MONTPELIER — Emotions are raw following the Montpelier police shooting-death of 62-year-old Mark Johnson in the early hours of Friday morning.
Residents of Pioneer Apartments on Main Street, where Johnson lived for about 15 years, said they were concerned police shot a mentally ill man, despite the fact Johnson pointed what appeared to be a handgun at them. The weapon turned out to be a pellet gun.
Police have not said whether it was loaded.
Over the weekend, flowers, candles and a makeshift cross were placed on the Spring Street bridge near Pioneer Apartments, where Johnson was shot and killed. Pavement tributes etched in chalk read, “You are sorely missed,” “We love you Mark” and “Rest in Peace.”
According to news releases issued from Vermont State Police, which is investigating the officer-involved shooting, Montpelier Police responded to reports at 5:04 p.m. that a man was trying to enter a residence in Montpelier Apartments by using a knife to jimmy the lock.
Johnson was killed 12 minutes later, at 5:16 a.m.
When police arrived, they said they saw Johnson leaving the apartment and heading toward Spring Street, carrying what appeared to be a handgun. The officers confronted Johnson on the Spring Street bridge, where he first climbed on one railing of the bridge and then climbed down, crossed the street and climbed onto the railing on the other side of the bridge, VSP said.
Despite efforts by the officers to get Johnson to drop the weapon, de-escalate the crisis and offer to get him help, Johnson then raised the weapon at the officers, VSP said.
VSP identified the Montpelier police officer who fatally shot Johnson twice in the torso as Cpl. Chad Bean. He has been employed by the Montpelier Police Department since February 2007. Also present at the time of the shooting was Montpelier Police Officer Chris Quesnel.
VSP said officers immediately administered first aid before Johnson was transported to Central Vermont Medical Center in Berlin, where he was pronounced dead.
Johnson’s body was taken to the Chief Medical Examiner in Burlington for an autopsy where Johnson’s death was ruled a homicide.
Montpelier Police officers do not have body cameras although there is dash-cam footage from a police cruiser. VSP could not say when the video footage would be released. The Times Argus has also requested access to that footage.
When VSP concludes its investigation, it will turn over its report to the Attorney General’s Office and Washington County State’s Attorney’s Office for review.
It is the second officer-involved shooting in Montpelier in as many years, following the shooting death of former student Nathan Giffin, 32, of Essex, at Montpelier High School in January 2018. In that case, no charges were brought against the officers involved.
In the latest shooting-death, community members, including friends of Johnson, have questioned why the police did not exercise restraint because Johnson was well-known to police and had three encounters with police in June, although no charges were filed.
Some people questioned why police did not use non-lethal means to subdue Johnson, such as firing a bean-bag round from a modified shotgun, which was used recently by Montpelier Police in a similar incident at an apartment on Barre Street in March when a man wielding a knife and threatening to harm himself advanced on officers.
It is not clear why Johnson was trying to get into another person’s apartment at Pioneer Apartments, using a “small-bladed knife” to pry the lock.
Some residents said Johnson would sometimes leave his keys in his apartment and use a knife to try and jimmy the lock. There were signs of efforts to force the lock on the door of the apartment that Johnson tried to enter – the same apartment of the resident who summoned police Friday morning.
But Johnson’s apartment is on the opposite side of the hall, two doors down. Some residents said Johnson may have been confused about which apartment was his in his “deteriorating state of mental health.”
On Johnson’s door on Monday, a simple message read, “God bless.”
Residents said his death was a tragedy that should have been averted.
“He was a good friend, a hell of a nice guy – there was no need for that,” said resident Michael Barclay, as he somberly surveyed the site of the shooting Saturday morning. “Of course, (the police) don’t have Tasers – no body cameras and no Tasers, so it means they can just shoot anybody and get away with it.
“I don’t know why they couldn’t have winged him. Why didn’t they bring out the shotgun with the bean bag or the shotgun with the rubber bullets? But no, they got to blast him ... in the chest,” he added.
Police said Johnson was shot twice in the torso; residents and witnesses who heard the commotion outside said they heard three shots. Police have not confirmed how many shots were fired. The incident remains under investigation.
