FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 8, 2023
Contact: Stephanie Gomory, [email protected], 802-223-6304 x111
MONTPELIER, Vt. – In a letter to the Rutland Town Selectboard today, the ACLU is drawing attention to numerous examples of trespass notices barring local residents from public property—several of which have been issued at the behest of Selectboard members—part of a statewide trend of local officials restricting residents’ access to public spaces. The letter asserts that Rutland’s current policy for trespass notices is inadequate to protect residents’ due process rights; prior to being contacted by the ACLU, the town had no policy at all.
ACLU of Vermont Staff Attorney Hillary Rich: “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. 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.”
Based on information obtained through public records requests and discussions with local residents, the ACLU learned that from 2020 to 2022, Rutland Town police have issued at least ten trespass notices restricting access to public property—without providing a reason for their issuance in the notice or a process to challenge them. The notices have barred people from Northwood Park, the entrance to Green Mountain Plaza, Town Hall, and recreation facilities and fields. Police served six of those notices at the express request or prompting of Selectboard members.
Like the Town of Rutland, many other Vermont cities and towns lack adequate procedural safeguards for issuing trespass notices for public property, putting their residents’ rights at risk. The ACLU recently filed a lawsuit on behalf of Andrew Cappello, whom City of Newport officials served with a notice against trespass in August 2021, barring him from City property. The yearlong “no trespass” order was issued without any due process and at the request of a city official with an apparent grudge against Mr. Cappello.
That followed an amicus brief the ACLU filed in support of Montpelier resident Stephen Whitaker, who was forcibly removed from a city council meeting and criminally charged with disorderly conduct and trespassing after he exceeded the two-minutes of time allotted for public comments.
The ACLU of Vermont is urging Rutland Town to modify its trespass notice policy in consultation with the Vermont League of Cities and Towns, and continues to encourage the League to issue statewide guidance to prevent misuse of trespass notices and better protect Vermont residents’ constitutional rights. Absent such guidance, the ACLU is advising legislators to take notice and respond to recurring due process violations in Vermont communities.
A copy of the ACLU’s letter to the Town of Rutland is available here.