BENNINGTON — A longtime Vermont State Police trooper in southern Vermont has been ordered into criminal court on Monday for a charge of assaulting a combative intoxicated handcuffed prisoner in February.
Trooper Robert Zink reportedly struck Christopher W. Campbell, 41, of Shaftsbury after he crashed a small truck near his home on Tinkham Road on Feb. 23, state police said Wednesday afternoon.
Zink, 39, of Arlington was placed on paid leave the following day while the trooper’s conduct was investigated, police said. The department put him on unpaid leave on Thursday after a citation ordering Zink into Vermont Superior Court was served on his lawyer.
Defense lawyer David Sleigh said Zink, a 13-year veteran, will fight the charge. He said a review of the investigation, including audio and video, shows Campbell was “violent, resisting, non-cooperating and intoxicated” for three hours at the scene, at the hospital and at the state police barracks.
Sleigh said a second state trooper can be heard during the struggle at the scene yelling at Campbell to “let go of my Taser, let go of my Taser” just seconds before the punches in question are thrown.
Campbell, Zink and Trooper Jeremy Sullivan had slid about 50-feet down a steep icy driveway after handcuffing the defendant and preparing to move him to a cruiser, records show.
Campbell was a serious threat to himself, Zink, other troopers and to Bennington Rescue’s emergency medical technicians all the way to the hospital, Sleigh noted.
He said the state believes the two punches were excessive.
Sleigh, of St. Johnsbury, said he believes no jury in Vermont will convict Zink based on all the evidence. His client did give a voluntary statement to investigators, he said.
Zink has spent much of his state police career in Bennington County and a stint in Rutland County. He is a well-known figure in his community, including serving on the Arlington School Board. His father was the longtime chief deputy in the Bennington County Sheriff’s Department.
The investigation into Zink began following an internally generated report from another trooper who raised concerns about the use of force, according to Detective Sgt. Jacob Metayer from the state police in Williston.
Zink is accused of striking Campbell while Campbell was in handcuffs on the ground, Metayer said.
“Campbell was actively resisting arrest at the time, but the strikes do not appear to be in response to Campbell’s actions,” Metayer said in a news release.
Attorney General T.J. Donovan had said in March he had seen the police video and was concerned. His office ordered state police to issue the citation on Monday.
The office of Bennington County State’s Attorney Erica Marthage disqualified itself from the Zink case, but did file criminal charges against Campbell.
Bennington County Deputy State’s Attorney Robert Plunkett charged Campbell the day after his arrest with eight criminal counts — aggravated assault on state police, unlawful restraint, impeding police by trying to take a Taser away from another state trooper, driving while intoxicated, careless and negligent driving and three counts of simple assault on police — a protected professional performing a lawful duty.
Police said Campbell had an alcohol level of 0.14 percent, nearly twice the 0.08 level when adult drivers are presumed under the influence by Vermont law.
Campbell repeatedly smashed his face into a holding cell at the state police barracks in Shaftsbury, Zink said in a court affidavit.
Zink did acknowledge in his court affidavit that he and Trooper Sullivan did strike Campbell, but only after the defendant had pinned Zink on the ground and was trying to take the Taser out of Sullivan’s holster.
“While Campbell had me pinned against him with his leg, he was continuing to grab at Trooper Sullivan’s taser. Both Trooper Sullivan and I had to strike Campbell repeatedly in order to get him to unpin his leg from me and to stop attempting to take Trooper Sullivan’s taser,” Zink wrote in the affidavit.
“During this whole time, Campbell refused to co-operate, would not follow our commands, continued to resist and was attempting to stand up and get away from us,” Zink wrote.
Sleigh said Zink’s body camera got knocked off during the skirmish, but still recorded sound. The body camera for Trooper David M. Pfindel did capture video, Sleigh said.
Zink said crash investigation revealed Campbell was driving a silver 2012 Toyota Tundra truck when it slide off the southbound shoulder of Tinkham Road and collided with several mailboxes. Sullivan stated the truck eventually drove back onto the road, turned into the driveway on Tinkham Road and collided with a tree and several garbage cans before becoming stuck a second time.
A judge ordered Campbell lodged for lack of $10,000 bail at the Southern State Correctional Facility in Springfield for all the charges stemming from the incident, Trooper Tyler Silva said in a department news release the day of the incident.
State police hired Zink in 2008 and assigned him as a road trooper at the Shaftsbury Barracks following his graduation from the Vermont Police Academy. He became a detective trooper with the Narcotics Investigation Unit in 2012, then returned as a senior trooper at the Shaftsbury Barracks in 2013.
He was assigned as a detective trooper in Shaftsbury in 2014, then promoted to sergeant/patrol commander two years later. In August 2019 he was assigned to the Rutland Barracks and he was demoted back to trooper for undisclosed reasons, state police said. He transferred back to the Shaftsbury Barracks in December 2020.