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Norwich University students
Norwich University students deny charges in hazing investigation

BARRE — Two Norwich University students have entered not guilty pleas to the charges they face related to a hazing investigation at the school involving allegations of waterboarding and branding.

Amanda Lodi, 22, of Acton, Massachusetts, has pleaded not guilty in Washington County criminal court in Barre to a misdemeanor count of reckless endangerment. If convicted, Lodi faces a maximum sentence of a year in prison. She has been released on her own recognizance.

Bryana Pena, 22, of Brockton, Massachusetts, has pleaded not guilty to a misdemeanor count of simple assault. If convicted, Pena faces a maximum sentence of a year in prison. She also was released on her own recognizance. The state had tried to charge Pena with an additional misdemeanor count of reckless endangerment, but Judge Kevin Griffin said he couldn’t find probable cause to support that charge given the information presented.

Lodi and Pena were scheduled to be arraigned at the courthouse in Barre on Thursday, but their attorneys filed motions asking for their appearance to be waived and for the attorneys to enter not guilty pleas on their behalf. Lodi is represented by attorney David Sleigh and Pena is represented by attorney Leah Henderson. Judge Griffin approved those motions.

Police said a third student who is 21 years old has been cited for simple assault and reckless endangerment. But police have not released the identity of that student, stating the student will be treated as a youthful offender where the court proceedings are confidential. It’s unclear what the status is for that case. Washington County State’s Attorney Rory Thibault declined to comment when asked about the third student, an expected response when someone is being treated as a youthful offender.

Police said Pena, Lodi and four other students also received civil hazing tickets, which carry a maximum fine of $5,000. The four other students are Ember Rousseau, 21, of St. Johnsbury; Caitlin Burke, 20, of Greenwich, Connecticut; Morgan Butcher, 21, of Burlington, Massachusetts; and Kennedy Mack, 22, of Staten Island, New York. Lodi and Mack are contesting their tickets with a merits hearing yet to be scheduled, according to court records. Butcher is not contesting the ticket and has accepted a $1,000 fine.

All of the students were members of the women’s rugby team at the time of the incident, except for Pena who is a member of the women’s lacrosse team.

Officer Karie Tucker, of the Northfield police, said in her affidavit on March 20 police were dispatched to Norwich for a report that someone was being held at knifepoint. Tucker said Lodi was found intoxicated inside her room in Dodge Hall. She said Lodi reported a male with dark hair had taken a knife from Lodi. Police later said there was no evidence to support Lodi had been attacked with a knife.

Tucker said a witness told police Lodi had been branded and needed help.

The officer said she spoke with Lodi on March 22. Tucker said Lodi reported she was branded in her dorm room by members of the rugby team.

Lodi told Tucker she was “on my face when it happened, and I was pretty (expletive) drunk,” according to court records. The officer said Lodi reported she would not have consented to being branded had she been sober, and she may have been held down at the time because the brand was messed up.

Tucker said Lodi reported Pena and Rousseau were involved in the branding and Burke may have been there. She said Lodi reported she had also been in Mack’s room during that evening.

Tucker said Lodi gave the officer permission to look at her cellphone where there were text messages between Lodi and witnesses the night of the incident. The officer said she observed a video on Snapchat where it appeared Lodi was holding down a chair while a second female poured liquid onto a piece of cloth covering a third female’s face, an action described as waterboarding. Tucker said the video came from a Snapchat account named “Bry” which she believed belonged to Pena.

Tucker said search warrants were executed at the school April 1. She said police spoke with Mack, who reported she had no idea Lodi had been branded until she saw a picture of it. The officer said she had learned through the investigation that Mack also had a brand on her backside. When questioned about it, Tucker said Mack reported she didn’t know what her brand had to do with her friend “being attacked.” Tucker said Mack reported she was branded in February along with Butcher, Burke and Pena. Mack told the officer the branding was consensual, according to court records.

Court records show students have been known to brand each other at Norwich using brass from Corps of Cadets uniforms.

