BENNINGTON — A man accused of driving through kneeling protesters during a Black Lives Matter rally in Manchester last spring is resolving his criminal case through diversion.
Dustin Tobin, 29, of Pawlet, was charged with negligent vehicle operation and reckless endangerment, misdemeanors punishable by up to a year in jail. He pleaded not guilty during a court appearance in August.
Manchester police alleged that on June 7 of last year, while a Black Lives Matter demonstration was taking place in the town roundabout, Tobin drove through kneeling protesters. No one was injured.
Less than 10 minutes earlier, witnesses reportedly told investigators, Tobin had held his middle finger out the window while driving around the roundabout twice.
Tobin told police he wasn’t racist, according to Bennington Superior Court documents. He reportedly said he was just trying to get through the intersection and had made the crude hand gesture in response to a comment someone had made.
Within the past couple of weeks, court records show, Tobin accepted the state’s offer to dismiss his charges if he participated in a diversion program.
The Bennington County State’s Attorney’s Office offered him the normal diversion program through the Center for Restorative Justice, said Deputy State’s Attorney Alex Burke. Because diversion is confidential under state law, the prosecutor said he couldn’t provide details about Tobin’s program.
But Burke said that if Tobin successfully completes diversion, his case will be dismissed and the associated records will remain sealed from the public.
The Center for Restorative Justice, a Bennington nonprofit organization, said diversion is a voluntary and community-based alternative to the court process. Its goal is to help offenders understand how their actions have affected other people as well as to help them take responsibility and make amends.
A “restorative justice panel,” made up of volunteers, works with offenders on a plan to accomplish these goals and holds them accountable throughout the process. The goal is not punishment, but to help the community, offenders and victims “become whole again,” according to CRJ.
If an offender does not complete the diversion program, CRJ said the person’s court case will be reopened and the charges will proceed.
Tobin, who represented himself in court, didn’t want to comment for this story. When reached by phone on Monday, he hung up.
His court records are no longer accessible to the public, the county court clerk’s office said in response to a records request on May 3.