Vermont’s criminal justice system started revving back to life last week after the coronavirus pandemic shut down courtrooms except for the most serious crimes.
One of the first people to be arraigned for crimes allegedly committed during the pandemic was Tyler Foster, the transient 25-year-old from Lamoille County who had racked up more than a dozen criminal charges since March, according to Lamoille County State’s Attorney Todd Shove.
Shove said the June 3 arraignment was held in Orleans County Superior Court rather than Lamoille County, because the Newport courthouse has video conferencing capabilities and the Hyde Park courthouse doesn’t.
In an unusual move, Shove said Judge Robert Bent heard all of Foster’s cases as a group, instead of Foster pleading not guilty to them one by one. The judge also imposed $100 bail on each charge.
Because the courts are still closed to the public except for hearings, and there is no public access to electronic court records — and because Newport is a long way to travel for paper documents — a complete rundown of Foster’s charges is not available. However, according to arrest records from Lamoille County Sheriff’s Department and Morristown Police Department, Foster has been arrested or cited on at least 15 charges since mid-March.
Those arrests and citations include: five counts of retail theft; four counts of unlawful trespass; three counts of violating conditions of release; and one count each of burglary, aggravated vehicle operation, and petit larceny.
Speaking the day before the June 3 arraignment, Shove was frustrated. Just the week before, he’d had to call in for Foster’s first arraignment in Caledonia County and try to persuade Judge Michael Harris to hold Foster until trial.
“Now I have to do my best to educate another judge about him,” he said.
This week, Shove said he was satisfied with Bent’s ruling on the $1,000 in total bail imposed, as well as conditions of release that would require Foster to have a guardian and a place to live under curfew. Foster couldn’t meet those conditions.
“So, Tyler continues to remain in St. Johnsbury,” Shove said.
Despite being banned from innumerable businesses in Morristown and Johnson and being chased by police and storeowners for various misdeeds — on March 20, police say he jumped into the still-frigid Lamoille River to avoid capture and, on May 4, a storeowner chased Foster down after catching him allegedly stealing a pair of wheelbarrows and pinned him, only to watch in frustration as police had to let him go with a citation for a later court date — local police and the state’s attorney couldn’t persuade a judge to order Foster held in custody.
Finally, at the end of May, after being charged with two separate felonies — burglary of a home and stealing a motorcycle — Foster was held at the prison in St. Johnsbury.
Shove said Judge Bent also ordered Foster to undergo a screening with the pretrial services at the Lamoille Restorative Center, which includes checking for any substance abuse or mental health issues. The court cannot order Foster to actually undergo any treatment because he hasn’t been convicted of anything, but the pretrial evaluation could at least provide him with a roadmap for help, if needed.
Said Shove, “It’s still the whole leading the horse to water thing, though.”