In response to our press release regarding my deputy’s reported discharge of their weapon, I’ve received numerous constructive concerns and questions. It is my intent by writing this that I help explain the nuances.
Hiring and training at the Sheriff’s Office
The community can have confidence in our hiring and training processes. The minimum hiring criteria for any Vermont agency includes medical examination, written examination (currently suspended pending adoption of a new test by the Vermont Criminal Justice Council), psychological testing, background and character checks, polygraph, a minimum education of a high school diploma/general education development certificate, be eighteen or older, and complete various forms of training including academic, scenario-based, and field-supervised training under the direct supervision of a qualified officer. These criteria are determined by Vermont law and the rules of the Vermont Criminal Justice Council.
What we don’t do is measure any protected characteristics, such as age. To do so would be unlawful discrimination under Vermont’s Fair Employment Practices laws. Vermont allows any individual between the age of eighteen, up to an undefined age, to be a law enforcement officer if they meet established qualifying requirements. Federal law protects anyone age forty or older from age discrimination. There have been numerous successful Vermont law enforcement officers who began their careers at the age of eighteen. I am an example of one. My department’s strategy for helping develop new deputies with less life experience combines them in working situations with supervision including traffic direction, transports of in-custody individuals and other lower-risk settings, which helps develop them into the public servants and peace officers we’ve developed a reputation for having.
Publication of an individual’s name and other personal characteristics
Some people have requested that my office confirm the identity of the deputy. I ask the community to trust that I will do a diligent, thorough, and proper job in working on this. I have every vested interest that a reasonable, rational solution results from our investigation.
From an employer’s perspective, we are conducting an internal investigation of an employee to evaluate actions through the lens of our policies, procedures, and training. This is a root-cause analysis and can be a disciplinary investigation. Often, employers (public or private) do not disclose specific details of internal investigations publicly. To do so can complicate our internal investigation, complicate the Bellows Falls Police Department’s criminal investigation (of which, their work supersedes our internal investigation), and can create liabilities for the department. It is important to note that an internal investigation and a criminal investigation occur in parallel and are equally critical in this situation. Both have certain requirements and limitations established in law and legal rulings. We want to ensure that both investigations are leveraged to their maximum potential.
What is standard procedure when a firearm is discharged?
When a Windham County deputy is involved in an incident involving the discharge of a weapon, our “Deputy Involved Shooting” policy/procedure is initiated. This policy necessitates summoning a department supervisor to the scene who will make notification to the Windham County State’s Attorney, and physically secure the involved-deputies weapon. Our policy demands a “complete, thorough, and factual investigation,” and directs that criminal investigation to be conducted by the Vermont State Police and/or any agency tasked by the Windham County State’s Attorney. It requires that I provide a news release with as much information as possible without being prematurely judgmental or compromising the legal and personal considerations of the deputy.
The discharge of a weapon also causes an internal investigation to be conducted. It is important to note that an internal investigation is not only for identifying if an employee violated established policies, procedures, or training, but forces a review of said policies, procedures, and trainings to ensure we remain current, and address any gaps we identify to prevent further occurrences of similar events.
Regarding the incident in question, we have accomplished or are working to accomplish all these things now.
How long does an internal investigation take?
There is no prescribed amount of time an internal investigation can take. We demand a prompt and thorough investigation which means talking to numerous individuals, including all people involved, subject matter experts, trainers and any other appropriate person identified through the investigation. We have seen internal investigations be opened and closed in a matter of hours, while others have lasted months. Because there is no prescribed limit, we create set guardrails to ensure the process is followed. Every seven days, I receive a status report on an internal investigation until it is concluded.
-Sheriff Mark Anderson
Issued: 05/21/2022 1:19 PM
A Windham County Sheriff’s deputy has been placed on unpaid administrative leave, pending the outcome of an internal investigation regarding the discharge of a department firearm in their Bellows Falls residence while off-duty. No one was injured in the incident.
“The community holds deputies to a high standard. They are trusted with immense responsibilities. The Vermont Police Academy and my department train our deputies in proper handling, maintenance, and care of their equipment,” said Sheriff Mark Anderson. “I am thankful that no one was injured in this incident. I have directed my staff to conduct an internal investigation to identify what occurred, what safety principles and policies were not followed, and identify our next steps. We have notified the Windham County State’s Attorney and have requested an outside law enforcement agency to determine if any criminal action has occurred.”
An internal investigation’s intent is to make determinations based on the sheriff’s policies and procedures. The purpose of an internal investigation is meant to:
1. Determine if an employee violated the rules, regulations, and policies of the WCSO
2. Provide early indicators of possible personnel issues;
3. Facilitate prompt and just disciplinary action;
4. Uncover defective, outdated, or missing procedures, policies or guidelines or material; and
5. Provide a mechanism for administrative and citizen review
6. Ensure employees are provided with information concerning their rights pursuant to a complaint and internal investigation.
“While personnel/employment matters remain confidential as a matter of law, we will work our process to ensure an appropriate outcome. I want to apologize to the people and community affected by this incident,” Sheriff Anderson concluded. “We will provide future information upon conclusion of our investigation.”