Grismore sworn in as lawmakers begin sheriff restructuring discussions

Published: Feb. 1, 2023 at 6:39 AM EST|Updated: Feb. 1, 2023 at 8:08 PM EST
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ST. ALBANS, Vt. (WCAX) - County sheriffs were sworn in to office Wednesday across Vermont, including eight taking the oath for the first time. Among the new sheriffs is Franklin County’s John Grismore, who faces assault charges as well as an investigation into financial irregularities within the department. It comes as lawmakers are considering statewide reforms for sheriffs’ departments.

Sheriff Grismore’s oath may be complete, but his legal battles in court are just getting underway. Grismore is being prosecuted for his actions against a detainee last August, in which he was seen on surveillance video kicking a man in custody while Grismore was a deputy sheriff.

Grismore was fired following the incident and charged with assault, but he was the only candidate on the ballot running for sheriff and was elected in November.

He declined an interview on Wednesday, but he told us during his arraignment earlier this week he acted in self-defense to avoid being spat at. “I wouldn’t be here today if I thought I was guilty. I’m very confident that this will get resolved,” he said.

If the assault charge wasn’t enough, the state police last week said they were investigating the finances of the Franklin County Sheriff’s Department and Grismore at the request of Vermont Auditor of Accounts Doug Hoffer, who said “questionable records” were discovered during a routine audit by an independent firm.

Some Franklin County residents say Grismore’s actions were concerning and call into question his ability to lead the department. “After his actions, how can you trust somebody like that? All of a sudden, they’re going to fly off the handle and just do something like that?” said Daniel Thompson of St. Albans.

“I’m not saying he’s guilty, but until it is resolved, he shouldn’t be in office,” said Penny Phillips of St. Albans.

Franklin County State’s Attorney John Lavoie says the charges hanging over Grismore will not change the way he prosecutes cases by the department as long as he remains in an administrative role. “If he were to attempt to get involved as an investigator, that would be much more problematic,” Lavoie said.

Grismore, like the other sheriffs sworn in Wednesday, will serve a four-year term.

VERMONT LAWMAKERS CONSIDER SWEEPING REFORMS OF SHERIFFS’ OFFICES.

The Grismore case is one of several recent high-profile incidents that have prompted Vermont lawmakers to examine accountability, oversight, and training for sheriffs across the state.

In Addison County, Sheriff Peter Newton pleaded not guilty in June to sexual assault and unlawful restraint. And in Caledonia County, a routine audit found the outgoing sheriff paid himself and his staff thousands of dollars in bonuses.

Under Vermont law, they can only be removed from office if he is impeached by the Legislature. A joint hearing of House lawmakers Wednesday began exploring what the roles and responsibilities of sheriffs are. That included the beginning stages of a bill -- and possible constitutional amendment -- to change the structure of sheriffs’ offices.

“We’re not going to provide public safety if we don’t have credible accountable leaders in the office of sheriff. In Vermont, many of them are, but we have a handful of incidents that are leading us to believe maybe there is something wrong with the structure of how we set up that office in the constitution and in statute,” said Rep. Mike McCarthy, D-St. Albans. He stressed that the discussions and any potential legislation are not aimed at tearing down law enforcement.

Officials say the lack of oversight can be chalked up, in part, to the state constitution and the limited role county government plays. There’s only a handful of county power structures, including sheriffs and state’s attorneys, whereas in other states county government plays a much larger role.

Sheriffs Wednesday said that the vast majority of their departments are made up of public servants that want to work with the Legislature to be more professional and accountable.

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