By Alan J. Keays, VTDigger
RUTLAND—A city firefighter who was fired late last year following his arrest while off-duty on charges of impersonating a police officer and later for crashing into a parked car while driving drunk has reached a plea deal that will allow him to avoid jail time.
As part of an agreement with prosecutors, Brent M. Garrow, 32, pleaded guilty Friday, May 11, to the drunk driving charge as a well as a count of negligent operation of a motor vehicle in connection with an early Thanksgiving morning crash.
The charge of impersonating a police officer, stemming from an August 2017 traffic stop, was dismissed as part of the agreement.
Garrow was sentenced to six to 18 months in jail, all suspended on probation. He was also ordered to pay a $700 fine and perform 20 hours of community service within the next year.
“It’s definitely been a learning experience,” Garrow told Judge Thomas Zonay as the hearing Friday in Rutland County Superior criminal court came to a close.
Garrow added that his life is “moving forward because of this,” and he’s looking at attending law school in South Carolina.
“Sometimes things like this have the effect on someone that they take that step back and they realize that ‘Boy, I was going down, literally, the wrong road and I need to fix things,” Zonay told him.
“It sounds like you’ve done that.”
The judge then asked Garrow, “Has it been easy?”
“No, it has not,” the former city firefighter responded, adding that it’s been a “rough road,” but he plans to learn from it.
“So, though it might not have been easy, it’s been worthwhile?” Zonay asked.
“Yes,” Garrow responded.
It was back-to-back brushes with the law that cost Garrow his job and landed him before Zonay in court.
Garrow was arraigned in August 2017 on the charge of impersonating a police officer. State Police trooper Jonathan Hall said in a court affidavit he pulled Garrow over for speeding on Route 7 in Clarendon, clocking him driving 73 mph in a 55-mph zone.
After pulling him over, Hall wrote, he walked up to Garrow’s vehicle.
“Garrow had his wallet open and the officer said he saw a silver badge with ‘Police Department’ on it,” the affidavit stated.
“I asked Garrow who he worked for and he advised Pittsford,” Hall wrote. “While Garrow was grabbing his identification, I was able to see the rest of the badge, and identified it as a Pittsford Police Department badge.”
Hall then let Garrow go with a warning. Later, the trooper wrote in a court affidavit, he learned that Garrow hadn’t been a police officer in Pittsford for some time.
VTDigger requested the trooper’s dash cam video of the stop; however, it lacked audio because the equipment was not properly working. As a result it’s not known what words were exchanged between the two men during that traffic stop.
Garrow was back in court a few months later on charges that he drove drunk at twice the legal limit and left the scene of a crash early Thanksgiving morning.
The 1994 Cadillac Fleetwood limousine that police say Garrow had been driving belonged to Clifford’s Funeral Home in Rutland, where he worked part time.
Police say Garrow smashed into a car parked on the side of the street in Rutland after leaving a downtown bar.
A test later revealed Garrow had a blood-alcohol content of 0.166 percent, more than twice the 0.08 legal limit for driving in Vermont, the affidavit stated.
Rutland City Mayor David Allaire said in late December that following the second run-in with the law Garrow had been fired from his job as a city firefighter. He had been suspended from his job since his arraignment in August 2017 on the earlier charge.
Following a court appearance in December 2017, his attorneys talked of the difficulty Garrow has had in dealing with the emotional after-effects of a kidney transplant.
Garrow, who had been a full-time city firefighter for about two years, returned to work in April 2017 after 18 months away as he battled kidney problems and recovered from the transplant surgery.
The community had rallied around Garrow as he dealt with his health problems. The search for an acceptable kidney donor reached a point where his mother posted an appeal on Facebook on her son’s behalf.
That appeal led a local woman, Summer Stoutes, who had never met Garrow, to step forward and donate one of her kidneys after it was found to be a match.
Garrow’s return to work in April also was not without controversy.
Shortly before Town Meeting Day in March 2017 and in the midst of a heated mayoral campaign, a post on Garrow’s Facebook page alleged that the city wouldn’t allow him to return to work despite being cleared by a physician.
Then-Mayor Christopher Louras posted online a response in a letter addressed to Garrow, denying his allegations.
Bad blood between Louras and city firefighters was cited by many as a factor in Louras’ defeat in the mayoral race, in addition to his support of a plan to resettle refugees from Syria and Iraq in the city.
Allaire, then a veteran member of the city’s Board of Aldermen, won the backing of the firefighters’ union and went on to win the mayoral election.
Rutland County Deputy State’s Attorney Ian Sullivan, who prosecuted the cases against Garrow, told the judge in court Friday that dismissing the charge of impersonating a police officer was part of the “global settlement” of the criminal matters.
Sullivan pointed out that Garrow agreed to an “acknowledgement” that was part of the plea deal and earlier in the case surrendered his police identifications, including a badge he had from the time he worked as an officer for the Pittsford Police Department.
In that acknowledgment, Garrow wrote, ““Following my decertification as a police officer, (I) allowed other people to believe that I was a police officer. I did not correct their potential belief that I was currently a police officer. I continued to carry my badge. I allowed other people to see my badge.”
He added, “I have the utmost respect for law enforcement officers. I am proud of my time as a law enforcement officer. I apologize to the Rutland County law enforcement community for any impression they had that I was presenting myself as a police officer after decertification.”
Garrow had worked for the Pittsford Police Department as a part-time police officer for about five years, during which time he was suspended for six months after a state police investigation revealed he had been “untruthful” during an on-duty incident.
In connection with his Thanksgiving Day arrest for DUI, Garrow was also charged with leaving the scene of a crash for hitting and damaging a car that was parked on the street.
The leaving-the-scene charge was later changed to negligent operation of a motor vehicle as part of the plea agreement reached Friday.
In court Friday, Sullivan, the prosecutor, read a letter from the owner of the damaged vehicle. That person said he had been out by his vehicle only about 30 minutes before the crash.
“Simply put, had Mr. Garrow been on that street any earlier, there is a good chance I could have been severely injured or even killed,” Sullivan read from the man’s letter. “Thankfully, no one was injured, but gone unchecked I truly believe that Mr. Garrow’s pattern of reckless behavior will eventually hurt someone else or himself.”
Conditions of Garrow’s probation include that he must participate in alcohol or drug counseling if a screening shows it’s needed, and he is required to complete a residential treatment program if told to do so by his probation officer.
“We believe this is a fair agreement,” Sabina Smiechowski, Garrow’s attorney, told the judge Friday. “This is allows Mr. Garrow to move forward with his life and if he does need some help there is a system for him to get that help.”
Zonay then offered parting words to Garrow.
“The court recognizes, as you’ve indicated, it hasn’t been easy, but it’s been necessary,” the judge told him.” The probation conditions will allow you to continue your rehabilitative efforts, (and) protect society.”
Zonay added, “Good luck going forward.’
“Thank you, your honor,” Garrow replied.