Bennington Police Department headquarters. Photo by Emma Cotton/VTDigger

Bennington police said a man who died in their custody Thursday was given emergency medical care by an officer after he was seen sitting on the floor and leaning against the wall in a holding cell.

The man, whose name has not been released, was arrested along with two other people at about 3:45 p.m. Thursday during a drug-related search at the Apple Valley Inn in Bennington, police have said.

All three arrestees were placed in separate holding areas at the Bennington Police Department. An hour later, an officer saw one of them sitting on the floor and leaning against the wall, checked him, and immediately called the Bennington Rescue Squad emergency medical service, the Bennington Police Department said in a press release Friday morning.

The officer provided emergency medical care until the rescue squad arrived, Bennington police said. But efforts to revive the man failed, and he was pronounced dead at the police department at 5:19 p.m., after which Bennington police said they asked Vermont State Police to conduct an investigation in accordance with established procedures.

State police, who announced the death on Thursday night, have said their preliminary investigation showed no indication that Bennington police used physical force on the man.

Bennington Police Chief Paul Doucette and the assistant chief, Lt. Camillo Grande, didn’t immediately respond to an interview request on Friday.

Read the story on VTDigger here: Bennington police: Officer provided emergency care to man who died in custody.

Bennington Police Department headquarters. Photo by Emma Cotton/VTDigger

Less than two hours after he was taken into custody, a man died Thursday afternoon in a holding cell at the Bennington Police Department. 

In a press release issued Thursday night, Vermont State Police said there was no indication that Bennington police had used physical force on the man, who was not immediately identified. State police are investigating the death. 

The man was one of three people Bennington police took into custody at around 3:50 p.m. on Thursday, according to state police. They were apprehended at the Apple Valley Inn on Route 7 as police executed a search warrant related to a drug investigation. 

The man was taken to the police station and found unresponsive at around 4:40 p.m., state police said. Bennington officers and first responders provided emergency medical care but failed to revive him. He was pronounced dead at the station at 5:19 p.m., according to state police. 

Bennington police notified state police of the death at 5:30 p.m. State police detectives responded to the station to begin a death investigation, according to the release. The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner is expected to perform an autopsy.

Read the story on VTDigger here: Man dies in Bennington police custody.

As Reported by VTDigger

Alan Weissman, left, and Tom Dee discuss the development plans for the former Southern Vermont College at an event on the campus on Tuesday. Photo by Isabel Wissner/VTDigger

BENNINGTON — A New York real estate firm intends to convert the former Southern Vermont College campus into a luxury resort, once the property’s sale from a local health care group is finalized.

The resort would feature 130 hotel rooms, a high-end restaurant, a spa and an event venue, said Alan Weissman, CEO of Alfred Weissman Real Estate, which is in the process of buying the former college campus from Southwestern Vermont Health Care.

“Our goal here is to improve the overall economy in the community, restore a prized property here in Bennington,” Weissman said in an interview Tuesday morning, after his firm, which is based in Harrison, New York, formally announced its plans at a gathering on the campus’s Everett Mansion.

He declined to reveal the purchase price for the 366-acre property, which encompasses the former student dormitories, a gymnasium and a soccer field. Also included is the early 20th century mansion, constructed in the English-Norman style and listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Everett Mansion at the former Southern Vermont College campus. Photo by Isabel Wissner/VTDigger

The planned resort, rated four or five stars, would be a three-season destination in New England, Weissman told about 35 people who attended the announcement.

Weissman said he hopes to begin construction in a year and to welcome guests by late 2025. He said some high-end hotel chains are interested in partnering with his firm, but those discussions are still in preliminary stages.

He expects the resort to hire up to 150 workers and to buy its food supplies locally. He said one of the two architects on the project is Centerline Architects and Planners, a Bennington firm.

“There’s all sorts of jobs that are created in the hotel world,” he said. “I think a lot of our guests will be visiting downtown, shopping in your stores, eating in your restaurants, that kind of thing.”

Bennington officials said they hope the resort project will boost the town’s revitalization efforts, following on the heels of the multimillion-dollar Putnam Block construction project in the center of town and the opening of the first downtown grocery store in decades.

Bennington Town Manager Stuart Hurd speaks during the event at the Everett Mansion on Tuesday. Photo by Isabel Wissner/VVTDigger

“It’s something that we’ve probably all been dreaming about since the health care system acquired the property,” Bennington Town Manager Stuart Hurd said at the event. “This property is very important to the community and could have gone south.”

Southwestern Vermont Health Care, which operates the hospital in Bennington that is across the street from the former college, acquired the property for $4.65 million at a U.S. Bankruptcy Court auction in December 2020. Southern Vermont College closed in the spring of 2019 after financial pressures cost the school its accreditation.

The health care group, which used portions of the campus for Covid-19 testing and vaccination, has decided to keep a part of the 371-acre campus: 5 acres of baseball field.

“We knew we’d have a need for some future growth,” Tom Dee, president and CEO of Southwestern Vermont Health Care, said in an interview. “We also wanted to kind of maintain our involvement in the whole development of this property, so that gives us a chance.”

The Everett Mansion is the centerpiece of the former Southern Vermont College campus. Photo by Isabel Wissner/VTDigger

He said the health care group is still figuring out what to do with its campus land, including whether that’s a good location for a new child care facility that has received federal funding.

Dee said the decision to sell most of the campus to Weissman’s firm was informed by a survey, in which 70% of 1,200 respondents indicated a desire to see the former college turned into a hospitality venue.

