Woman Punched By St. Albans Cop Sues Over Excessive Force Allegations
A woman punched in the face by a former St. Albans police officer is suing the city. The federal lawsuit, filed on behalf of Amy Connelly, accuses the officer of using excessive force and alleges that the city hasn’t properly trained or disciplined its police force.
Connelly’s attorney Albert Fox declined to elaborate on the case.
“I think the complaint pretty much speaks for itself,” he said. “It was the next step in seeking some justice for Amy. She’s excited to be moving forward.”
Connelly is asking the court to declare the officer's actions illegal and award her money for the physical and emotional injuries.
St. Albans City Manager Dominic Cloud said the city has been expecting a lawsuit: “Resolving the likely litigation has always been an important last step in putting this matter behind us and we’re eager to do so.”
The lawsuit stems from a March 2019 incident where, according to video footage, former officer Sgt. Jason Lawton punched a handcuffed Connelly in the face. The incident stayed under the radar until the American Civil Liberties Union requested footage of the incident.
Lawton was eventually fired and the attorney general charged him with simple assault in November. Lawton pleaded not guilty.
Officers Zachary Koch and Michael Ferguson are also named in the suit. Both witnessed the incident and allegedly “threw [Connelly] head first into the floor” after Lawton hit her, according the lawsuit.
"The spate of incidents over the last six to 12 months indicates we're not getting the right people on the team and we need some help in figuring out how to do better." — Dominic Cloud, St. Albans City Manager
Cloud, the city manager, said Koch and Ferguson were only tangentially involved in the incident. Koch was disciplined, Cloud said, and Ferguson, who now works for the Franklin County Sheriff’s Department, was cleared of wrongdoing by that office.
The Lawton case is one of several instances in recent months were St. Albans police officers were investigated for using excessive force.
In January, after a VPR inquiry, Attorney General TJ Donovan reopened an investigation into former Cpl. Joel Daugreilh, who allegedly pepper-sprayed a handcuffed man. That investigation is ongoing, according to the AG’s office.
Then Seven Days published body camera footage of Cpl. Mark Schwartz responding to a call and, about five seconds after getting out of his cruiser, firing his Taser at a man. Schwartz resigned from the department in March after an internal review turned up another concerning incident, according to Seven Days.
Cloud said the city has implemented reforms to address the string of incidents, including adding a night shift commander, conducting more officer evaluations and updating the department’s use-of-force policy.
The city is also revising its hiring practices after officer Zachary Pigeon was arrested last month on multiple charges, including sexual assault and kidnapping. Pigeon and his father, who was arrested in connection to his son’s case, have both pleaded not guilty.
Cloud said the city just hired a consulting firm to help develop new hiring procedures.
“The spate of incidents over the last 6 to 12 months indicates we’re not getting the right people on the team and we need some help in figuring out how to do better,” Cloud said.