Barclay said he heard the escalating crisis outside, but did not actually witness the incident.
“I saw most of it,” Barclay said. “I heard it first. I could hear it but by the time I opened up (the window), boom, boom ...”
Barclay and others acknowledged that Johnson was deeply depressed but was a “quiet” and “gentle man.”
One resident who said he knew Johnson over several years at the apartment complex is John Hyslop.
Hyslop said he had been working with Johnson to help him stop buying scratch lottery tickets, and urged Johnson to quit smoking.
“We were making headway,” Hyslop said.
Hyslop also took issue with the actions of the local police and said Washington County Mental health Services also had been slow to respond to Johnson’s needs.
Asked why Johnson was carrying a pellet gun, Hyslop said he and Johnson often would do target practice together with pellet guns.
He said he believed that Johnson carried the gun when he went out in the early morning, looking for loose change on sidewalks in order “to protect himself” if he were ever challenged by strangers by being able to show he had a weapon, even if it was only a pellet gun.
Hyslop also said Johnson had been struggling with his mental illness, had difficulty scheduling doctor’s appointments, and sometimes didn’t take medication. Hyslop said Johnson had just returned from a 30-day residential treatment but was still extremely unwell.
“I believe that Mark was so sick that he was suicidal,” Hyslop said, adding that he believed that Johnson may have wanted to “commit suicide by cop.”
Anyone with information about the incident, or has video of the incident, is asked to call Vermont State Police barracks in Middlesex at 229-9191.
BARRE — Soon-to-be-mailed water and sewer bills would climb roughly 10% based on rate adjustments city councilors will be asked to approve tonight.
With time running out, City Manager Steve Mackenzie is recommending the council to bless a plan to boost the city’s two-tiered water rate by 3% while increasing the “base rate” for sewer by 4% and the “usage rate” by 20%.
In a memo to councilors, Mackenzie indicated the 20% rate hike sounds worse than it is because the combined impact of the proposed adjustments on customers of both systems would be in the range of 8 to 10%.
Still, Mackenzie acknowledged the increases that he has been forecasting for months are far larger than the incremental adjustments ratepayers have been accustomed to seeing for years.
Given the rising cost of operating the two municipal utilities, the need to cover expenses associated with recently approved water and sewer upgrades and an obligation to repay the state for work that was done in conjunction with the reconstruction of North Main Street several years ago, they have to be.
The first payments on two bond issues — one that is financing $2.4 million in water and sewer infrastructure improvements and another that is paying for a $900,000 upgrade to the wastewater treatment facility – due this year, Mackenzie said another round of nominal increases wasn’t an option.
In addition to covering the costs of the bonds, the city recently agreed to repay the state more than $900,000 in utility-related work associated with the North Main Street reconstruction project and is trying build a capital reserve to deal with anticipated equipment replacement and facilities upgrades.
The problem is more pronounced in the cash-strapped sewer fund. That fund is experiencing annual shortfall of roughly $263,000. Even with the proposed 20% increase in the usage rate, that shortfall would dip to a projected $201,000.
In order to get the sewer fund back in the black identical rate hikes would be required each year for the next four years.
That was a key feature of an administrative proposal Mackenzie said he wasn’t prepared to recommend to councilors tonight, though he didn’t rule out the possibility of revisiting it next year.
The multi-year proposal Mackenzie developed with Finance Director Dawn Monahan and Public Works Director Bill Ahearn called for committing to four annual 20% increases in the sewer usage rage and while increasing the base rate by 4%. It also called for increasing the both portions of the water rate by 4% in each of the next four years.
For the last several years both components of the water and sewer rates have increased by 3%.
Though Mackenzie said the multi-year plan could easily be justified and the sewer rate increases could arguably be higher, he is advocating a slightly more modest short term proposal.
Start with the water rates. While 4% increases were viewed as optimal, Mackenzie said indicated they weren’t mission critical because the water fund is in much better financial health than the sewer fund. He is proposing a 3% increase in the base rate, which is charged to every customer regardless of how much water they actually use and 3% in the usage rate, which is based on consumption. Those increases mirror ones the ratepayers have seen for the last several years.
