Attorney General T. J. Donovan speaks at an event at Bellows Free Academy - St. Albans, 5-25-2018

Attorney General T. J. Donovan speaks at an event at Bellows Free Academy — St. Albans in May 2018.

ST. ALBANS — The office of Attorney General T. J. Donovan confirmed Tuesday it was reopening an investigation into a November 2017 incident involving then-St. Albans Police Dept. (SAPD) Cpl. Joel Daugreilh.

Daugreilh was accused of spraying pepper spray in the face of a man in a holding cell at the SAPD.

According to St. Albans City Manager Dominic Cloud, the sergeant in charge reported Daugreilh to his superiors. Vermont State Police and the attorney general’s office were notified and an investigation begun.

Daugreilh was placed on administrative leave within 48 hours of the incident. He resigned before the SAPD’s own internal investigation was complete.

Vermont Public Radio initially reported Donovan was reopening an investigation Monday.

Donovan, who made the decision not to prosecute Daugreilh in July 2018, told VPR new information relevant to Daugreilh’s case had been found.

In response to a request for comment, a spokesperson from Donovan’s office said Tuesday, “As was reported by VPR, the case has been reopened and is currently under investigation.”

Donovan’s decision to reopen the case comes after a high profile incident earlier this year involving former SAPD Sgt. Jason Lawton, who was dismissed after punching a female prisoner in the face. The attorney general has charged Lawton with misdemeanor assault.

With two incidents having come to light within three years, the question becomes one of whether or not there is a culture problem at the SAPD.

Cloud says there is not. “We make 1,000 arrests a year,” he said. Given the number of arrests, approximately 3,000 between Jan. 2017 and Dec. 2019, “the data just doesn’t support that claim and that analysis,” in Cloud’s view.

The SAPD employs 30 people and “in any organization from time to time people are going to use poor judgement,” said Cloud, adding that’s what policies and procedures are intended to address. In the case of Daugreilh, “it was handled in the best way possible,” said Cloud. “The process and the policies worked.”

“We continue to be very proud of the department... and the way our management team responded when problems arose,” said Cloud. “If the management team wasn’t addressing it, we’d have very different concerns.”

The role of management is to set expectations and hold officers accountable, Cloud said, and he is confident the SAPD leadership is doing that.

In the case of Lawton, Chief Gary Taylor previously explained that Lawton was able to conceal his actions through a loophole in which management reviewed only some uses of force by officers, who are required by the SAPD to file a report for every use of force. After the Lawton incident, that policy was revised so every use of force is reviewed by a lieutenant.

Critics have suggested that when reviewing use of force by officers, the entire context be taken into consideration, not just the moments immediately surrounding the incident. It’s a perspective with which Cloud agrees, saying context matters.

He also welcomed a broader discussion of criminal justice reform.

Cloud suggested they consider the question of how communities are policed when there is a chronic shortage of officers, an opiate epidemic, a heavily armed population, and a push to always use as little force as possible. “I don’t think anybody has fully grasped the complexity of that problem,” he said. “It’s not black and white. It’s very grey.

“They’re tough questions. They’re not easy answers.”

Speaking of police officers, Cloud said, “There are nights when you need to be a soldier and nights when you need to be a social worker.” Sometimes, he added, officers put on the wrong hat.

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