By Mara Brooks, Editor

 

The “Big Barn” at the Clemmons Family Farm.

Lydia Clemmons, director of the Clemmons’ Family Farm, suffered illegal racial and gender discrimination at the hands of Vermont State police, according to a 5-0 vote by the Vermont Humans Right Commission. The vote followed a three-year investigation and confidential report compiled by attorney and commission investigator Nelson Campbell. News outlet Seven Days first reported on the commission’s troubling findings.

The commission unanimously agreed Clemmons, who is African American, was discriminated against by state troopers during a four-month period in 2017 when, pursuant to a court order, she requested police protection from Gregory “Grey” Barreda, a tenant she was in the process of evicting. Campbell found VSP did not take Clemmons’ requests for assistance seriously and at times appeared to side with Barreda, an alleged criminal who fraudulently gained tenancy at the Clemmons’ farm by pretending to be a sheep herder.

The Clemmons Family Farm, founded in the 1960s by Lydia Clemmons’ now-elderly parents Lydia Sr. and Jack Clemmons, is the only Black-owned farm in Charlotte and possibly the only fully Black-owned farm in the state. The family residence, which is leased to a nonprofit, doubles as an African American Heritage and Multicultural Center and often holds public events.

The investigative report was limited to Lydia Clemmons because she was the person interacting with the VSP during the time in question and she filed the HRC complaint on her own behalf.

According to the report, Clemmons said she became suspicious of her new tenant when Barreda tried to pay his $1000 security deposit entirely with silver coins. After researching the coins online and fearing they may have been stolen, Clemmons contacted law enforcement.

Clemmons’ hunch proved correct. Barreda was subsequently charged with grand larceny for stealing $27,000 in coins from his former landlord in Windsor County. Following his arraignment in September 2017, Judge Timothy Tomasi granted Barreda conditional release with an order prohibiting him from acts of retaliation against Clemmons.

Once free, Barreda returned to the Clemmons’ farm. Lydia Clemmons began eviction proceedings against him, which Barreda fought.

According to Clemmons, Barreda violated the court’s non-retaliation and harassment order multiple times. She accused him of damaging her property and creating a menacing presence by placing guns, knives, and bottled urine in areas he was not authorized to be in. Barreda told police he felt Clemmons was the one harassing him.

In the period of September to December 2017, Barreda and Clemmons called the police on each other a total of 65 times.

In her complaint, Clemmons alleged the VSP’s failure to consistently enforce the court’s non retaliation and harassment order were based on her race and gender, in violation of Vermont Fair Housing and Public Accommodations Act, 9 V.S.A. §4502(a). The commission agreed.

According to the investigative report, internal emails suggest the VSP viewed the Clemmons/Barreda dispute primarily as a “landlord-tenant issue” and felt they were “being used by Clemmons to bring about an eviction.” The VSP also said they found Clemmons’ claims of property damage to be unsubstantiated.

In defense of their handling of the matter, the VSP claimed the court’s conditional release order was unenforceable in part because Barreda and Clemmons shared several common areas on the farm. They said they charged Barreda with four violations of conditions of release and one count of unlawful trespass, proving no discrimination took place.

But Campbell found “behind the scenes” statements made by Lt. Robert Lucas of the Williston Barracks supported the existence of discrimination.

“Lt. Lucas could be friendly to Dr. Clemmons in emails… but internally, to subordinates, he expressed hostility and derision,” Campbell wrote.

In his discussions with other law enforcement personnel, Lt. Lucas reportedly portrayed Clemmons as uncooperative and possibly dishonest and described her as “commandeering.” Campbell found Lt. Lucas “set an internal tone and an attitude towards Dr. Clemmons that the rest of the troopers who dealt with Dr. Clemmons and the situation followed.”

On December 28, 2017, Judge Robert Mello ordered Barreda to vacate the Clemmons Family Farm. In February 2019, an anti-stalking order against Barreda was extended for an additional three years.

“This case illustrates why people of color and women fear turning to the police, and distrust government agencies of all kinds,” Campbell wrote in the report.

At a recent Selectboard meeting, Lydia Clemmons expressed opposition to a scoping study that proposed placing the town link trail on the edge of her family’s property. She said the trail’s close proximity to the historic Black-owned farm could make it a target for racial hate crimes. At last week’s select board meeting, Clemmons again voiced opposition to the proposed placement of the trail.

Clemmons is reportedly in the process of moving her parents from the farm they have called home for more than half a century due to ongoing fears for their safety.

A Special Selectboard hearing is scheduled for tonight to discuss Lydia Clemmons’ request to hold a press conference at the Town Hall or town green on June 28.

Editor’s Note: The Charlotte News has been aware of this story for several weeks, but in deference to safety concerns expressed by the Clemmons family we agreed not to investigate or report on the matter until after the Clemmons June 28 press conference. In light of Seven Days’ decision to publish the story in advance of the press conference, The News will proceed with its own investigation and coverage. We have reached out to several sources and parties connected with this matter and an updated version of this story will appear in the July 1 issue of the paper.