On the sewer side, Mackenzie is sticking with the numbers – 4% on the base rate and 20% on the usage rate – developed as part of a collaborative analysis, but is suggesting a one-year rate adjustment instead of committing to the four-year plan.
At least for now.
Mackenzie is asking councilors to make the adjustments for this fiscal year, and assess the performance of the water and sewer funds next July before deciding whether those increases are adequate or should be adjusted for the next three years.
WILLIAMSTOWN — The Select Board wants to cut ties with Health Officer Arthur Kramer based on his handling of a recent dog bite.
During an “emergency meeting” held last Thursday Chairman Matt Rouleau said Monday the board instructed Town Manger Jackie Higgins to write a letter to Health Commissioner Mark Levine requesting Levine rescind Kramer’s certification to serve as the town’s health officer.
The status of that letter is unclear.
Higgins was arrested for driving under the influence and providing false information to police hours after Thursday’s meeting, wasn’t in the office on Friday, though she was expected to return to work on Monday.
Rouleau said he was aware of Higgins’ Thursday night arrest in Tunbridge, but noted the board, which met Monday night, hadn’t had an opportunity to discuss it and his personal knowledge was limited.
“I don’t really know enough to comment,” he said.
Rouleau offered only slightly more information when asked the board’s request Kramer’s recently renewed tenure as health officer be terminated.
According to Rouleau, the decision was driven by what he described as Kramer’s questionable handling of a “dog issue.”
Kramer, who previously served for two three-year terms as health officer and was reappointed earlier this year following a three-year hiatus, shared his version of the story on Monday.
According to Kramer, it all started when he received a form from Central Vermont Medical Center late last month advising him of a young patient who had been treated for a dog bite at the Berlin hospital.
Kramer said he received the form in his capacity as health officer because the unexplained dog bite occurred in Williamstown.
According to Kramer, the bite victim was “under three years of age,” and the family dog responsible for the bite was both unlicensed and overdue for its rabies booster.
Kramer said he opted to quarantine the dog with a South Barre veterinarian, because he could not initially ascertain whether it could safely be quarantined at home.
Kramer said that decision immediately prompted threats of a lawsuit from the dog’s owner and conversations that involved by the state Department of Health and the state veterinarian.
“It was really a Chinese fire drill,” he said, adding: “It got real nasty.”
Kramer, 76, said his own conduct was questioned, though he inadvertently learned of last week’s emergency meeting.
“I was not invited to a public meeting about me,” he said.
Kramer said he attended the meeting, defended his decision and was asked to immediately relinquish his duties as health officer.
Kramer refused and said he has since sent his own letter to the health department noting he was within his right as the town’s “duly appointed health officer” to quarantine the dog for 10 days at the owner’s expense based on safety-related concerns.
According to the handbook the department publishes for town health officers the protocol in the event of a dog bite is pretty clear. Among other things, health officers must: “… require that the animal be confined and observed for 10 days to determine whether the animal remains healthy even if rabies shots are up-to-date.”
It does allow for some discretion, while relying on the judgment of health officers.
“… Confinement and observation may be carried out at the residence of the animal’s owner so long as the animal is not able to escape, bite or expose anyone during the 10-day period,” the handbook states, adding: “If the (town health officer) feels that the owner will not be able to confine the animal appropriately, the animal can be confined in a facility at the owner’s expense.”
Kramer said he made that judgment call, was not inclined to resign less than a year into his latest term and hopeful the department wouldn’t bow to the board’s request he be stripped of his certification, paving the way for someone else to be appointed.
MONTPELIER — The 33rd annual Toy Run thundered its way through central Vermont on Saturday to support Shriners Hospitals for Children research programs.
A total of 344 motorcyclists turned out for the event that is a big draw for spectators along the route from Berlin via Barre Town and Barre City to the State House in Montpelier. Per tradition, many motorcyclists strapped soft toys to their bikes to be donated to children in nine Shriners Hospitals, along with books, games and donations of cash and checks to the organization that cares for sick children at no expense to their families.
