BENNINGTON — Police said Friday that a local man will be issued a municipal citation for disorderly conduct at Lake Paran last month, after an investigation into what North Bennington leaders had described as "racist incidents."
The man, identified by police as David S. Jones, of Bennington, will face a municipal ordinance violation for alleged threatening behavior against a group of females at Lake Paran on June 4, according to a Bennington Police Department report.
Police Chief Paul Doucette said their investigation didn't find any racial motivation behind Jones' behavior, but he was being issued the citation because he made physically threatening remarks.
The municipal violation carries a penalty of $100-$250 and can be challenged in court.
The police investigation shows that the violation occurred during an argument between Jones' group and a group of four females, three of whom were Black, at the Lake Paran recreation area sometime between 11 a.m. and noon on June 4. Police reports on the incident, which the Banner obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, also lay out the details below.
According to the first police interviews conducted at the lake shortly after the incident, Jones and his companions said the group of four females had been "saying mean things" to two girls among them, including a white girl with a hair loss condition.
The mother of one of the girls confronted the group, and members of the group supposedly began calling the mother "vulgar names," according to the initial report of investigating officer Jason Burnham.
Jones then had a confrontation with the group of females, the report states. The mother of one of the girls later called for police assistance.
Someone in Jones' party told Burnham that while Jones and the girls were swimming, Jones "said something along the lines of 'I can't breathe'" when one of the girls was having a hard time in the water.
The comment reportedly elicited a reaction from the group of females, who had left by the time police arrived at the lake. "I can't breathe" was among the last words uttered by George Floyd, an African American man killed on May 25 when a white Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck as he lay on the ground.
The names of the girls in Jones' party and the females in the other group were redacted in the police reports provided to the Banner. This was done to protect their identity because they are juveniles, according to the police department.
During an interview June 9, one of the females on the receiving end of Jones' comments told Burnham that the confrontation started when the two girls with Jones came over to her group's area of the lake. She said the girls "did not like her little sister," pointing at her and talking about her.
The girls reportedly got one of their mothers, who started cursing her out. She told Burnham that Jones then sprinted down to the water, jumped in, and when he got out, said "I can't breathe" and started laughing.
She said she and Jones started arguing, during which "Jones starts throwing racial slurs and says he is going to step on her neck," Burnham's report reads.
This physical threat is what has led police to issue a municipal violation, Doucette said. The juvenile female declined to press any criminal charges when asked by police.
"The comments to cause bodily harm to someone goes beyond name-calling," Doucette said in an interview Friday. "It is disorderly conduct, that's why we felt it was necessary to serve that violation."
When interviewed at the lake on June 4, police said Jones denied using racial names at any time during the confrontation. Jones couldn't be reached for comment Friday. The Banner couldn't locate him at the Gore Road address listed on the police incident report.
A cellphone video, which Burnham said was shot after the argument, shows "back and forth arguing along with insults," the investigator wrote. "No racial slurs were heard on the recording."
The video was withheld from the Banner because police said it included juveniles.
On June 5, the North Bennington village trustees and the board of Paran Recreations locked the gate to the lake recreation area, citing a lack of staff and resources due to the coronavirus pandemic. They talked about wanting to prevent "dangerous behaviors" at the lake, including the June 4 confrontations, which they described in a statement as "racist incidents."
Doucette said the police probe into the incident has been concluded and that the paperwork for Jones' citation had been completed. It's unclear when it would be issued to him.
"I feel confident that the investigation was thorough," Doucette said, adding he'd spoken to a state Fish & Wildlife Department game warden about patrolling the Lake Paran area more frequently.
Lake Paran administrators plan to reopen the recreation area sometime next week, said Alisa DelTufo, chairwoman of the Paran Recreations board.
She emphasized that the recreation area had officially been closed since the pandemic hit Vermont. But its gate was left unlocked, allowing members of the public to enter, including on June 4.
Contact Tiffany Tan at firstname.lastname@example.org or @tiffgtan on Facebook and Twitter.
This story has been updated to include Jones' middle initial.