Rutland town may revise its trespass policy after receiving a letter from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Vermont.
ACLU of Vermont Staff Attorney Hillary Rich sent the letter to the town on Feb. 8, explaining the ACLU examined public records from 2020 to 2022 and found Rutland Town police issued at least 10 trespass notices restricting access to public property. People had been barred from Northwood Park, the entrance to Green Mountain Plaza, the Town Hall and recreation facilities and fields.
“Police served six of those notices at the express request or prompting of Select Board members —without providing a reason for their issuance in the notice or a process to challenge them,” according to the ACLU.
“When government officials can unilaterally restrict someone’s ability to participate in public life, without any true limits on their discretion, there is a real risk of abuse of power and violation of constitutional rights,” Rich said in a press release. “We hope that Rutland and other towns will take this opportunity to ensure their policies are consistent with constitutional mandates as well as the values of an inclusive, participatory democracy.”
The letter says Rutland’s current policy for trespass notices is inadequate to protect residents’ due process rights. Prior to being contacted by the ACLU, the town did not have a policy.
“In 2022, after receiving a public records request from the ACLU-VT, the Rutland Town Police Department adopted the Vermont League of Cities and Towns’ model policy regarding the issuance of trespass notices,” Rich said in a letter to the town.
Rich said the trespass policy pertains just to private property and doesn’t protect individuals barred from public property.
Rich said the ACLU recently filed a lawsuit against Newport and an amicus brief in support of a Montpelier resident who was issued a no trespass and forcibly removed from a city council meeting without due process.
The letter also notes the ACLU has been successful in a case against the Addison Rutland Supervisory Union and Burlington over no-trespass orders.
Rutland town Select Board chair Don Chioffi said the town was consulting its lawyer about changing the trespass policy when the board meets again Feb. 28.
“He’s looking at it right now and he’ll give us an update when he finishes his work,” Chioffi said. “We’ll see, it’s in process. Initially he said he didn’t feel anything was required. He feels we’re doing what we’re supposed to do.”
Though compliant, Chioffi was irked by the letter.
“With all the problems in the world…problems that we have in this country that are being violated rampantly, profusely, for the ACLU to be down here in the little old town of Rutland worried about a notification on a no trespass order has got to be the most ludacris thing I’ve ever heard of in my life.”
Chioffi could only recall one incident in which an individual was issued a no-trespass order. Former clerk and treasurer Kristen Hathaway was issued a no trespass order from the Town Hall in January 2022 following a dispute between her and new town clerk and treasurer Kari Clark at the Town Office, the Rutland Herald reported. Clark was elected in 2020 after defeating three other candidates, including Hathaway’s husband.