used but did not. Also, as a sergeant Bellavance was acting as a supervisor and others were looking to him to model their behavior.

Weinberger said the actions of the other two officers were consistent with the police and training that were in place at the time.

“To pursue separation agreements under these circumstances would set an unmanageable precedent that would challenge the department for years to come by suggesting that future employment decisions will be decided not by fair, deliberative processes that are clear to employees at the time, but rather that those decisions will be subject to retroactive reopening by the passions of public opinion,” Weinberger said.

Weinberger said he and the city were committed to systemic change so policing aligns “with the values of our community going forward.”

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