The Vermont Human Rights Commission found that Vermont State Police discriminated against Lydia Clemmons, a Black woman and member of a prominent family that owns historic property in Charlotte, Vermont. The property is a stop on Vermont’s African American Heritage Trail.
In an unpublished report, the commission shared its findings from an investigation, and concluded that in 2017 state police allowed a tenant on the historic Clemmons family farm to “prey on Dr. Clemmons and terrorize her and her family and destroy a building on one of the few African American farms left in Vermont” when Clemmons called the police multiple times regarding her troubles with the tenant.
According to Clemmons, the way the police responded left one particular impression: “As if our lives, our property, our business and our long-standing position in this state and in our local community meant less than nothing. We will never forget this, and we will never, ever get over this.”
Clemmons belongs to the family that owns and is the farm director. She lived on the farm in a building along with her parents, who are in their nineties.
“This case illustrates why people of color and women fear turning to the police, and distrust government agencies of all kinds,” the report says. It was completed in November 2020 by commission investigator and attorney Nelson Campbell.
After Campbell recommended that the commission find that police discriminated against Clemmons on the basis of race and gender, five members voted unanimously in March 2021 to support her conclusion, Seven Days reported. The commission is charged with enforcing the state’s civil right’s laws, with staff investigating and reporting on discrimination allegations.
In July 2020, Campbell wrote that there wasn’t enough evidence to show that state police discriminated against Clemmons but acknowledged that she changed her mind after more evidence came in.
The family requested that the report not be made public out of concern about a reaction from the public and the former tenant, but Seven Days requested it on June 10 and received it later that day.
The Clemmons family had planned to hold a press conference on Monday, June 28.
The 148-acre Clemmons Family Farm was purchased in 1962 by Clemmons’ parents.
The trouble began in 2017 when Clemmons met Gregory “Grey” Barreda, who claimed to be a shepherd who said he needed somewhere for his sheep to graze. The Clemmons family wanted to bring livestock back to the farm, so they allowed Barreda to stay in the Barn House, a retreat center on the property.
According to the commission’s report, Barreda “was not a shepherd and had no sheep.” After he paid her a $1,000 deposit in silver coins, she reported Barreda to the police, fearing that the coins might have been stolen. Authorities arrested Barreda and charged him with stealing $30,000 in coins from a previous landlord.
Barreda was freed with court-ordered conditions of release while his case was pending, and continued to live on the farm, where he caused significant damage, entered areas that were off-limits for him and generally “terrorized” Clemmons, according to the report. Barreda has described his ethnicity as “Latinx and Indigenous.”
In one October 2017 incident, Clemmons and her brother encountered Barreda in his underwear in an event space where members of the pubic were due to be. Barreda’s dirty laundry, machetes and knives reportedly were lying about and he refused to leave.
Both Barreda and Clemmons called the police. Clemmons reported that Barreda was within 300 feet of her and violating the terms of his release. When state police Cpl. Andrew Leise arrived, he said Clemmons had nullified the conditions of the release by “coming to her place of business and being within 300 feet of Barreda, despite the fact that she was under no legal restraint that prohibited her from coming to her place of business.”
In the investigation, Campbell reviewed footage of the encounter and wrote that Leise’s tone toward Clemmons and her brother was “alternately impatient, brusque, accusatory and confrontational peppered with occasional perfunctory politeness.”
Leise also thanked Barreda for being a “gentleman” as he packed his belongings, and coached him on what to put in his statement.
Clemmons complained that the state police response was ineffective after a series of incidents, writing, “[T]he VSP stood by, crossed their arms, and watched us live in hell for nearly 3 full months,” she wrote. “The VSP’s conduct is far more painful, more humiliating and more haunting to us than anything Barreda ever did to us. Barreda was never sworn to a duty to uphold the law and protect us. We also never paid him to work for us. The VSP troopers, however, are sworn to uphold the law and to protect us, and they are paid by our taxes to do their jobs.”
According to Clemmons, if her family had been white, Barreda would have been immediately removed from the farm.
The investigation showed that state police sometimes charged Barreda for violating the conditions of his release, other times did not charge him with any crimes, and sometimes did not show up at all when called.
He was ordered to leave the farm in December 2017 by a judge, but the charges against him were dismissed because he was deemed unfit to stand trial.