ACLU Reaches Settlement Agreement with Vermont State Police in Landmark Racial Profiling Case

Case Resulted in Historic Vermont Supreme Court Ruling in January



Beth Nolan, 802-223-6304 x111,

Jay Diaz, 802-223-6304 x113,

Lia Ernst, 802-223-6304 x112,

June 21, 2019

MONTPELIER—ACLU of Vermont client Gregory Zullo has settled his racial profiling lawsuit against the State of Vermont. Under the terms of the settlement agreement, the State acknowledged that the 2014 stop and seizure of Mr. Zullo were unreasonable and will pay Mr. Zullo $50,000 plus mediation costs to resolve the case.

ACLU of Vermont Staff Attorney Lia Ernst, who argued the case at the Vermont Supreme Court in May 2018: “Our client is satisfied with the settlement terms and pleased with the outcome of this case. It took five years, but Greg Zullo’s courage and persistence resulted in a historic Vermont Supreme Court ruling and now this significant settlement agreement. His case sends a clear message—no one is above the law, and if police engage in racial profiling or other unlawful acts, they can and will be held accountable.”

Mr. Zullo, a young Black man, was pulled over in Wallingford by then-Vermont State Trooper Lewis Hatch in March of 2014. The claimed justification for the stop was that snow allegedly covered the registration sticker on Mr. Zullo’s license plate, which was not a traffic violation at the time.

In January, the Vermont Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the stop of Mr. Zullo and seizure of his vehicle violated Article 11 of the Vermont Constitution and the State bears legal responsibility for such violations. The High Court also agreed with the ACLU’s argument that the seizure of Mr. Zullo’s vehicle was impermissible because the faint odor of burnt marijuana, standing alone, cannot establish probable cause of a criminal act.

The Court remanded the case back to the lower court for further proceedings.  This settlement now brings the case to a close.  

ACLU of Vermont client Gregory Zullo: “This case is a victory for people of color in Vermont and anyone else unjustifiably targeted by Vermont police. I wanted to be sure what happened to me did not happen to anyone else–especially people of color. My hope is that it will make police and others stop and think about how their own bias plays into the decisions they make, particularly when it impacts another person’s life.”

ACLU of Vermont Staff Attorney Jay Diaz: “Although progress has been made, as VSP stop data released just this week show, Vermont State Police troopers continue to disproportionately stop and search people of color on Vermont’s roads. Mr. Zullo’s case is an important step toward eliminating those disparities once and for all. Thanks to his willingness to take on the State, justice was achieved for discriminatory police conduct.”    

Earlier this week, VSP released updated stop data showing in 2018 Asian, Hispanic, and Black drivers were more likely than White drivers to receive a ticket and less likely to receive a warning when stopped. In addition, Black and Hispanic drivers were up to three times more likely than White drivers to be searched but less likely to have an arrest result from searches.

The Vermont Supreme Court’s ruling is available here.

The Settlement Agreement is here.

Additional case materials are here.





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