The New York real estate firm would partner with the Preservation Trust of Vermont to preserve the mansion and with the Bennington Area Trail System to keep the onsite trail system open to the public.
Alfred Weissman Real Estate, which has been developing commercial property for more than 50 years, has done a lot of its work in New York. Its website profile says the firm typically tackles projects that are too small for large investors, and too big for small, independent investors.

About 35 people attended the event at the Everett Mansion on Tuesday Photo by Isabel Wissner/VTDigger

Read the story on VTDigger here: New York firm plans to turn former Southern Vermont College into luxury resort.

As Reported by VTDigger

Sens. Dick Sears and Brian Campion. File photos by Erin Mansfield and Glenn Russell/VTDigger

Bennington’s two state senators introduced legislation last month authorizing municipalities to create civilian boards with strong powers to oversee their police departments — after the town wanted a local board to oversee complaints against Bennington police.

But now some Bennington officials say they no longer want legislators’ help on the matter, with the town manager describing the bill as having “gone too far.” The ACLU of Vermont and the Rutland Area NAACP, meanwhile, consider the bill, S.75, a step toward more police accountability. 

Sen. Ruth Hardy, D-Addison, who chairs the Senate Government Operations Committee, where the bill was sent, said she doesn’t expect it to meet the Legislature’s March 17 crossover deadline to clear her panel but anticipates returning to it later this session or next year.

The legislation proposes giving civilian boards the authority to manage police departments, much like selectboards, town managers and police chiefs do.

The bill doesn’t mandate municipalities to do anything. Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington, who co-sponsored the bill with Sen. Brian Campion, D-Bennington, said the two introduced it to prevent towns — such as Bennington — from having to enact a charter change just to have an effective police oversight board.

“They can do any of it, all of it, none of it, just a little bit,” Sears said. “Set it up any way they want.”

These civilian boards would receive, investigate and rule on misconduct complaints against police officers, then issue sanctions in accordance with collective bargaining agreements.

Each board could also hire an attorney, police investigators and administrative staff. To aid in a board’s investigations, members would be able to subpoena witnesses and inspect police department documents, including personnel records and body camera footage.

Such boards would publicize their findings and any disciplinary measures against an officer, as well as complaints that are dismissed.

But, according to Bennington Town Manager Stuart Hurd, “If it was meant to be a bill that Bennington wanted, it went way too far.”

Last spring, town officials sought the help of state legislators when they created Bennington’s first Community Policing Advisory Review Board — and were told that state law barred the civilian board from reviewing the police chief’s findings regarding complaints against local officers. Police oversight apparently fell only within the purview of the chief, town manager and selectboard.

Since then, town officials have figured out that a mechanism within the Bennington Police Department allows the civilian board authority to review police complaints and the chief’s findings. But some details in those reports would be redacted, Hurd said, such as the identity of the police officer who was investigated and the complainant’s name.

Given this development, Bennington Selectboard Chair Jeannie Jenkins said Bennington and other municipalities won’t need S.75 to oversee complaints against police.

“I think it’s not necessary,” Jenkins said. “I feel like there are easier ways to accomplish what we’re trying to accomplish.”

They pointed to other downsides. She and Hurd said a civilian board could become costly if authorized to hire its own staff.

Hurd said members of the civilian board would need to undergo extensive training before they’re qualified to have a hand in potentially disciplining officers. He said this includes understanding personnel law and the challenges of a police officer’s job.

“Being able to deal with personnel is not something that the average citizen knows coming off the street,” Hurd said. 

He said S.75, if passed in its current form, could add more “tension” in Bennington. He explained that some community members would want the civilian board to take on all the powers granted to it under state law.  

Hurd also questioned the bill’s constitutionality, since it allows civilians outside the selectboard and town manager to look into the confidential personnel files of police officers. 

Sears owed to “miscommunication” the opposition of some Bennington officials to S.75.

“I just was surprised,” he said. “I thought that’s what they wanted. They tried to say there was miscommunication, but I thought I heard pretty clearly that they were concerned that they needed a charter change.” 

Civil rights advocacy groups, meanwhile, welcomed the bill.

The ACLU of Vermont’s lobbyist, Falko Schilling, said enabling meaningful civilian oversight of law enforcement is an effective way to create greater trust between police and the communities they serve.

“It allows communities to respond to the concerns raised by their citizens,” he said.

Schilling said he is surprised by some of the opposition to the bill, since it’s not forcing municipalities to act in any way. “It’s simply giving more powers to municipalities to try and do what they think is right for their communities.” 

Mia Schultz, president of the Rutland Area NAACP, said she is not surprised by the pushback. She said people who have long held power over the police, such as Hurd, don’t want to cede this control.

“The structure and system are always pushing back when you want to put power in the hands of people,” Schultz said. “It would force them to answer for their behavior, that they wouldn’t have control over the narrative, that they wouldn’t have control over the end results.”

She disagreed that ordinary citizens might not be qualified to make important personnel decisions involving the police, saying community members have rich and varied life experiences.

During Town Meeting Day on Tuesday, Burlington voters rejected a proposed charter change that would have created a new, independent board to oversee the city’s police department.

As worded, the police oversight board would have created a new city department with the power to discipline or remove any of the police department’s members, including the chief.

Read the story on VTDigger here: Bennington officials oppose police oversight bill drafted by Bennington senators.

As Reported by VTDigger