Former dispatcher pleads not guilty to felony

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Former Colchester Police dispatcher Earl Benway appeared in Vermont Superior Court on Tuesday. (Pool photo by Glenn Russell/Free Press)

A former Colchester Police Department dispatcher pleaded not guilty in Vermont Superior Court on Tuesday to allegations he provided information about an ongoing federal investigation to a prostitute.

Earl Benway, a 41-year-old Milton resident, is charged with obstruction of justice, a felony, and committing prohibited acts, a misdemeanor. If convicted, he faces a maximum of five years in prison and a $5,000 fine.

Outside the courtroom, Benway’s lawyer Robert Kaplan said the case was being “overblown” because of his client’s work as a police dispatcher. He declined requests for further comment on Benway’s behalf.

In a statement last month, Chief Jennifer Morrison said she immediately ordered an internal affairs investigation after Burlington police notified her of the matter on September 13 and asked Vermont State Police to begin a separate criminal investigation.

Benway was placed on paid administrative leave during that time. A week later, he was fired, according to Morrison. Benway had worked for the department since 2001, according to her statement.

VSP Detective Sgt. Benjamin Katz was assigned to investigate the case and met with CPD Detective Sgt. James Roy, who conducted the Colchester’s internal investigation, on September 15, according to a sworn affidavit.

At that time, Katz said Roy informed him a Colchester police officer was also implicated. By the conclusion of the investigation, Katz said they determined the officer, in fact, had no involvement.

Roy played Katz a recording of his interview with a female identified in the affidavit as “V#1.” Under oath, the woman said she advertised herself on backpage.com, a website commonly used by prostitutes to advertise illicit services, Katz wrote.

During the interview, the woman said she’s known Benway “all her life” because they went to school together. She confirmed Benway contacted her via Facebook to “ask for a date” after seeing her ad, according to the affidavit.

The woman said Benway picked her up at her Colchester residence around 1 p.m. on a day in late June and drove to the Ethan Allen Homestead. After seeing “the pinnacle” was under construction, they drove to a “park at Porters Point,” the affidavit said.

Once there, the woman said she performed oral sex on Benway in exchange for $100, Katz wrote.

While they were together, the woman said Benway told her federal agents were watching her home and that neighbors across the street were recording license plate numbers to inform Colchester police. She said Benway told her to “be careful about who I have there and the cars that pull in there,” according to the statement.

Roy and Katz later met with BPD Officer Duane Mellis, who first learned of the incident while working a separate investigation, the statement said, and reported the information to his chain of command.

Mellis told the pair he interviewed the woman’s boyfriend, who, in a sworn statement, confirmed knowledge of his girlfriend’s “backpage actions” and said she told him she went on a date with a Colchester police officer, according to the affidavit.

The boyfriend said he was stopped in Bayside Park “in the middle of the night” by an officer who knew his girlfriend by name. He said his girlfriend then told him that was who she met for an “illicit date,” Katz wrote.

Katz said he asked a VSP detective to re-interview the woman. In a sworn statement, she said the only member of Colchester Police Department she met through backpage.com was Benway, the affidavit said.

Katz and another detective subsequently conducted an official interview with the officer in question, who denied ever meeting the woman, according to the affidavit. He voluntarily turned over his cell phone for a forensic exam.

The search turned up “nothing of interest,” Katz said, and the officer was cleared of any wrongdoing.

Troopers then called Benway in for questioning at CPD. There, Benway confirmed he’d known the woman since childhood and admitted he contacted her online, picked her up and paid her for oral sex, which she performed at Airport Park.

Benway also admitted to telling her about neighbors monitoring cars and the police surveillance and said that’s why he wouldn’t drive close to her house.

“This information is privileged and gained from Benway’s position as a dispatcher,” Katz wrote. “Benway also had firsthand knowledge of a federal investigation due to the fact that federal agents were collaborating with members of [CPD] and conducted business at [CPD] where Benway observed and had interactions with the agents as they were in the building.”

Benway was not held in custody after Tuesday’s arraignment but was instructed to avoid contact with the woman. He is next scheduled to appear in court on November 8.