Tucker said she spoke with Austin Hall, the head coach of the women’s rugby team at Norwich, on April 4 and showed him the waterboarding video. She said he reported it appeared Lodi and Rousseau were waterboarding a teammate.

Daphne Larkin, director of media relations and community affairs at Norwich, said in a statement last month, “Norwich University is committed to a campus environment that is safe, supportive, developmental and conducive to learning both academically and personally. We have zero-tolerance regarding hazing misconduct from our students and aggressively pursue any violations that occur. Our University strongly identifies with our guiding values and is committed to our clearly established student-athlete code of conduct and hazing policy. Student athletes named in the investigation were suspended immediately after the incident occurred from representing the university during athletic competition. We have completed our internal and administrative investigations and will be taking appropriate disciplinary action. Due to FERPA compliance no further details on student discipline will be disclosed.”

Larkin said in an email Thursday five of the six students involved in the investigation, with the exception being Lodi, are currently on “active” status at the school, meaning they are eligible to register for classes.

eric.blaisdell @timesargus.com


Actors with the Vermont Youth Theater rehearse a scene for their presentation of Narnia 2022 on Wednesday at the Bethany Church in Montpelier. Performances for the show will be at 6:30 p.m. this Saturday, and at 3:00 and 6:30 p.m. on Sunday, at the church.

Chronicling a play


Local
Confluence Park
Council shifts focus from one park to another

MONTPELIER — Plans for Confluence Park are coming together, but it’s proximity to a portable park that was just trucked away following a flood of behavior-related complaints wasn’t lost on city councilors Wednesday night.

Though it didn’t dampen their enthusiasm for the park proposed at the confluence of the Winooski River and its North Branch, councilors acknowledged the small riverside space is just a short stretch of bike path — much of it a bridge — away from where Guertin Park spent several troubled months.

That run ended last week when the pergola-like gazebo that had become a haven for homeless residents and a source of chronic complaints was removed at the direction of councilors who described it as a failed experiment.

Those current events caught up with Confluence Park even as Richarda Ericson, deputy director of the Vermont River Conservancy, was updating the council on project for which Montpelier voters recently approved $600,000 in funding.

Resident Peter Kelman was the first to broach the issue, noting some of the unhoused residents who had used Guertin Park had drifted across the river to a picnic table located on the property where Confluence Park is planned.

“It’s a very small space,” Kelman noted, wondering whether the picnic table would remain when the park is developed and suggesting he was heartened to hear Ericson describe the park as a place that would be “open to people with varied life experiences.”

“It would be great if this could be designed in such a way that it could be shared among all kinds of people in Montpelier,” he said.

Ericson agreed.

“We are very much aware of those concerns ... and want it to be a park for the people,” she said.

Ericson said designing a space that is “fun and welcoming” to people of all backgrounds and a variety of physical abilities is a “top priority” and it’s small size is an understood challenge as the “community project” that has pivoted from from conceptual to final design.

“How can we have it such that not one use overwhelms another use,” she said, expressing her hope the answer will be reflected in shovel-ready plans.

That was welcome news to Councilor Cary Brown given the recent complaints that dogged Guertin Park from one location to another and prompted the council’s two-week-old decision to store it in the public works garage.

“I’m very glad you’re thinking about it,” she told Ericson. “It’s top of mind to a lot of folks.”

Brown said she was eager to see the final design and hopeful the park will be inviting to a broad range of users notwithstanding it’s size.

“Looking at this small space … it seems that it has the potential for any small group of folks, or any one kind of use, to kind of dominate it and make it feel less welcoming and inviting to other people,” she said.

Ericson said “community engagement” has been critical with respect to the proposed park that was a pipe dream for decades and has been the subject of serious discussion since 2017. A conceptual plan was completed in 2019 and presented to the council in early 2020 before the pandemic forced a shift in focus to fundraising.

Those efforts have been successful and include landing a $300,000 grant from Land and Water Conservation Fund a year ago to $600,000 that was included in a broader bond issue that voters approved in March.

The bond money was pitched as the last piece of financing for a park, portions of which, due to its riverside location will occasionally be underwater.

