Friday January 11, 2013

DAWSON RASPUZZI

Staff Writer

BENNINGTON -- Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union authorized payment Monday for its chief financial officer to retain legal counsel in reaction to comments directed at him by a local teacher who is currently hospitalized and receiving psychiatric care.

Following nearly two hours in executive session the board voted 7-4 to authorize payment for outside legal counsel to meet with CFO Richard Pembroke, police, the Bennington County State's Attorney's office and the SVSU attorney with regard to personal safety concerns Pembroke raised.

On Tuesday, Pembroke and his attorney William D. Wright filed an application for a no-stalking order against Steven Davis, which was granted on a temporary basis and served to Davis Thursday. The temporary order prohibits Davis from contacting Pembroke and his family until a hearing on the matter is held Feb. 14.

In addition to the no-stalking order, Pembroke also filed on Jan. 3 a no-trespass order against Davis at his home, as did SVSU for all of the schools and administrative offices.

On the morning of New Year's Eve, Mount Anthony Union High School math and science teacher Steven Davis sent emails to school officials and posted messages and videos on the Internet criticizing co-workers, the teachers union, and Pembroke, among other things.

Davis voluntarily surrendered a Bushmaster AR-15 semi-automatic rifle and two loaded 30-round high-capacity magazines that afternoon after meeting with Bennington Police Chief Paul Doucette. During that conversation Doucette said Davis made his dislike for Pembroke known, which caused Doucette concern for Pembroke's safety.

Doucette later called Pembroke to alert him of the conversation. "He told me he has a real disliking for Mr. Pembroke. He never came out and said he was going to hurt Mr. Pembroke or anything of that nature," Doucette said. "But he said some things that caused concern on my part. He wanted Mr. Pembroke investigated and indicted and he said that he had his attorneys working on that. Based on his demeanor, Mr. Davis' demeanor, and some of the things I'd seen in the YouTube videos, it was concerning for me."

Doucette said things Davis talked about -- such as reading CIA manuals and studying military tactics -- also raised questions about public safety.

In addition to very public messages on YouTube and social networking pages, (the videos have since been pulled by YouTube) Davis also sent an email to Pembroke that was CC'd to other school administrators and the Banner, stating his "strategic business plan" includes Pembroke.

In one of the videos Davis talks about a payroll error that went unnoticed for a year and led Davis to receive double his pay in each paycheck. After the error was discovered Davis said he practically worked for free the following year to make up the difference. In his e-mail to Pembroke, Davis said he envisions Pembroke out of a job or arrested. He also stated his intention to have a team of forensic accountants go through the finance office.

The email concluded, "Stay tuned ... this is going to be exciting."

Doucette said Davis talked about the payroll error in their conversation as well. "He blames Mr. Pembroke for that, and feels he suffered a financial loss at the hands of Mr. Pembroke," he said.

Shortly after his conversation with Doucette, Davis was brought to Southwestern Vermont Medical Center, where he underwent a mental health evaluation, and since that time he has been involuntarily hospitalized and transferred to another facility for treatment, according to Doucette.

Pembroke would not comment on the incidents with Davis, whether there was any additional contact between he and Davis, nor the reason he sought an attorney. Wright did not return a call seeking comment Thursday.

Davis has been placed on administrative leave from the school. He has not been charged with a crime.

SVSU Chairwoman Sean-Marie Oller said the board's decision to pay for Pembroke to retain an outside attorney was made at Pembroke's request due to "concerns regarding his personal safety."

Oller said specific reasons the board approved the spending could not be shared because they were discussed in executive session.

"In executive session Rick gave the reasons why he felt a meeting with an outside attorney was warranted. The board discussed it at length in executive session and ultimately decided to take on Rick's unusual request because of his concerns for his and his family's safety," she said.

The SVSU board's motion only authorizes payment for Pembroke's attorney to have discussions with various officials, not to take any legal actions. An executive session to follow up on the matter has been called for Jan. 16.

Contact Dawson Raspuzzi at draspuzzi@benningtonbanner.com or follow on Twitter @DawsonRaspuzzi