BARRE — Police have released a redacted timeline of their investigation into the disappearance of Ralph “Rizz” Jean-Marie, as well as a video made by a documentary team explaining parts of the investigation.
And the activist charged with criminal contempt for not disclosing their sources of information related to Jean-Marie’s disappearance claims they should receive protection as a journalist against that prosecution.
The police department posted on its Facebook page Friday a redacted timeline of the investigation since Jean-Marie, a 38-year-old Black man, was last seen at The Hollow Inn in April 2020.
Supporters of Jean-Marie have said they believe more hasn’t been done to find him because of the color of his skin and his lower economic status. An article in Seven Days nearly two months ago revealed investigators had not gone door-to-door canvassing the area around the motel looking for information about Jean-Marie nor had they checked surveillance footage from a nearby storage facility that sits on the same road as the motel.
Police have denied race having any impact on the investigation. Police have said they don’t have much to go on because Jean-Marie wasn’t reported missing until over 60 hours after he was last seen. The disappearance is considered suspicious because he left behind much of his personal belongings and police have said those that know what happened to him aren’t coming forward.
The timeline includes general descriptions about areas that were searched, people of interest who were spoken to and the steps taken as part of the investigation.
The department also posted on its Facebook page Friday a video made by a documentary crew that is focusing on Jean-Marie. The nearly eight-minute long video shows Barre Detective Joel Pierce and Chief Tim Bombardier talking about how the case was initially treated as a missing person, not a case where someone was intentionally harmed, and why some information about the investigation needs to be kept from the public to preserve any future criminal charges for those involved. It also shows the effort police made to get the word out about Jean-Marie’s disappearance which was difficult because this all took place at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.
Bombardier said Monday putting out this information was not an attempt by his department to defend itself from the criticism it’s received. He said it was released so people have a broad idea of what’s going on with the case.
Bombardier said he reached out to Anthony Marques, one of the people on the documentary crew, and asked if they could work together on a video that could be posted on the department’s page to help get the word out.
Bombardier said, “I think the video is informative both as to what has gone on with this case, some of the inconsistencies, some of the hurdles, but it also serves the purpose of keeping Ralph’s disappearance front and center in everybody’s mind.”
Marques declined an interview request Monday. Rebecca Ronga, the director of communications for the documentary, said the goal of the film is to document the case and the progress made. She said the crew is made up of members of the community.
“We all want to see Ralph be found or justice served in this case. That’s actually one of the priorities of this documentary,” she said.
Ronga said when law enforcement reaches out and wants to bring the community closer to the case, it would be against what the crew is doing to deny that. Ronga said the video was what police wanted to tell the community.
The video had over 1,200 views as of Monday afternoon.
Marques said on his YouTube page where the video was posted, “The Barre City Police Department has officially put out their timeline on terms of the Ralph Jean-Marie case. So much is going on behind the scenes and they want the family and community of Ralph Jean Marie to know that they aren’t giving up nor have they stopped moving forward with the investigation. They have been fully transparent with the Documentary being made on Ralph Jean-Marie and we are excited to continue moving forward with doing what we can as a team to support them in whatever way we can.”
Comments have been disabled on both posts on the police department’s Facebook page. Bombardier said that’s because there have been many rumors and unfounded reports his officers have been chasing while investigating this case and he didn’t want to add to it.
He said neither he nor Marques felt any comments were needed on the two posts.
“We’re doing it for the purpose of keeping this front and center, not looking for feedback,” the chief said.
The timeline notes someone, possibly Jean-Marie, called in a prescription to an out-of-state medical provider hours after he was reportedly last seen. Bombardier said this could mean Jean-Marie was alive and active for longer than what’s been reported or someone else made the call in an attempt to cover their tracks.
The only one facing a charge in this matter thus far is an activist from Burlington who has refused to disclose their sources about surveillance footage from the motel.
Lee Morrigan, 36, faces a contempt of court charge. Morrigan uses they/them pronouns.
They have been an outspoken critic of the investigation. Morrigan confronted Bombardier about the footage at a news conference held in April to mark the one year anniversary of Jean-Marie’s disappearance. Bombardier wouldn’t confirm or deny the existence of the footage, but Morrigan said they have sources confirming it exists.
Morrigan declined to speak to investigators, so a subpoena was issued and Morrigan was called into court for an inquest hearing last month, which is a confidential court process involving an active investigation.
Washington County State’s Attorney Rory Thibault and Judge Mary Morrissey compelled Morrigan at the hearing to reveal the two sources who told them about the footage and Morrigan refused. Morrigan said they have never seen the footage and police are supposed to have it so they don’t understand why Thibault is so determined to find out their sources. Thibault had said investigators want to know if there are sources of information out there that they don’t know about.
Morrigan’s attorney, Avi Springer, has filed a motion asking for a hearing on the matter instead of the summary judgment Thibault has asked for on the contempt charge. Springer said in the motion if that hearing is allowed, he’d argue because Morrigan was part of the documentary crew when they learned that information, they are protected from disclosing it under journalist’s privilege. Springer said in the motion Morrigan is no longer part of the crew and was not when they were charged which is why they didn’t think to bring that up during last month’s hearing.
Morrigan declined to comment on the motion or the police department’s Facebook posts Monday, saying they look forward to their next day in court which is June 27. Springer declined to comment on the motion.
Thibault also declined to comment on the motion except to say the state will be filing a response.
Ronga said Morrigan “was involved to some extent” in the documentary, but they parted ways when the crew realized Morrigan “was not on the same page.”
Anyone with information about Jean-Marie’s disappearance or his location is asked to call Barre City police at 802-476-6613. A $5,000 reward has been offered for information leading to the location of Jean-Marie and those responsible for his disappearance.