“It may flood at times so we need to make sure we have a flood-able, adaptable park,” Ericson said of a riverfront amenity that will provide easy access to the water for folks who want to go fishing or launch a canoe or kayak.

Though the design is focused on the park, Ericson said the potential for removing two nearby dams could open up a corridor of the river in a way that could be “transformative.”

Ericson said there are plenty of examples of “riverside and river-centric cities” out west, but few on this side of the country.

“Montpelier could be the example,” she said.

While “inclusivity” is a top design priority, ensuring accessibility is another key feature. Ericson said arranging future maintenance of the park — whether through the city or community volunteers — will be critical, programming will be important and, given the proposed boat launch, some consideration should be given to swift water rescue.

Councilors weren’t asked to make any decisions with respect to the still-evolving project.

david.delcore @timesargus.com


Cristina Alvarez, a registered nurse at Central Vermont Medical Center, and colleagues enjoy a luncheon Thursday provided by members of the Vermont EMS District 6. Members of local EMS departments served food to hundreds of nurses and musician Dave Keller provided entertainment to celebrate Nurse Appreciation Week.

A healthy appreciation


Local
Council approves committee stipend policy

MONTPELIER — Volunteers who serve on a soon-to-be-expanded list of municipal boards and committees will soon be eligible for stipends, and there are now new rules for residents participating in those public meetings.

On a night when city councilors postponed action on a policy that would require equipment used to operate municipal buildings to be fossil fuel-free by 2030, they approved a policy that will make stipends available to those serving on various volunteer committees starting July 1.

Recommended as a way to attract a more diverse pool of applicants to engage in municipal affairs, the stipends — $50 for every regularly scheduled meeting — will be available on a first-come-first-served basis and be paid until the $30,000 the council has budgeted runs out.

Proof of attendance — in-person or virtual — is required under a policy that seeks to compensate volunteers for their time and expenses, if any, ranging from child care to transportation.

The idea of offering stipends to eliminate barriers to volunteer service was recommended by the consultants who completed an equity assessment of the city last summer and was backed by members of its Social & Economic Justice Council.

During budget deliberations late last year, councilors included $30,000 in the budget in an effort to respond to the recommendation and get some sense about how widespread requests for stipends would be among those who haven’t historically been compensated for their service to the city.

With 155 unique volunteers — many serving on municipal panels that meet at least monthly — $30,000 won’t last long if all file the requisite paperwork to receive the new stipends starting July 1.

Councilors enthusiastically supported the pilot program, though one wondered whether the names of those who receive payments could somehow be shielded from a public records request.

City Manager Bill Fraser said the payment of the stipends — much like the ones councilors receive — was public information.

Councilor Dona Bate said she hoped that wouldn’t discourage people from requesting a token payment for their service to the city.

“We get our little stipends, and we shouldn’t feel guilty,” she said. “We deserve this little bit of stipend.”

The list of committees whose members would qualify for the new stipends will soon get a little longer after councilors agreed to confer official status to an informal housing task force that was created 22 years ago.

With housing a front burner issue, councilors were encouraged by the task force to create a Housing Committee and appoint up to 11 members to serve on that new panel.

Councilors unanimously approved the request and agreed to begin recruiting people to serve on the committee.

The council also unanimously approved a new four-page policy outlining “rules of conduct at public meetings.”

Councilors were told the proposed rules — some more subjective than others, and one ultimately scrapped as unnecessary — had been vetted by the city attorney and were designed to address conduct of those attending meetings of the council and all other city committees, commissions, boards and task forces.

The thrust of the rules are to maintain order, ensure all people are heard and can participate in a respectful and safe environment.

Councilor Jack McCullough was among those comfortable with changes he said don’t discourage public participation and even public criticism, while setting standards for decorum and ensuring the council and other elected and appointed bodies are able to get their work done.

The council approved the rules and agreed they would be effective immediately.

david.delcore @timesargus.com


Rail

“In a perfect world, we wouldn’t need a month to show our appreciation for nurses because it should be expressed clearly throughout the year.”

Editorial, A4

Marching forward

Norwich and UVM lock up victories in the NCAA men’s lacrosse tourney. B1


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