Woman pleads not guilty to charges of threatening DCF worker
BENNINGTON — At an arraignment attended by nearly two dozen Department of Children and Families employees, a Bennington woman on Wednesday pleaded not guilty to a felony count of obstructing justice and misdemeanor criminal threatening after police say she threatened "a mass murder" of the DCF workers responsible for her case after she found out she would not be able to visit her daughter at Christmastime, said State's Attorney Erica Marthage.
Billie-Jean Reynolds, 27, was arraigned at the Bennington Criminal Division, where she was represented by public defender Frederick Bragdon. Judge John Valente imposed conditions that forbid her from having contact with the case manager she is accused of threatening or entering DCF offices unless she has prior written approval, according to the court docket. Valente set Reynolds' bail at $10,000, as recommended by Marthage.
According to a Bennington Social Services affidavit, Reynolds was given a ride Tuesday to the Bennington McDonald's by an Easterseals worker so Reynolds could have a family time visit with her daughter. The driver called police after Reynolds became upset that she received a text from her case manager telling her that, due to an incident at the Rec Center a few months ago, she would not be able to visit her daughter on Christmas.
Police say Reynolds told the driver that if she didn't get a Christmas visit with her daughter, "there will be a mass murder of everyone on the caseload." When the driver told Reynolds she could not threaten people and that the threat would be reported, Reynolds screamed "report it" repeatedly and told the driver "it's not a threat, it's a promise," according to the affidavit.
Following the incident, the affidavit states Reynolds was transported by Bennington Probation and Parole to Marble Valley Correctional Facility on a parole violation, and she was later taken to Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility, where she is serving a furlough sentence for multiple prior convictions.
Reynolds has an extensive criminal history in Vermont which include five assault convictions including assault on a police officer, as well as convictions for transporting drugs into a detention facility, petit larceny, welfare fraud, failure to appear in court, and other convictions.
Marthage, who is prosecuting the case, told the Banner that Reynolds' multiple prior convictions in her decision to take the threats seriously, as well the case that involved a Barre woman's 2015 shooting spree that killed four people, including a DCF worker.
"We've always taken [threats like this] seriously but I think that this case in particular brought to light how vulnerable these workers are," she said. "I think that case certainly made everyone in this line of work sit up and take notice."
Jody Herring's August 2015 killing spree, triggered by the DCF's decision to take custody of her 9 year-old daughter, ended in the deaths of her aunt, two cousins, and social worker Lara Sobel, who she all blamed for losing custody of her child. Herring shot Sobel outside of the DCF office in downtown Barre after murdering her three family members. Herring was sentenced to life in prison without parole in Nov. 2017.
Marthage said many people do not realize the direct, hands-on role DCF workers have.
"Frequently they are in situations where they're with people telling them things that are very difficult to hear...frequently they're doing this alone," she said. DCF workers often go to people's homes, meet them at the courthouse, or even meet them in a parking lot, she added.
After this case, DCF implemented protocols that include filling out harassment forms and holding frequent safety meetings. This time of year, Marthage said, can be a particularly difficult time for DCF and Economic Services workers, who may receive verbal or physical threats after giving bad news relating to visitation or finances during the holiday season.
Marthage says the office gets "a fair number" of verbal threats, but she estimates only one in 10 of these threats is filed as a report. Like with Reynold's case, the person's intent and criminal history is considered before a report is made.
Despite Reynold's threats to the DCF employee, Marthage says she will still be assigned another caseworker.
"It's the same thing like when you threaten or assault a probation officer; they still have to give you a probation officer," Marthage said.
She says this incident shows how important it is to make sure these workers are safe.
"I need to make sure that the people who work in these lines of work that if they're feeling unsafe or threatened, they know we're going to respond," she said.
Christie Wisniewski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and at 802-447-7567, ext. 111.
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