Lawmaker’s Bag Repeatedly Drenched Colleague Faces Probe

Lawmaker’s Bag Repeatedly Drenched Colleague Faces Probe

Published October 10, 2023 at 6:48 p.m.

A state representative from southern Vermont is under scrutiny after being allegedly caught on video repeatedly pouring water into a colleague’s tote bag at the Statehouse.

Rep. Mary Morrissey (R-Bennington) is facing an ethics investigation over claims that she harassed Rep. Jim Carroll (D-Bennington) by secretly soaking his belongings multiple times during the recent legislative session, according to sources familiar with the matter.

Rep. Angela Arsenault (D-Williston) stated she has seen a video showing Morrissey leaving her committee room, walking over to a bag outside Carroll’s committee room, and dumping a cup of water into it.

“It was jaw-dropping,” Arsenault said. “It was bizarre. Why? That’s what I kept saying. Why?”

“It wasn’t like ‘Oops, I bumped my arm, and some of it spilled on this bag,'” Arsenault added. “There was no way this was inadvertent. It was purposeful.”

Morrissey could face disciplinary measures if the House Ethics Panel concludes she violated ethics rules.

After the situation was brought to the attention of House leadership, Speaker Jill Krowinski (D-Burlington) blocked Morrissey from serving on a key committee. Both Carroll and Morrissey declined to comment when reached out by Seven Days. Other lawmakers were shocked by the allegations, which were being discussed quietly around the Statehouse.

“To have another member actually do something like that, just, it’s hard to fathom,” Rep. Mike Marcotte (R-Coventry) said. “It’s hard to understand why someone would stoop to that level.”

Carroll initially had no idea how his bag, hung on a hook outside his Commerce and Economic Development Committee meeting room, was repeatedly getting soaked. Marcotte, chair of the committee, said Carroll told him it had happened multiple times over more than a month.

“At first we thought, Is it near a source of water? Could it be something dripping from the ceiling?” Marcotte recalled.

After ruling that out, Carroll concluded he was being targeted. “I think it really bothered him to think that someone would be intentionally pouring water into his bag,” Marcotte said.

Carroll met with Krowinski and Capitol Police Chief John Poleway. Without direct evidence, there wasn’t much they could do, according to several people familiar with the conversations who requested anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.

That’s when Carroll decided to crack the case himself. He placed a video camera in the hallway outside the committee room pointed toward the coatrack where he hung his bag. It’s not clear exactly what type of camera he used.

Carroll told Marcotte that before he set up the camera, he spoke to Statehouse officials to make sure he was within his rights to do so, Marcotte said.

“I think he wanted to make sure he was on solid legal ground to do something to find out who the perpetrator was,” Marcotte said.

Carroll was apparently successful in capturing images of Morrissey red-handed more than once, according to Arsenault and two other people who have seen the video. Morrissey is a member of the House Corrections and Institutions Committee, which meets across a Statehouse hallway from Carroll’s Commerce and Economic Development Committee.

Carroll declined to provide copies of the video to Seven Days, claiming it was his personal property and exempt from disclosure under the state Public Records Act. Seven Days requested the video from police as well. Poleway said he needs extra time to consider the records request because it “requires consultation between one or more agencies or components of agencies.” He declined further comment.

After Krowinski and other legislative leaders saw the video, the speaker summoned Morrissey to her office during the first week of May. Minority Leader Rep. Patti McCoy (R-Poultney) was also present, according to people with knowledge of the meeting.

It’s not clear exactly what was said. Krowinski was not available for an interview for this story. But soon afterward, Krowinski decided not to appoint Morrissey to a position on the six-member committee formed to strike a compromise between the Senate and the House versions of a key infrastructure bill. That’s even though Morrissey, 67, is the most senior Republican on her committee and Krowinski was expected to appoint the ranking member, as in past years. Rep. Alice Emmons (D-Springfield), the chair of the House Corrections and Institutions Committee, had recommended Morrissey be one of the three House members on what is known as a committee of conference.

“What was said to me was, with whatever was happening between Mary and Jim, it would not be good for Mary to be on the conference committee,” Emmons said. “That’s all I know.”

Krowinski picked Rep. Conor Casey (D-Montpelier) to serve instead. Casey said he was “a little surprised” to be named. He said he was told little about why he was asked to fill in for Morrissey beyond “It was an issue with Mary.”

Rep. Martin LaLonde (D-South Burlington), chair of the House Ethics Panel, declined to be interviewed. He wrote in an email that the panel’s deliberations are confidential, unless it determines an ethical violation occurred and introduces a House resolution that makes the issue public. That is exceedingly rare.

Former Progressive representative Emma Mulvaney-Stanak, now mayor of Burlington, served on the Commerce and Economic Development Committee with Carroll, but he never shared any concerns with her, she said. Mulvaney-Stanak resigned in late March to assume her new role. She still heard about the allegations from several former colleagues.

“This would be something I would expect from middle school,” she said.

It’s unclear if the dousings were related to Carroll’s own legal troubles. He was arrested at 8:30 a.m. on February 21 in a Statehouse parking lot. A Montpelier police officer noticed his car’s muffler was too loud and then reported signs that Carroll, 62, was impaired.

Carroll’s drunken driving arrest was widely publicized. He issued a statement expressing disappointment in himself and pledged to go to rehab. In March a court hearing was postponed because Carroll was reported to be in a residential treatment facility.

Arsenault suspects the incidents were intended to taunt Carroll subsequent to his arrest.

“He felt like he was losing his mind, and I think that was part of the purpose behind it,” she said.

Carroll was first elected in 2018 after representative Kiah Morris resigned. The longtime owner of a downtown Bennington eatery, Carroll served on the Bennington Selectboard for a dozen years, but he lost his seat in the March election.

Mulvaney-Stanak, who was chair of the small Progressive House caucus, said a fair amount of tension was evident in the Statehouse this session, and she noticed more examples than usual of people pushing the boundaries of decorum, such as speaking out of turn on the House floor.

But nothing she witnessed approached what’s alleged here, she said.

“When you’re in House leadership, you hear a whole bunch of absurd things that people do, but it never rises to the level of harming someone else, emotionally or otherwise,” she said. “If any of this is even remotely true, oh, my God!”

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