A prominent police chief in Vermont’s Chittenden County says her department moved swiftly and decisively to respond to a report that a longtime dispatcher paid a prostitute for sex and leaked top-secret information to that woman about an ongoing police investigation.
Earl Benway, 41, of Milton, served as a dispatcher for the Colchester Police Department from March 2001 until last month. Tuesday, he appeared in Vermont Superior Court in Burlington to answer to allegations he leaked confidential information to a prostitute.
Rob Kaplan, a defense attorney for Benway, entered not guilty pleas on his client’s behalf to two criminal charges.
Benway’s former boss said she called for an outside investigation last month, after the dispatcher’s name came up in a case through the Burlington Police Department.
Ben Katz, a detective sergeant with the Vermont State Police who led that investigation, wrote in an affidavit filed with the court that Benway paid a prostitute for oral sex.
Katz said Benway saw an ad on a website used to advertise illicit services, and that the dispatcher realized he knew the woman from childhood, because they went to school together.
Benway allegedly contacted the woman through Facebook to set up a meeting, had sexual contact with her in a Colchester park, then told her that her home was being monitored by federal authorities as part of an ongoing investigation.
Benway is accused of letting the woman know that tipsters were watching cars coming and going from the residence—and reporting the plates to authorities. He allegedly used his insider knowledge to advise the woman to be careful about who she has visit her house, because the home was under surveillance.
Katz wrote in the affidavit that Benway would not go to the woman’s house himself, because he thought his presence there would be detected by the monitoring.
Chief Jennifer Morrison of the Colchester Police Department declined to share any information about the specifics of the feds' reported investigation into the property, saying she wanted to respect the sensitivity of another agency’s case.
Morrison said Benway was fired from his job with the Colchester Police Department shortly after the allegations came to light.
"It’s not just shocking, but it’s disappointing," Morrison said of the allegations against a former trusted employee. "And it’s sad for the entire department."
Morrison said the department responded quickly to the report, and fired Benway for what she described as clear-cut violations of existing training and policies.
"The actions that Mr. Benway is accused of engaging in are not reflective of the values of this organization," Morrison told necn.
Morrison added that anyone who works in law enforcement is held to a very high standard—in both their professional and personal lives.
"And that doesn’t just go for police officers," said Morrison, who is also the head of the Vermont Police Chiefs Association. "That goes for all the men and women who support the sworn police officers: records clerks, dispatchers, and other support personnel."
Benway pled not guilty to a misdemeanor charge of engaging in prostitution, and to a felony charge of obstruction of justice.
"This is a weak case that’s been overblown by the state because of my client’s position as a police dispatcher," defense attorney Rob Kaplan said after Tuesday morning’s arraignment. "We will definitely test these charges through a rigorous defense. We’ll be doing that through the court process."
Benway was released on orders he not have contact with the woman he allegedly paid for sex. He declined to answer questions posed to him by necn after the hearing.