Citizen Matt: Chester Det. Wilson takes on a new beat

By Cynthia Prairie
©2016 Telegraph Publishing LLC

In just a few days, Matt Wilson will no longer be a Chester Police detective. The 15-year veteran of the force will be leaving the department in late October to take a position a little closer to home — as a matter of fact, in his home, where he’ll be setting up an office to sell fire and law enforcement safety equipment to agencies throughout the state.

Det. Matt Wilson will be exiting the Chester Police Department soon. Photo by Shawn Cunningham

Det. Matt Wilson will be exiting the Chester Police Department soon. Photo by Shawn Cunningham

In a recent interview, Wilson said he was torn about leaving this month, especially since the department is already down one officer. But his new employer, MES Lawmen, has been waiting for an answer.

Wilson, 38, says he never intended to be a police officer, “It was never in my plan.” His real interests lay with firefighting and the military. So, the 1995 graduate of Green Mountain Union High joined the Chester Fire Department in January of 1996, an on-call position.

Before joining the Chester Police Department, Wilson searched for that right niche. He says he “worked on cars back then … thought I liked it.” As a hobby, he did. But once it became a full-time position, “I didn’t enjoy it so much.” He even started his own lawn care business. But steady work at that time was hard to come by and 20 hours a week doing lawn care didn’t cut it financially. So a friend who was also a part-time officer suggested  that Wilson speak with Shane Harris, Chester’s police chief at the time.

He was hired and sent to the Training Academy to get his feet wet. He says simply “I enjoyed it.” He adds, “My godfather was a State Trooper. But I always loved firefighting.” 

The year 2001 was an auspicious year for Wilson. In June 2001, he joined the police force and on Sept. 1, 2001, he and his wife, Amber, married. The date is a reminder of Wilson’s love of emergency services: 9-1-1

Then, 10 days later, his Army National Guard unit was activated in the wake of the attacks on the World Trade Center and Washington, D.C. “We were combat-ready,” he said. “But we never got deployed.”

He was relatively new on the job when he responded to a burglary on Quarry Road. It was 6 a.m. and Wilson was the only officer on duty. “By 6 p.m.  we had solved it and made an arrest.” Over the years, Wilson has gained a reputation for being adept at handling sex crimes and crimes involving children.

From left, Det. Matt Wilson, SIU head Julie Gaudette, Victim's Advocate Pam Weigel, SIU coordinator Katie Ouelette, Springfield Det. Allison Novasel, SAAPC liaison Pam Morancy, and Deputy State's Attorney David Cahill. Telegraph file photo

From left, Det. Matt Wilson, SIU head Julie Gaudette, Victim’s Advocate Pam Weigel, SIU coordinator Katie Ouelette, Springfield Det. Allison Novasel, SAAPC liaison Pam Morancy, and Deputy State’s Attorney David Cahill. Telegraph file photo

But when he first joined the force, it was Harris who handled the sex crimes.  Early on, Wilson says, he went on such a call with Harris, was able to make an arrest and from then on it became something he was passionate about, in part because he admits “I love kids.”

Part of that love spills over into his work within the schools, where the department has forged ties with children. He recalls that in 2004/2005 the Police Department was “overwhelmed by the number of sex assaults against kids.” None, he says, was a new case. “They were all old. What we figured out is that the kids were comfortable with us and started reporting” the abuse.

Even so, Wilson said it was “frustrating with the laws we had in this state. We talked with the State’s Attorney’s Office.” But he added, it took the rape and murder of Brooke Bennett, a 12-year-old girl from Braintree in 2008, to spur changes to Vermont laws.

A year later, then-Gov. Jim Douglas signed into law a bill to expand the DNA database, upgrade school prevention programs and fund a special crime investigation unit in each county.  Soon after, Wilson was assigned to the brand new Windsor County Special Investigations Unit, a team created from agencies all over the county to address every facet of the crime and the victim’s needs, from investigations, medical and mental health care, child and victim advocacy, prosecutions and corrections. Wilson quickly proved himself to be a huge asset to the unit.

But because of the weight of carrying the stories of these children around, officers are rotated out after four or five years. “I’ve definitely seen a lot over the years … Anything to do with kids is always the hardest,” Wilson says. Now, it will be someone else’s turn.

A recent addition to the locker room is open steel shelving and electric outlets to recharge equipment.

Fire Chief Matt Wilson in the locker room at the Fire Department. Telegraph file photo.

Sitting in his office at the Chester Fire Department, where he serves as chief, Wilson says, “I have multiple reason why I’m leaving now.” One, is the way police officers are treated these days, not in Chester, but in other parts of the nation. “I don’t like to watch the news anymore,” he says. “It’s a feeling of ‘innocent until you are proven guilty’ — unless you are a police officer.”

Also, Chester offers its officers retirement after 30 years. He says it was “exciting” to hit the 15-year milestone with the department, “but then again — 15 more to go.”

He says, “There are barely any retirements nationally after 20 years (including) the rest of the state.” He feels that changing to a 20-year retirement would be “a good inducement to get people to join” the Chester force.

Farm owner Roy Homan, far right, watches as firefighters foam down the loader.

The aftermath of the tractor tire blowup pictured here left Wilson with hearing loss among other problems.Telegraph file photo.

Then there are the lingering problems from the freak accident in May 2013, in which a huge tire on a flaming piece of farm equipment exploded,  sending Wilson reeling backward. It caused a concussion that kept him out of work for several months.  He says he still “doesn’t have much hearing in his right ear” and “noises are bothersome,” plus he has some cognitive issues. “I write myself a lot of notes, and I double- and triple- and quadruple check myself.”

The accident, he says, has made the last three years more difficult, “except for the fire calls. Maybe it’s the adrenaline.” Wilson believes it also may have made him more attuned to “his guys” on the Fire Department, which also includes his wife Amber and oldest daughter Taylor. “I push now for more training.”

And finally, Wilson’s new job with MES Lawman will allow him the freedom to not only manage the Chester Fire Department and go on calls, but continue coaching at the school and travel with his youngest daughter, 14-year-old Madison, to her many sports-related trips. “This company,” he says, “is very supportive. This will be easier because I am my own boss. I can make my own schedule.”

Wilson says he’ll miss the many people he’s worked with as a detective, in the SIU and at the schools, though the Fire Department also does school fire safety education that now he can participate in.

While Wilson calls it a “strange change of life,” he says he is “looking forward to just being Matt, Citizen Matt.”

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About the Author: Cynthia Prairie has been a newspaper editor more than 30 years. She has worked at such publications as the Raleigh Times, the Baltimore News American, the Buffalo Courier Express, the Chicago Sun-Times and the Patuxent Publishing chain of community newspapers in Maryland. She and her family moved to Chester, Vermont in 2004.

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