According to a report released on Erev Yom Kippur by Vermont State Police, a trooper has been cleared of any misconduct following an August traffic stop. It happened in Fairlee after trooper Justin Thompson tried to pull over Rabbi Berl Fink. According to a report release by police, the trooper clocked Rabbi Fink’s car traveling over the speed limit on Interstate 91. Despite the lights and sirens, the pursuit of Rabbi Fink’s vehicle covered nearly four-and-a-half miles. As the video shows, the trooper treated the stop as high-risk, with a weapon drawn.
When asked by the trooper, Rabbi Fink explained they were unsure where to pull over and he was eventually allowed to leave with a citation. In a release, VSP writes that while this traffic stop may be viewed as harsh or excessive, playing out in real time the trooper complied with his training. See the release here:
The State Police Advisory Commission (SPAC) and Thomas D. Anderson, Commissioner of Public Safety, issued the following statement in connection with the motor vehicle stop of Berl Fink on August 8, 2017.
On August 8, 2017, at approximately midnight, Vermont State Police Trooper Justin Thompson was traveling north on I-91 in the town of Thetford, VT near mile marker 86. Trooper Thompson observed a vehicle approaching him from behind at a high rate of speed. Utilizing his rear-facing radar, Trooper Thompson clocked the vehicle at 83 MPH in a 65 MPH zone, a violation of Title 23 VSA 1004 (Interstate Highway Regulations – Speed).
Trooper Thompson moved to the right, activated his rear blue lights and pulled completely into the breakdown lane until the vehicle passed his location. There were no other vehicles in the vicinity at the time of this stop. Once the vehicle passed his fully marked Vermont State Police cruiser, Trooper Thompson activated all his blue lights (front and back) to conduct a motor vehicle stop for speeding. The vehicle failed to stop with the blue lights on, so Trooper Thompson activated his siren and notified dispatch that he was initiating a vehicle pursuit.
During the pursuit, Trooper Thompson observed that the vehicle had multiple occupants inside. He further observed one of the occupants looking back at him during the time he was attempting to stop the vehicle. Trooper Thompson also observed that the vehicle did not stay in its lane of travel and on one occasion the operator activated the right turn signal but shortly thereafter deactivated it as it continued to drive north on I-91. Eventually, the vehicle pulled to the side of I-91 and came to a stop. The pursuit covered a distance of approximately 4.5 miles at speeds ranging from approximately 60 to 65 miles per hour.
After the vehicle pulled to the side of the interstate, Trooper Thompson conducted a high-risk motor vehicle stop based on his observations and training. The decision to conduct a high-risk stop is based on numerous factors that are evaluated in real time by an officer during an incident. In this case, some of the factors that were considered by Trooper Thompson in deciding to initiate a high-risk motor vehicle stop included, but were not limited to, the location of the stop was in a rural area late at night (12:09AM), there was a lack of immediate back-up in the area, the vehicle failed to stop after the cruiser’s lights and siren were activated for over 4 miles, the actions of the occupants were suspicious, the vehicle was initially travelling at a high rate of speed, and officer safety.
All law enforcement officers in Vermont are trained at the Vermont Police Academy on conducting two types of motor vehicle stops: unknown risk motor vehicle stops and high-risk motor vehicle stops. When conducting a high-risk motor vehicle stop, law enforcement officers are trained to order the operator and occupants out of the vehicle to maintain control the situation and ensure the safety of all individuals present, as well as assess potential threats. The training directs law enforcement officers to issue verbal commands from a position of cover at their police cruiser and have their firearm drawn during the removal process. Law enforcement officers are trained that a high-risk motor vehicle stop is indicated and appropriate when a vehicle fails to stop after a period of time after lights and sirens have been displayed.
In this case, after the vehicle came to a stop Trooper Thompson ordered the operator, later identified as Rabbi Berl Fink of Brooklyn, NY, to exit the vehicle. Trooper Thompson issued verbal commands from his cruiser and had his firearm drawn. While he was in the process of attempting to assess and control the actions of the operator, a male passenger, later identified as Eli Fink of Brooklyn, NY, exited the vehicle on his own from the rear driver’s side seat. Not knowing the intentions of the occupant, Trooper Thompson ordered the occupant back into the vehicle. Trooper Thompson was still alone at this time as backup had not yet arrived. Trooper Thompson ordered the operator to lie down in a safe location at the side of the roadway where he would be able to monitor the actions of the operator and all occupants until backup arrived. At that point, Trooper Thompson could thoroughly assess the situation safely. At no time was Trooper Thompson rude or unprofessional in his conduct with the driver or occupants.
Once backup arrived, all occupants of the vehicle were removed and detained. Trooper Thompson spoke with Rabbi Fink roadside and explained the reason for the stop. After the situation was further assessed, the passengers were released and allowed to get back into the vehicle while Trooper Thompson processed Rabbi Fink for Attempting to Elude, a violation of Title 23 VSA 1133.
While speaking with Rabbi Fink at roadside a domestic assault case was reported which required an immediate police response. Trooper Thompson decided to cite Rabbi Fink at the scene and release him so he could expedite his response to the domestic assault. Mr. Fink was initially cited to appear in Vermont Superior Court, Orange Circuit, on September 20, 2017, but that was later changed to October 18, 2017 after a request of the family to accommodate the holiday of Rosh Hashanah.
This incident was investigated by the Vermont State Police Internal Affairs Unit (IA). A subsequent review of the IA investigation by Commissioner Thomas D. Anderson and the seven-member State Police Advisory Commission (SPAC) determined that Trooper Thompson acted in accordance with his training and Vermont State Police policy and procedure when he made the decision to conduct a high-risk motor vehicle stop. Given the fact that it was dark outside when the stop was conducted, Trooper Thompson could not reasonably see or identify any personal characteristics of the occupants inside the vehicle at the time he made the decision to conduct a high-risk motor vehicle stop. There is no evidence from the investigation to suggest his actions were based on any type of bias or profiling.
Vermont State Police Code of Conduct and policies require every trooper to treat all members of the public with respect, dignity and fairness at all times. There are situations when troopers must take steps to ensure their safety and the safety of the public when confronted with potentially dangerous situations and those steps can at times appear to be excessive or extreme. Although we now know that this was not a dangerous situation, Trooper Thompson could not have known that during the time the vehicle failed to stop as he followed it for several miles on the interstates or at the time of the stop. When assessed in their totality, Trooper Thompson’s observations reasonably led him to believe that he should conduct a high-risk stop to ensure a safe outcome.
The Vermont State Police acknowledge that not every car stop is the same and the threat from each one can vary widely, as can the outcome. When incidents like this occur, the Vermont State Police review their training processes, policies and procedures to ensure that every Vermont State Trooper takes all necessary steps to ensure a safe outcome while bridging the gap between a potentially dangerous situation and person who may be confused or scared. We are mindful that certain police actions that fully comply with policy and training can, at times, be viewed and experienced as harsh or excessive.
All allegations of misconduct by State Police officers are given to the State Police Advisory Commission (SPAC) for review. By statute, SPAC is made up of seven independent Vermont citizens appointed by the Governor. SPAC provides advice and counsel to the Commissioner of Public Safety in carrying out his or her responsibilities for the management, supervision and control of the Vermont State Police. The Commission also advises the Commissioner regarding rules concerning promotions, grievances, transfers, internal investigations and discipline. SPAC has authorized the Commissioner to make public the video of the stop.