BENNINGTON — A Vermont State Police trooper who allegedly punched a handcuffed suspect in the head is heading to trial later this fall after denial of his motion to toss expert testimony from the state.
Robert Zink, a state trooper stationed in Shaftsbury, is accused of one count of simple assault. He faces up to one year in prison and a possible $1,000 fine if convicted. Zink has been out on leave since his arrest in April 2021.
During a hearing in front of Bennington Superior Judge Kerry McDonald-Cady, defense lawyer David Sleigh argued that the testimony of the state’s expert witness should be tossed out because it represented a violation of due process.
The state, he claimed, did not forward the expert’s report as part of the trial discovery in a timely manner, giving the defense little time to depose the expert. Sleigh argued that the former judge, Cortland Corsones, in granting a 60-day “ready for trial” to the state, created an official court order for the state to get the testimony to the defense. State prosecutor Paul Barkus, out of the Vermont Attorney General’s office, counter-argued that Corsones did not create an order with a specific date for the report to be forwarded.
McDonald-Cary retired to chambers to listen to portions of a taped audio recording of the previous hearing presided over by Corsones to distinguish whether Corsones dated the order.
After a brief delay, McDonald-Cary returned to dismiss the defense motion on the grounds that no specific date was attached to the discovery.
“Mr. Sleigh, you indicated that we’re disappointed that the process was taking very long and that you’re looking to make that 60 days a hard deadline. Judge Corsones said, ‘We’ll reschedule a status conference in 60 days with the understanding that the defense is anxious to get to trial.’ That is actually word for word what Judge Corsones indicated. It wasn’t an order that the state’s expert or report had to be completed or disclosed in 60 days. ... The motion to eliminate the expert testimony is denied.”
With the motion denied, McDonald-Cary focused on setting a jury draw and trial. She set Nov. 1 as the jury draw, but Sleigh already had been booked for a different trial. After some back and forth, all three decided to keep the November date in the hopes that Sleigh could participate. If not, dates in late December were discussed as possible alternatives.
According to a police affidavit, on February 2021, Zink was involved in a case on Tinkham Road in Shaftsbury, possibly using excessive force on a suspect who was under arrest and in handcuffs. The incident in question started as a call for backup by another trooper after a motor vehicle accident in which the suspect appeared intoxicated. Zink and another trooper arrived to assist the initial trooper, bringing the noncompliant suspect to the ground, then putting the suspect into handcuffs.
During the escort of the suspect toward the patrol car, the suspect suddenly turned and broke the grip of both officers, tripping them to the ground, where all three wind up. As the suspect resisted the troopers, he ended up on his back on the ground, cursing and trying to break free. The suspect then kicked at Zink.
On a body-cam recording, Zink can be heard telling the suspect, “Keep kicking me, and see what happens.” The suspect then grabbed at the troopers, holding onto Zink’s leg. At this point, Zink allegedly punched at the suspect’s legs several times and, eventually, the back of his head with a closed fist. Blood can then be seen on the video coming from the suspect’s head.
After the initial investigation, the Vermont Attorney General’s Office requested to take over the investigation and prosecution of the case.