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Tuesday November 23, 2010

MONTPELIER (AP) -- Police officers who pepper-sprayed, struck and handcuffed a naked man in his home after responding to a report of a potential burglary won’t face criminal charges for it, Vermont’s attorney general said Tuesday.

William Sorrell said there’s no basis for misconduct or other charges against Town of Hartford police Officers Frederick Peyton and Kristinnah Adams, who detained Wayne Burwell after being called by a cleaning service employee about a possible burglary in progress.

There was no evidence that race -- Burwell is black, the officers white -- played any role in the response, Sorrell said.

"We were looking at it from a criminal perspective, and we found that this was not a case of setting out to criminally assault someone. And similarly, at no time did anyone make a decision to carry out conduct that was illegal.

"It was certainly a regrettable incident, and it’s unfortunate that it happened. But given the information the police received and what they saw and experienced as they entered the dwelling and the reaction of Mr. Burwell, it was fortunate no one was seriously injured."

Burwell, who has hired an attorney, couldn’t be reached for comment on Sorrell’s decision. His attorney, Robin Curtiss, didn’t return calls Tuesday.

On May 29, a cleaning service employee at Burwell’s three-story town house in Wilder called police to say an intruder might be inside.

The woman had never met Burwell, and police apparently didn’t know he was the homeowner when they responded.

According to Sorrell:

* Peyton and Adams found the home "apparently ransacked" and filled with smoke, with smoke alarms blaring, though it’s unclear where the smoke was coming from.

* Burwell, who works as a personal trainer, was found sitting naked on a toilet "extremely muscular, sweating profusely" and appearing to be in a drug-induced state.

* He didn’t comply with demands to show his hands, refused to get on the floor and was pepper-sprayed and hit with an expandable baton in a scuffle with the officers.

* Once outside, police learned Burwell was the owner of the apartment and that he suffered from a medical condition involving low blood sugar that left him disoriented.

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He wasn’t charged.

"They did bring him out handcuffed and wrapped in a blanket, naked," said neighbor Robert McKaig, 72, a retired New Jersey police officer.

"The poor man was sprayed with Mace and loaded with that. It’s an unfortunate situation. From what I’m told, the officers were under the impression that there was a burglar upstairs," McKaig said Tuesday.

Curtiss Reed Jr., executive director of the Vermont Partnership for Fairness and Diversity, a Brattleboro nonprofit that trains police how to avert "implicit bias" in their work, said there was some in the Burwell incident.

If Burwell were white, the outcome of the incident would’ve been different, he said.

The assumption that Burwell was in a drug-induced state -- as opposed to suffering from a medical condition -- and the officers’ failure to realize he was the owner of the home once they were inside show bias, Reed said.

"The source of the implicit bias was really with the cleaning lady. But officers still need to connect the dots. They still need to check their bias at the door."

Hartford Police Chief Glenn Cutting said race played no role in the officers’ actions.

"What you have now from the AG’s office gives a much clearer picture, as far as what the officers were dealing with at the time," he said.

He said the officers involved are relieved. "I’m sure they feel vindicated," he said.

The American Civil Liberties Union’s Vermont chapter, which sued to get police records of the incident, said Sorrell’s decision wasn’t a surprise. But its executive director called on Sorrell to release more information on the case.

"The public wants to know what happened for Wayne Burwell to be treated the way he was," said Allen Gilbert.

"The public wants to see the full report of the attorney general’s investigation. The attorney general has been willing to reveal details favorable to the police, details not known beforehand. We assume that in the interests of fairness he will also be willing to release other information in the report that might help paint the full picture of events," Gilbert said.


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