A Vermont State Police trooper from Arlington pleaded not guilty Monday to a single count of simple assault after he was accused of punching a handcuffed man multiple times in the head, something that two of his fellow troopers said in court documents was excessive.
Trooper Robert Zink did not speak during the arraignment, which was held remotely and lasted only minutes. Zink’s attorney, David Sleigh, told Superior Court Judge Cortland Corsones that his client would plead not guilty to the charge.
Corsones released Zink on his own recognizance. The two parties will be notified when the next hearing is scheduled.
But after the hearing, the court documents in the case told the story of what happened at about 3:30 p.m. Feb. 23 on an icy driveway at the Tinkham Road home of Christopher Campbell, 41, in Shaftsbury.
Vermont State Police Trooper Jeremy Sullivan was trying to take Campbell into custody on suspicion of driving under the influence and Zink and Trooper David Pfindel responded to Sullivan’s calls for help as Campbell became aggressive toward him, according to the affidavit filed by Detective Sgt. Jacob Metayer of the Williston Barracks, who was assigned to investigate the case to avoid conflict of interest.
According to the affidavit, both troopers at the scene with Zink said they saw Zink get intertwined with Campbell after Sullivan, Zink and Campbell fell on the ice when Campbell struggled as he was being led to a police cruiser with his hands cuffed behind his back.
Everybody reported that Campbell had locked Zink’s leg with his own and because of the ice, Zink could not get free.
As this was happening, Zink said he heard Sullivan saying that Campbell was grabbing at his duty belt and in the video, Metayer said Sullivan yells out “stop going for my Taser, he’s going for my Taser.”
Zink said, and Sullivan and Pfindel confirmed, that Zink hit Campbell in the leg, buttocks area with hammer fists, trying to force the man to release his leg.
Zink said that his training told him that being on the ground with a person is the most dangerous place to be. He said he was too close to use his own Taser and both he and Sullivan would have gotten sprayed if he had used pepper spray.
Zink said when the hammer fists to the leg didn’t work, he decided blows to the head were necessary and he said he struck Campbell three or four times, according to the affidavit.
Metayer said the video shows Zink hitting Campbell in the legs and then he turns and hits Campbell in the back of the head four times.
In the video, Sullivan is heard yelling at Campbell to “let go of him,” and then he says, “hey, hey, hey” and pushes Zink’s arm away from Campbell.
Pfindel, in his interview for the investigation, said he thought the blows to Campbell’s leg “were reasonable, but he did not think the strikes to Campbell’s head were justified.”
Sullivan described the battle between the three officers and Campbell as a “knockdown drag-out fight.”
According to the affidavit, “[Sullivan] advised there were 3 troopers present and Campbell was ‘kicking the s--- out of all of us.’”
But, Sullivan, in the affidavit, said that when Zink was punching Campbell in the head, he “felt that these punches were too much, and the last punch sounded like a bowling ball hitting the ground.”
Sullivan said Campbell’s head began to bleed after the last punch and he said he pushed Zink off Campbell.
Campbell was treated at the scene for his injuries and then transported to the Shaftsbury Barracks. There he reportedly injured himself more in a holding cell.
Campbell faces eight charges in all, 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.
The Vermont State Police, in a release at the time, said Campbell had a blood alcohol level of 0.14 percent. The legal limit to be presumed too intoxicated to drive in Vermont is 0.08 percent.
Metayer does not identify where the allegations came from, writing “the allegations were reported to the State Police chain of command.”
Campbell’s attorney, David F. Silver, said Monday afternoon in a statement that his client did not initiate the assault charge.
“We hope people understand that the assault charge against Trooper Zink was generated by his fellow Troopers, not by Chris,” Silver wrote in the statement. “The state police investigation determined that the force used by trooper Zink against Chris was not justified, and I agree with that conclusion.”
Zink's attorney saw the case differently.
In a previous comment to the Banner, Zink’s attorney David Sleigh said he doesn’t believe any jury in Vermont would convict his client based on all the evidence.
Silver also said his client is “remorseful for his conduct.”
“Chris Campbell is a hardworking devoted and responsible family man, who has great respect for the law and law enforcement,” Silver wrote. “Chris is sincerely remorseful for his conduct that day, which by all reports was totally out of character. He takes full responsibility for his conduct. Chris and his family respect the justice system and just want people to keep an open mind and let the process work as the true facts come out.”