Hardwick retains two police chiefs on payroll as investigations drag on

Irina Baranova
A Hardwick police cruiser. Photograph courtesy of Hardwick Police Division

5 and a half months after Hardwick positioned its police chief on go away, a proper investigation into the matter has solely not too long ago begun. In the meantime, the city has already paid over $54,000 this 12 months to an interim chief, along with holding Police Chief Aaron Cochran on payroll.

The city plans to increase interim chief Mike Henry’s contract — initially set to run by June 30 — till Oct. 31 whereas the Williston Police Division conducts an investigation into Cochran’s skilled conduct, in keeping with City Supervisor David Upson. 

That investigation is the fourth in a collection stemming from a Could 2021 incident through which former Hardwick Police Sgt. Darin Barber took residence a bottle of whiskey that had been confiscated as proof, in keeping with media stories on the time.

Upson confirmed that Cochran performed an inside investigation of the incident, concluded that division coverage was unclear about what to do with confiscated alcohol, and cleared Barber of any wrongdoing. 

In December 2021, the Caledonia County State’s Lawyer’s workplace filed a “Brady letter” — which alerts that an officer’s credibility has been referred to as into query — towards Barber. The letter states that Cochran’s investigation resulted in a division coverage change however no disciplinary motion.

After Cochran’s investigation, it was an officer who had left the Hardwick Police Division who introduced the incident to the eye of the state’s lawyer’s workplace, in keeping with Upson. The workplace reached out to the city and requested it to conduct a overview of Cochran’s investigation, which was then accomplished by the Williston Police Division.

That unbiased overview discovered that Sgt. Barber seemed to be in violation of division and city insurance policies, Upson confirmed. Because of this, the Caledonia County State’s Lawyer’s Workplace stopped accepting instances from Barber in January. Barber resigned the identical month.

Hardwick then filed a criticism towards Cochran with the Vermont Legal Justice Coaching Council, which certifies regulation enforcement officers. Act 56 is a state regulation that requires companies to file such complaints after they change into conscious of misconduct by a member of the police pressure, together with a failure to conduct a sound investigation.

Cochran acknowledged in a textual content message on Friday that he had not mismanaged the preliminary investigation and had acted in line with the city’s insurance policies and on the recommendation of the city’s attorneys. He’s being represented by lawyer Pietro Lynn.

On Jan. 10, the city positioned Cochran on paid administrative go away, pending the council’s investigation. Nonetheless, in keeping with Upson, that investigation has but to start. 

“We will’t even get the coaching council to provoke an investigation as a result of they’re backlogged and don’t have the personnel to do it,” Upson informed VTDigger in a June 13 interview.

Council deputy director Christopher Brickell stated he might neither affirm nor deny if the city of Hardwick had filed a criticism, citing confidentiality necessities. He did notice that the place that handles such investigations is at the moment vacant, so the council is counting on a contractor to conduct them.

Brickell identified that, in a majority of these conditions, the council’s function is proscribed to figuring out whether or not a regulation enforcement officer ought to stay licensed. He pressured that cities can conduct their very own investigations to find out whether or not their workers have dedicated violations.

In keeping with Upson, the Vermont League of Cities and Cities initially prompt Hardwick await the coaching council to conduct its investigation. Nonetheless, after urging from Brickell and the passage of time, Upson stated he went again to VLCT, which then directed him to make an settlement with one other native division to look into Cochran’s dealing with of the preliminary investigation. The league declined to touch upon the matter. 

In keeping with Upson, Hardwick requested that the Williston Police Division conduct that exterior overview round Could 18. Upson stated he hopes it will likely be accomplished as quickly as potential in order that the city can convey the outcomes to VLCT and decide about Cochran’s employment.

“It’s all identical to crossing our t’s and dotting our i’s and ensuring that we don’t do one thing that’s going to (trigger) us heartache down the highway,” Upson stated. “Upon getting a contract with an worker, you need to actually do your due diligence to just remember to’re not making the mistaken strikes.”

Upson stated that the city is not ready for a ruling from the council.

“That ship has sailed,” he stated, noting the accumulating expense of paying two police chief salaries. The council “just isn’t ready that’s going to work with our timeline.”

In keeping with Cochran’s present contract, which runs by June 30, 2023, he’s paid $72,072 per 12 months. Interim Police Chief Henry — a retired Vermont State Police captain — is being paid $50 per hour, which totaled $54,302.50 from his hiring on January 18 by mid-June.

In keeping with Upson, Hardwick is ready to pay each chiefs by its present police division price range as a result of current employees vacancies. At present, the division employs eight officers, one among whom is in coaching on the Police Academy and 5 of whom are part-time.

Eric Remick, chair of the Hardwick Selectboard, stated that every one questions relating to Cochran have been being directed to the city supervisor’s workplace.

“I can’t communicate for everybody however, personally, I believe that is simply a part of the method,” he stated. “I suppose we might be annoyed about it however, however, we’ve got processes and procedures to observe in order that we’re truthful to everybody.”

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