Activist accuses trooper of race-based assault at Statehouse protest

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BRATTLEBORO — A co-founder of Brattleboro's Root Social Justice Center has filed a civil rights violation complaint against the Vermont State Police, contending a trooper assaulted her during a protest in Montpelier on Jan. 8, 2015.

According to the complaint filed in U.S. District Court, Shela M. Linton was one of 29 people arrested at the Statehouse during the inauguration of then-Gov. Peter Shumlin. The protesters were demanding a public debate over the state's failure to pass a single-payer health care plan.

"I believe I was targeted and intentionally assaulted by Detective Jacob Zorn because I am black," Linton wrote in her complaint. "I was the only black person in the 29 people who were arrested. I was the only person to be assaulted. His actions also stood out from his fellow officers who in the similar situation chose not to use the force Zorn did."

According to Seven Days, an hour before the inauguration was set to begin, at least 250 activists lined the halls of the Statehouse and assembled near the entrances to the House chamber. They sang and held up yellow pieces of paper that read, "The time is now," as Shumlin and his fellow dignitaries walked to the House floor.

Even after the formal ceremony began, their voices could be heard from the gallery, occasionally interrupting the proceedings, wrote Paul Heintz for Seven Days. The protest culminated with a sit-in in the well of the House, as three dozen people affiliated with the Vermont Workers' Center refused to leave the chamber for more than five hours, demanding that House Speaker Shap Smith, D-Morristown, schedule public hearings to debate Shumlin's single-payer plan.

Of the 29 people arrested and cited on charges of unlawful trespass, seven were cited for resisting arrest.

In addition to a written apology from the Vermont State Police, Linton wants Zorn investigated and disciplined. Linton is also asking that Paul White, who is now a law enforcement liaison for the Governor's Highway Safety Program, be investigated for his conduct as a supervisor during the arrest.

"I want the State Police to be accountable and pay me for my pain, suffering, medical bills and legal fees incurred in the amount of $500,000," wrote Linton.

She is also requesting that the entire staff of the Vermont State Police receive mandatory training in anti-racism, bias-free policing and use of force. Linton also contended she was not initially given the opportunity to work out a plea deal, "however every single white peer in the sit-in was offered a plea."

According to Seven Days, when it came time for Linton's arrest, she cried out in apparent pain as two troopers pulled her arms behind her back.

"Ma'am, please stand up," one of the troopers said. "Ma'am, please stand up. I'm not strong enough to pick you up, so please stand up. Ma'am, please stand up."

"You're hurting me," Linton said, refusing to move. "You are hurting me. You are hurting me."

"I am going to ask you one more time and then I will use more pain compliance," the trooper said. "Please stand up. If we stop hurting you, will you stand up? Ma'am, will you stand up?"

The troopers appeared to pull Linton's arms further behind her back, prompting her to shriek, according to Seven Days. They then lifted her to her feet and escorted her from the chamber. According to protest organizers, Linton was subsequently taken to the hospital.

In her complaint, which was filed Jan. 5, Linton wrote she was "the only person who was assaulted" even though she, like the others arrested, used passive resistance techniques. But, unlike the others, maintained Linton, she was injured during her removal. Linton wrote that Zorn, "a white man," became "agitated and frustrated" during her removal from the well of the House and "forcibly grabbed, twisted, and snapped back my wrist. The pain was intense."

After she stayed limp and refused to leave, Zorn threatened her with pain compliance, wrote Linton, which she contends was not used on others when they were arrested.

"He then put his mouth to my ear and said that I should have just called my legislator! And proceeds to assault me," she wrote, describing the arrest technique as a "military style pretzel pigeon" with her arm behind her back. "This caused massive pain and me screaming and crying and unable to do much other than deal with the pain. The pain was the equivalent to giving birth for me and my body was in shock and in massive pain."

Even as Zorn and Trooper Seth Richardson escorted her from the building, Linton contends, Zorn "refused to let up on the pain and let go."

Linton wrote, "After numerous attempts of folks in the room to stop the assault or assist me, Detective Jacob Zorn finally loosened his hold. I fell to the ground in unbearable pain, screaming and crying for help. I was then forced on my back and grabbed by my arms and legs and dragged out of the statehouse."

Linton wrote that she was then carried by at least three officers toward steps leading down. "I became even more scared that they were going to drop me down the stairs ," she wrote. After they lowered her to the ground, the troopers escorted her to an elevator while screaming at her to stop resisting, she wrote.

"At no time during this interaction was I resisting. I then became more scared as they dragged me from floor to floor, which were dark and empty, before bringing me to the processing room. From the processing room I went to the hospital."

Linton wrote that at no time did Richardson treat her in an inappropriate manner or speak to her in a disparaging way. "He was firm but gentle. Richardson chose not to hurt me, as there was not reason to," she wrote.

In the complaint, Linton said treatment of her alleged injury lasted more than a year and that she is being treated for PTSD, anxiety and depression. "I also still have the physical aftermath and have the pain in my wrist and shoulder with some limited mobility," she wrote.

The Vermont attorney general's office did not return a request for comment.

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