Jim Kenyon: A legal quest continues

Jim Kenyon. Copyright (c) Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Jim Kenyon. Copyright (c) Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.


Valley News Columnist

Published: 11-12-2023 2:14 AM

After a New Hampshire Superior Court judge vacated his 2008 conviction in January for assaulting a Lebanon police officer during a late-night traffic stop, Scott Traudt vowed to go on the legal offensive against the city and cops he claims were responsible for him spending a year in state prison.

On Wednesday, the 58-year-old Traudt followed through, filing a civil lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Concord that alleges Lebanon police violated his constitutional rights by withholding evidence “before, during and after” his trial.

Due to police misconduct, Traudt suffered “substantial damage” that resulted in his “incarceration, loss of employment and other monetary damages,” his attorney, Michael Iacopino, of Manchester, wrote in the 22-page complaint.

The suit doesn’t specify a dollar amount sought by Traudt, a Strafford resident who works as a delivery truck driver for a fuel company.

A legal doctrine known as qualified immunity protects cops from civil liability, making most suits alleging police misconduct a long shot.

Based on Grafton County Superior Court Peter Bornstein’s ruling in January, Traudt told me Friday that his attorney will argue that “qualified immunity doesn’t apply in this case.”

In erasing the guilty verdict handed down by a jury 15 years ago, Bornstein wrote it was “undisputed” that either the Lebanon Police Department or the Grafton County Attorney’s Office “knowingly withheld evidence” about two officers’ disciplinary records that would have aided Traudt’s defense.

In an email exchange Thursday, Lebanon City Manager Shaun Mulholland told me the next step is for the city’s insurance carrier to review the complaint and assign a law firm to handle it.

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When I asked if Lebanon taxpayers could be on the hook for attorneys’ fees and any potential payouts, Mulholland said “this is something that is usually covered by liability insurance.”

Former sheriff back on the beat

Former Orange County Sheriff Bill Bohnyak, who claimed he was getting out of law enforcement after losing his re-election bid by 100 votes last November, didn’t stay retired for long.

He’s got a new gig with the Randolph Police Department as a part-time officer, earning $25 an hour.

What happened?

“I changed my mind,” the 66-year-old Bohnyak told me last week.

Ordinarily that wouldn’t be a big deal. Except Bohnyak had signed an agreement with the Vermont Criminal Justice Council that stated he was retiring from law enforcement when his 16-year run as sheriff ended on Jan. 31. Bohnyak had come under the council’s scrutiny for alleged “unprofessional conduct. During the investigation, Bohnyak acknowledged that under his watch a deputy sheriff who lacked sufficient credentials was allowed to work sexual assault cases.

His agreement with the council didn’t preclude him from returning to law enforcement, Bohnyak said. “Some people might say that I wasn’t a good manager, but I never violated my oath of office,” he said.

A council spokesman told me last week that Bohnyak’s law enforcement certification is up to date.

Randolph hired Bohnyak in February to help with administrative tasks to get the “department up and running again,” Town Manager Trevor Lashua told me. The town disbanded its police department in 2018, but voters moved to bring it back this year.

Bohnyak has also handled patrol duties at special events, such as on Halloween night, when the department was short-staffed, Lashua said.

A sad confirmation

Hartford police recently released a final investigative report, which included autopsy results, that confirmed Tommy Shea died from an accidental opioid overdose at his downtown White River Junction apartment in June.

After not seeing Shea for several weeks, a neighbor summoned police, who discovered his body on the kitchen floor.

In recent years, Shea had become an effective advocate in the effort to make transitional housing more accessible for people coming out of Vermont’s prisons. I met him in 2017 when he was living at Hartford Dismas House, a nonprofit that provides affordable lodging and meals for formerly incarcerated in.

Whenever asked, Shea shared his story with Vermont legislators and Dismas donors to drum up support for the transitional housing cause.

Shea was born in Lowell, Mass., to a mother who was a heroin addict, who later died of an overdose, and a father he never met. At 13, after living with his grandmother and three sisters in Windsor, he started bouncing between foster homes.

In his early 20s, Shea completed a drug rehab program. Afterward, he enrolled at what was then Vermont Technical College. A few years later, however, his struggle with substance use flared up again. After getting arrested in a Vermont State Police raid in Bethel, he pleaded guilty to possession of heroin and spent seven months in prison.

Last week, I reached out to Bill and Bray Mitchell, who took Shea into their Hanover home during his early teenage years. With the support of the Mitchells and their children, Shea thrived for a while to the point he joined Hanover High’s football team.

But there was only so much the Mitchells could do. Shea moved to a foster home in Hartford, where he dropped out of school and ended up homeless.

In an email, Bill and Bray Mitchell, who no longer live in the Upper Valley, described Shea as a “bright, friendly soul who had a ‘disability.’ He was depressed, stemming from a brutal childhood.”

“Tommy turned to drugs as a solution for his depression. … He almost beat the addiction, but eventually the depression got the better of him.”

Tommy Shea was 34.

Jim Kenyon can be reached at jkenyon@vnews.com.