Vermont Supreme Court says state can be sued over trooper’s actions

A Vermont Supreme Court decision released Friday will allow a black man who argued that a 2014 traffic stop in Wallingford violated his civil rights to sue the state.

Gregory Zullo, 25, who was living in Rutland at the time, was stopped by Trooper Lewis Hatch in Wallingford. Hatch, who was dismissed from the Vermont State Police in 2016, said he stopped Zullo because his registration sticker was partially obscured by snow.

Hatch ordered Zullo to step out of the car. Zullo agreed and allowed Hatch to search his person, according to the Vermont Supreme Court decision. Zullo declined to allow Hatch to search his car.

Hatch seized the car so it could be searched. While Hatch would not drive Zullo back to Rutland, he offered to take him to a service station or call someone to give Zullo a ride, but Zullo declined and walked back to Rutland.

Hatch testified he had seized the car based on a faint smell of marijuana but a search of the car found nothing criminal.

Zullo filed a lawsuit in Rutland civil court against the state in September 2014, arguing that his rights had been violated because of the stop, the order to leave the car, the seizure of the car and the search of the car.