The Vermont city of Burlington announced Friday that it has agreed to pay $750,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by the family of a man who was shoved by a police officer, fell backward and hit his head on a wall, knocking him unconscious in 2018.
In the lawsuit, Jeremie Meli, who is Black, said the officer used excessive force when he shoved him while responding to a call from a bar owner about a fight. The case “was an important catalyst for change,” said Mayor Miro Weinberger and Meli’s relatives in a statement.
The lawsuit said then-Burlington police officer Jason Bellavance did not announce his presence when he shoved Meli with both hands.
After Meli was knocked out, his brother, Albin Meli, was upset and placed his hand on Officer Cory Campbell’s shoulder and asked, “Can you please tell them to stop?” the lawsuit said. Campbell, Bellavance and other members of the police department tackled Albin Meli, tearing a ligament in his thumb, and arrested him, the lawsuit said.
The city, police chief and officers acknowledge that Bellavance pushed Meli to the ground and Meli hit his head against a wall as he fell but denied that Bellavance used excessive force or violated any “clearly established” law, according to a 2018 filing by attorney Pietro Lynn. Bellavance was suspended without pay and eventually left the department.
Since then, Weinberger issued an executive order requiring the mayor to review all use-of-force incidents that result in injury or raise significant public concern, according to the joint statement. The city also rewrote the police department’s use-of-force policy to include greater emphasis on de-escalation and the police department now releases body-worn camera footage to the public after use-of-force incidents, the statement said.