The chairwoman of the Vernon Select board is under investigation on allegations that she tried to interfere with a drunk driving arrest in her town. Vernon Selectboard Chairwoman Patty O’Donnell denies those allegations. She says she objected not to the arrest, but to "aggressive behavior" by a sheriff’s deputy.
The allegations stem from phone calls made to the Windham County Sheriff’s office by O’Donnell on the night of a friend’s DUI arrest. A report by the sheriff’s office classifies the case as "Obstruction of Justice." The incident is being investigated by the Vermont State Police. Windham County Sheriff Keith Clark says no charges have been filed. He says the Windham County State’s Attorney will make that decision.
"The deputy involved and his supervisor had some concerns,"says Clark. "I asked them to document those concerns, which they did. Those documents were sent to the State’s Attorney who reviewed them, had some questions, wanted some follow up conducted."
The incident occurred on September 20 at about 11 pm. Ian Tuttle, a deputy on duty in Vernon, followed a Jeep Grand Cherokee that he says was driving erratically. In an affidavit Tuttle says the Jeep, operated by Vernon resident Lisa McKenney, drove about 100 yards on the wrong side of the road and almost hit a passing vehicle.
Tuttle turned on his flashing lights, but the report says the vehicle kept going for about a quarter mile, and didn’t stop until it reached McKenney’s driveway. Tuttle says he treated the incident as a felony because of the failure to stop. According to the report, he drew his gun and placed McKenney in handcuffs.
Tuttle says O’Donnell left several phone messages for him and his supervisor that night. A recording of one was included with documents obtained by VPR through a Freedom of Information Request.
"Ian has arrested Lisa McKenney," O’Donnell says in the voice mail message. “And the story I heard was pretty disturbing. And I’ll tell you, if he followed her for no reason…there’s going to be hell to pay, cause I’m pissed. She is at the Vernon PD right now… and I’d feel a whole lot more comfortable if you were there making sure that what was happening was the right thing, because I'm not convinced that she was drinking enough to have been stoped.”
O’Donnell said she’s received complaints that Deputy Tuttle had been following law-abiding residents for no good reason. Vernon contracted with the Windham Country Sheriff in July after the town voted to disband its own police department. The report claims O’Donnell made "threatening statements" about that contract in her calls.
At a packed select board meeting recently, many people said they were pleased with the sheriff’s department's services. Some said O’Donnell, a former Vernon legislator, should step down.
In a statement, O’Donnell defended her action. Her concern, she said, is not the DUI arrest, but whether it was appropriate for an officer to pull a gun on a woman stopped at night in her own driveway.