Settlement reached in Windsor County racial profiling case

Published: Oct. 20, 2021 at 6:18 PM EDT
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CHESTER, Vt. (WCAX) - A settlement has been reached in connection to a law enforcement racial profiling investigation in Chester.

Town officials in Chester are publicly apologizing after an investigation found that the police department racially profiled a local driver during a 2019 traffic stop.

According to an investigation by the Vermont Human Rights Commission, Chester police pointed a gun at Obadiah Jacobs while detaining him on the side of the road during a 2019 traffic stop. Police believed Jacobs was wanted in connection with an incident in Bellows Falls where a driver matching Jacobs’ description, flashed a gun during a road rage incident three days earlier.

But it turned out Jacobs was not connected to that event and the investigation concluded that Jacobs was profiled for being Black. In a settlement, the town agreed to pay Jacobs $50,000 and apologize. “And I do hope that this is a case that sends a message to all of Vermont and all law enforcement agencies around the importance of fair and impartial policing,” said Bor Yang with the Vermont Human Rights Commission.

The apology, which is posted on the town’s website includes: “The town of Chester sincerely apologizes to Mr. Jacobs and recognizes that no arrests or action was taken as a result of the stop and that no basis was found during the stop to believe that Mr. Jacobs was engaged in illegal activity.”

Along with the apology and cash payment, the Chester Police Department agreed to more training around Fair and Impartial Policing and data collection.

“I think it is time to move beyond implicit bias training and have training that is very specific, a policy that we worked really hard to craft together -- attorney general’s office, ACLU, and Migrant Justice,” Yang said.

“I think talking about training might be sort of a cliché,” said Chester resident Leslie Thorsen, who doesn’t think the settlement is justice for Jacobs. She says the officer who pulled the gun should be fired. “Whether it be fair and impartial policing, whether it be a mental health phone call. We need to improve how we take care of the people of our town.”

Chester Town Manager Julie Hance has a different take. In an email, she wrote that officers make split-second decisions and do not have the benefit of 20/20 hindsight. “I support all police officers and take a position of encouraging them to continue doing their jobs to the best of their ability,” Hance wrote.

Jacobs’s lawyer said he hopes the incident leads to positive change.

In addition to the apology, the public statement from the town went on to include that the department can and will improve its public safety procedures. One possible step, the formation of a citizens advisory committee.

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