Arrested as drug mule for Hartford, CT dealers in 2016
By Mike Donoghue, Vermont News First
A Newport man, who was facing new drug-related federal violations, has been found dead at the Northwest State Correctional Facility in St. Albans the victim of a possible drug overdose, officials said.
Shawn Gardner, 37, had appeared in U.S. District Court in Burlington on Wednesday for violating his federal supervised release conditions for the second time in recent months, records show. About 3 hours later he was dead at the prison.
The U.S. Probation Office had charged Gardner for violating his supervised release by testing positive for heroin and cocaine on July 2, court records note. He admitted the violation on July 11 to a Probation Officer, court records show. Gardner also faced a separate claim of failing to report for residential substance abuse treatment at Valley Vista in Bradford as directed on July 13, July 19 and July 20, Probation Officer Melinda Perez wrote.
Gardner has a long history of violating terms of probation and supervised release, records show. After an initial prison term of 32 months in a federal heroin conspiracy case, a judge later added 5 more months earlier this year for violating supervised release for using cocaine and failing to participate in treatment and counseling in 2022, records show.
Magistrate Judge Kevin Doyle on Wednesday ordered Gardner held pending further hearings. The U.S. Marshals Service took him back to the St. Albans prison after his hearing at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday.Vermont State Police said the prison staff reported Gardner was housed in a segregated unit and collapsed while in the shower room about 6:35 p.m. Corrections staff provided emergency medical care and called first responders to the prison. Lifesaving efforts were unsuccessful, and the inmate was pronounced dead at the prison at 7:22 p.m. Wednesday, police said.
There was evidence of possible drug use found at the scene, officials said on Wednesday night.By Thursday, Detective Sgt. Angela Baker said it was “an unknown substance prior to his becoming unresponsive.”
Toxicology testing will occur as part of Gardner’s autopsy at the Chief Medical Examiner’s Office in Burlington, Baker said. It can take several weeks to several months before the test results are known.
Gardner initially was detained at Northern State Correctional Facility in Newport on Tuesday for the supervised release violation, officials said. He was transferred to the St. Albans prison prior to a federal court hearing on Wednesday afternoon. It was shortly after returning to Northwest State from the hearing that Gardner collapsed in the shower area and was subsequently pronounced dead, police said.
Gardner also is linked to North Troy, state and court records show.
He has been an active member of the North Troy Volunteer Fire Department, according to a letter from the fire chief filed with the federal court in March. Gardner was listed as living in North Troy when he was convicted for sexual assault on a child under age 16 in 2004, according to the Vermont Sex Offender Registry.
Some of Gardner’s earliest legal problems with drugs happened when he was arrested with a co-conspirator as they returned from picking up heroin in Hartford, Conn. in May 2016, court records show. Gardner, then of Summer Street in Newport, maintained he was asked by Brandon K. Sheltra, 22, of East Main Street to drive him to Connecticut in exchange for some heroin, court records note. Sheltra said Gardner asked him to go with him.
Gardner pleaded guilty to conspiring with others between the fall of 2014 and May 2016 after they were stopped on I-91 in Windham County for speeding by Lt. Eric Albright, state police said. A federal judge later sentenced Gardner to 32 months in prison, followed by 3 years of supervised release.
Sheltra was placed on probation for two years for possession of heroin, court documents show.
Gardner, the driver, and Sheltra, a passenger, were northbound in a 2014 Subaru when stopped on Interstate 91 on May 3, 2016, court records show. The trooper had been alerted that both were suspected of selling heroin in the Newport area, a Vermont Drug Task Force detective said in federal court papers.
Gardner also appeared to be under the influence of drugs while he was driving, the court affidavit. Then-Lt. Mark Anderson of the Windham County Sheriff’s Department, a drug recognition expert, was brought in to screen Gardner as part of the processing, state police said.
Police found 300 bags of heroin in the console, another 18 individual bags in trash bag on the floor, the affidavit said. Another 20 bags were found in Sheltra’s baseball hat and 100 bags inside the left leg of his pants, it said.
Both agreed to be interviewed by the police. They each claimed the other had called them and wanted to go to Hartford, Conn. to obtain heroin, court records noted. Sheltra agreed to pay Gardner with heroin for giving him a ride, records show.
Sheltra claimed he was paid in heroin for going on the trip. He said he fell asleep on the ride back until they were pulled over, the court records noted. Sheltra said Gardner handed him some heroin and told him to hide it and he put it into his pants, the detective said.
Gardner, at the time, had a criminal record with at least two felonies, including a sexual assault on a victim under age 16, federal court records show. He also has a history of violating probation and served “significant jail time on those probation violations,” a prosecutor wrote in court papers.