The event is organized by United Motorcyclists of Vermont, which is dedicated to motorcycle safety, education, awareness, pro-motorcyclist legislation and individual freedom. Over the years, the event has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for Shriners Hospitals, organizers said.
At BCBS in Berlin, Mike Burt, chairman of United Motorcyclists of Vermont, was on hand to welcome some of the oldest and newest participants to the rally since it first began as Freedom of the Road Vermont in 1986.
They included Vermont veteran Jeb Nelson who has been present for every rally every year.
“We do this for the children, which is all good for me,” Nelson said. “One year, we brought enough tabs off cans to buy 40 color televisions sets for the hospitals from the sale of the aluminum tabs, which they melt down to make more aluminum.”
One of the most recent riders to join the rally this year was Eric Rubino, of Windham, Maine, who road 160 miles to help as a marshal during Saturday’s ride.
“Today’s event meant a lot to me because it had something to do with kids,” Rubino said. “Anything to do with kids is definitely heartfelt when bikers come together for a benefit to raise money or collect toys for kids.”
The rally set out at noon, traveling via Barre Town and Barre City and arriving in Montpelier at about 1 p.m. Hundreds of people lined Main and State streets as motorcyclists threaded their way through the city to the State House where bikers placed their gifts of toys, books and games on the granite steps.
Holly Wilkins, president of United Motorcyclists of Vermont, greeted the arrivals and thanked the many supporters of the event, including law enforcement officers that helped stop traffic along the route. Wilkins also thanked officials of the Capital City Farmers Market and Montpelier Police Chief Tony Facos for arranging for the market to be the Heney Lot to allow the rally to travel along State Street.
“Every single toy goes to a child that needs it but there’s also cash and checks which goes to the Shriners for research which has helped make wonderful discoveries in the past couple of years because of the research money,” Wilkins said.
Shriners Potentate Michael Parent also thank bikers for their participation and generosity.
“If it wasn’t for you, this wouldn’t be happening,” Parent said. “You people are the greatest.”
Parent noted that this year’s motorcycle club pin features a camel riding a motorcycle – a direct reference to the fact that Parent wears a camel costume during Shriners performances at parades around the region.
Ms. Vermont Outstanding Teen 2019, Danielle Trottier, of Barre, said she was proud to support the Toy Run.
“I was really thankful to be here today and when I think of service and giving back to our community, I think of us all gathered here together to make a difference for others,” Trottier said, adding that she hoped her future successors would continue to support the event.
Sen. Joe Benning, R-Caledonia, was also on hand, and has ridden in 32 Toy Runs.
“I want to tell you that in my life as a state senator and as a lawyer, I’m sometimes asked the question, ‘What do you prefer to be in – a room full of lawyers, a room full of politicians or a room full of bikers?’ You guys know the answer to that question,” Benning said, to laughs and cheers.
There were also tributes and T-shirts for motorcyclists who rode the most miles, including bikers from Maine and New York, and the oldest participant, Worcester resident Patricia Dupont, and the youngest participant, Ziva Young, aged, 2, of St. Johnsbury.
Four gas cards worth $50 each were raffled, and participants were encouraged to buy $125 raffle tickets, with only 175 being sold, to win a “twisted cherry” Harley-Davidson Low Rider motorcycle worth $13,000, from Wilkins Harley-Davidson, in South Barre.
After the rally, bikers were invited to enjoy discounted meals at some downtown restaurants in the city and to attend an after-rally party at Wilkins Harley-Davidson.
To learn more about the Toy Run and United Motorcyclists of Vermont, visit http://unitedmotorcyclists.org/wp/
“It’s difficult to know what Trump really thinks about anything, besides his fixation on himself, but the conservative Republicans whom he has enabled are committed to reducing government’s role in almost every sphere of our national life ...”
In the news
This weekend in Iowa, the presidential campaign kicked into high gear. A2
A local man is accused of lewd and lascivious behavior around Barre City children. A3
A stabbing incident in Barre yields an arrest. A3
Brown Bag Concert Series
The Revenants play Montpelier Alive’s series of free and fun lunch-time concerts. 12-1 p.m. City Hall Plaza, 39 Main Street, Montpelier, email@example.com, 802-223-9604.