Town settles in civil rights complaint case

Observer file photo

By Luke Baynes

Observer staff

A settlement agreement of $75,000 has been reached in a civil rights-related complaint filed against the town of Williston and Sgt. Scott Graham, a member of the Williston Police Department.

The complaint, filed by Burlington resident Antoinette Bennett-Jones and her attorney, Lisa Werner, in Vermont Superior Court on May 20, 2011, alleged that Graham used excessive force during a traffic stop involving Bennett-Jones in the parking lot of Wal-Mart on June 11, 2008.

Bennett-Jones, who is African-American, claimed that race was a motivating factor in the alleged incident.

Graham, in a June 13, 2011 response prepared by the law firm of English, Carroll & Boe P.C., denied that he used excessive force after observing Bennett-Jones’ vehicle in the fire lane outside Wal-Mart. He further denied that Bennett-Jones’ race played a factor in the traffic stop.

Graham admitted that he wrote Bennett-Jones a $314 ticket for violation of “Obedience to a Law Enforcement Officer.” The violation was adjudicated on March 11, 2009, with the court ruling in favor of Bennett-Jones.

Attorney Nancy Sheahan, who represented the town of Williston in the matter, told the Observer that Graham was “dismissed from the case without payment attributable to him.”

Sheahan said that the decision to settle was based on a recommendation from the Vermont League of Cities and Towns Property and Casualty Intermunicipal Fund, with whom the town maintains liability insurance.

The town was responsible for a $500 deductible, according to Sheahan.

In an email to the Observer, Werner stated: “Antoinette’s primary goal was to raise awareness. However, it is very stressful to be involved in this type of case. A settlement provides closure. When the offer was made, it was simply too much money to reject.”