By Todd Smith | The Caledonian Record
Last week Chittenden County Prosecutor Sarah George asked a judge to move a case against Tyshane Smith, 18, of Burlington, to juvenile court to be treated as a “youthful offender.” Juvenile court proceedings are secret and punishments get scrubbed from permanent records.
Smith, a suspected gang member, is accused of shooting “at least” five rounds from a 9 mm inside the crowded University Mall on Feb. 1. Police say he went on a robbery spree before firing on another 18-year-old, wounding an innocent bystander in the process. Smith allegedly fled to Florida, where he was arrested after a massive nationwide search by federal, state, county and local law enforcement officials. According to our report from Mike Donoghue, he also faced a felony drug count in Florida, but that was dropped to allow for the Chittenden County Sheriff’s Department to return him to Vermont on Thursday evening.
Vermont Superior Court Judge Alison Arms ordered Smith to be held without bail.
Smith sounds like a pretty bad dude, for whom “youthful offender” is wildly inappropriate.
But the move doesn’t surprise us coming from Sarah George. Every time she comes up, it seems, it’s for something dubious.
Teen Kills Elderly Couple, Fined $220 In Secret Process
This past year she made headlines for fighting like a trapped wolverine to keep a teenager’s name from getting out after she caused a deadly crash.
Sixteen-year-old Isabel Jennifer Seward was fined $220 for killing an elderly couple in September. She reportedly comes from a prominent family; gave at least three different stories about her cell phone use (including one on the scene to Charlotte Rescue personnel that she was texting before the crash); and her mom paid the small fine for the offense of “driving on roadways laned for traffic.”
For reasons we will never comprehend, George tried to cover up the crash and went after State Police, who released Seward’s name to the public. George’s tirade caused the police to attempt to bury the ticket and to overreact with a new, unconstitutional policy to keep juvenile names secret in all circumstances.
Getting Away With Murder
In June 2019, George dropped all charges against two accused murderers and a woman charged with attempted murder. The defendants all claimed they were insane and George said she couldn’t prove otherwise.
A short time later, Gov. Phil Scott expressed surprise and confusion about the moves.
“From a layperson’s perspective, and certainly as Governor, I’m at a loss as to the logic or strategy behind this decision to drop all charges – especially because the State’s Attorney is aware the Department of Mental Health has no legal authority to continue to keep individuals hospitalized when they do not meet the legal criteria for hospital level of care,” Scott wrote in a letter to Attorney General TJ Donovan — George’s boss. “The top priority of government is public safety, and I certainly don’t take this obligation lightly. Civil society cannot function properly when a heinous violent crime is not properly adjudicated, and the public is put at risk.”
Governor Scott rightly pointed out that the crimes in question are among the most gruesome in our state’s history.
Louis Fortier was charged with first-degree murder for repeatedly stabbing a man to death (in the head and neck) in broad daylight on Church Street in Burlington.
Aita Gurung used a meat cleaver to hack his wife to death before turning the blade on his mother-in-law and nearly killing her. He was charged with first-degree murder and attempted murder after allegedly yelling, “she betray me, she betray me,” as he chopped her head to pieces in the front yard of their Burlington home.
Veronica Lewis shot her firearms instructor twice in the face and once in the stomach, nearly killing him. She was charged with attempted first-degree murder.
By dismissing the cases, George put Fortier, Gurung, and Lewis in the Vermont Department of Mental Health care, where they may, or may not, stay for a while. The public will have no clue when the unholy trio might show up in their neighborhood.
For their part, the mental health department was quick to admit they have neither the tools nor the inclination to dispense justice. “We are not a state entity that administers or enforces criminal justice,” Sarah Squirrell, commissioner of the Department of Mental Health, told VTDigger at the time. “We aren’t an arm of law enforcement and we’re not designed, nor do we have the tools, to ensure high levels of public safety.”
We listened to everything else George said (and tweeted) on the topic and didn’t for a second dispute these people are nuttier than fruitcakes. But we found her decision to issue get-of-jail-free cards, without any effort to prosecute, to be a shocking dereliction of duty that puts the public in extreme danger.
Vermont Attorney General TJ Donovan apparently agreed with us. He took over and refiled criminal charges in all the cases.
Wild West Shootout
In February 2018, a 33-year-old man punched another man in the face, prompting both to pull out handguns in downtown Burlington. In the ensuing gunfight, an innocent 26-year-old bystander was hit in her chest and hospitalized for life-threatening injuries after the bullet passed through her body. The physical and mental wounds will be lifelong.
The man who threw the punch and fled the scene was Carl Martin of Colchester. The man who got punched and fired two gunshots into a crowd — nearly killing the local woman — was Rashad Nashid. Both men reportedly drew guns. The “wild-West” shootout was sparked by a lovers’ quarrel between Nashid and Martin’s brother.
In March of that year, Nashid, 37, denied a federal charge of possessing a firearm as a felon related to the gunfight. Court records show that Nashid has at least seven felony convictions to his name. He is being held in federal prison on these and unrelated charges.
In August of 2018, Burlington police charged Martin with aggravated assault, aggravated disorderly conduct, negligent use of a gun, and reckless endangerment.
In September, George said she would not prosecute Martin. She said she believed his story that he feared for his brother’s life and acted in self-defense when he punched Nashid in the face and drew his gun.
“Mr. Martin’s actions were irresponsible, dangerous and injudicious,” George wrote. “However, given the totality of the circumstances, his actions were not criminal.”
If you think that’s insane, then you’d be in the same camp as former Burlington Police Chief Brandon Del Pozo. In an extremely rare public rebuke of George’s decision, Del Pozo wrote:
We believe that for his decision not to leave the scene or seek help through the night, but rather to stop drinking, stay on the scene, arm himself with a handgun, cross Main Street, then begin a physical fight by punching Nashid in the face and pointing a gun at him, [the victim] would not have been shot in the lung and nearly killed as Nashid ran from Martin while firing a gun of his own. … We felt a courtroom of Vermonters should consider whether or not Carl Martin needed to preemptively attack Nashid with a fist and a gun to protect his brother. The consequences were too serious for the city to accept his word without a judicial process.
Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger concurred. “Our police department is right on this one,” Weinberger said. “A night of gun violence in downtown [Burlington] like this should be judged by Vermonters in a court of law. A free pass sends the wrong message.”
That’s certainly how we feel. We may be old fashioned, but we think jail is the appropriate place for someone who kills an elderly couple while texting and driving; or stabs or chops a person to death in broad daylight; or shoots somebody in the face multiple times; or shoots innocent bystanders downtown, or at the mall. George sees things differently, which we see as an enormous problem.
Todd M. Smith is the publisher of the Caledonian Record, where this editorial first appeared. He lives in St. Johnsbury.