The Vermont branch of the NAACP and the ACLU of Vermont are calling for a “broader inquiry” into Bennington officials after Vermont Attorney General T.J. Donovan told reporters last week that the Bennington Police Department failed to disclose relevant information during an investigation of threats and harassment against Kiah Morris and her family.
Morris was the second black woman elected to serve in the Vermont House of Representatives. Last year, she ended her campaign for re-election because of ongoing harassment.
Bennington resident Max Misch, who described himself as a “troll” who thought it was fun to send Morris racially-hateful messages, was arraigned last week in Bennington criminal court for allegedly possessing large-capacity magazines in violation of a Vermont law passed last year.
Misch bought the magazines in New Hampshire, where the sale would not be illegal, and allegedly brought them back to Vermont. Police said they were found in his home when a search warrant was executed last week.
Speaking to reporters after the arraignment, Donovan said the Bennington police knew Misch had bought large-capacity magazines in October. He said his office should have been told about that.
The charges brought against Misch were based on magazines purchased in December.
The press release accuses law-enforcement in Bennington of being a system of “dysfunction” when it comes to racial justice issues.
“The ACLU has a pending racial profiling lawsuit against Bennington PD, based in part on police stop data showing Bennington PD has some of the worst racial disparities in the state. A recent study of traffic stop records showed disparities in 22 of 24 Bennington PD officers’ stops. Nonetheless, Chief (Paul) Doucette has repeatedly denied that bias exists in his department,” the release said.
Members of the NAACP and staff at the ACLU called for non-specified “state officials” to look into the Morris case, including whether any other relevant information or evidence was improperly withheld and by whom.
“The fact is that Kiah Morris' ordeal — including Bennington law enforcement’s handling of it — would be almost inconceivable if the races of the individuals involved were reversed. That is systemic racism in action. It cannot be ignored any longer,” the release said.
The statement criticized Donovan, saying his “conclusions and public statements in this case have focused on the conduct of private citizens, ignoring the actions and inactions of Bennington officials.”
A spokeswoman for Donovan said his office would release a statement on Monday.
Calls to Bennington officials had not yet been returned as of 3 p.m. on Monday.
This story will be updated.