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N.H. Attorney General Adds 89 Names to Laurie List



Valley News Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 05, 2018

West Lebanon — The New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office has added the names of 89 police officers since June 1 to a running list of more than 250 officers in the state with misconduct or credibility issues.

Among the officers recently added to the Exculpatory Evidence Schedule — also known as the Laurie List — are five from Lebanon, three from the Sullivan County House of Corrections and one each from Hanover, Canaan, Haverhill and Lyme, though most of those officers no longer work for those agencies.

And the conduct that put them there might not have occurred recently, Assistant Attorney General Geoff Ward said on Wednesday.

“We are still in the process of compiling the list, a process that has taken some time, which is not surprising given everything that has to go into it,” Ward said. “That number in the last six months should not be read to say in the last six months, (89) officers have behaved in a way that could get them on the list.”

The Attorney General’s Office earlier this year released new guidelines for the list; the year before it set a September 2017 deadline for when department chiefs and county attorneys — who historically have maintained the list within their jurisdiction — must provide those names to the attorney general, who is compiling a master list for the first time. Many missed that ever-moving deadline, so the information has been rolling in slowly, and as it does, the master list is updated, Ward said.

While the master list released to the public indicates how many officers with each department have been put on the list, it doesn’t include the names of the officers themselves. The redaction of those names has been challenged by the American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire and several media organizations, including the Valley News, through a lawsuit in Hillsborough County Superior Court. The information released with the list also includes the date of notification and the category that the misconduct falls under, such as issues with credibility or excessive force.

Currently, the unredacted list is available only to prosecutors in New Hampshire, who then are duty-bound to inform defendants in criminal cases if an officer on the list is involved in their case, as their past misconduct or credibility problems could be exculpatory — that is, evidence that contributes to their acquittal.

The addition of 89 names only highlights the need for more disclosure, ACLU Legal Director Gilles Bissonnette said on Wednesday. Eight of those names have been added in the past 2½ weeks, bringing the total number of officers on the list to 257 as of Wednesday, Ward said.

“(Eighty-nine) added officers is a lot. And there is a distinct possibility that these officers have been recently added based on conduct that occurred some time ago. This raises the likelihood that, between the date of the incident and the date of the placement on the list, disclosures were not made concerning these officers in individual criminal cases,” Bissonnette said in an email. “This is precisely why the list should be public — so the public and defense attorneys can evaluate whether disclosures have been and are being made consistent with the Constitution.”

As part of the revised rules for the Laurie List, which came out earlier this year, Gov. Chris Sununu and Attorney General Gordon MacDonald said officers would be placed on the list only when an investigation into their conduct is “sustained.” As a result, officers who are under investigation “must notify” the prosecutor ahead of time if they are under investigation and could be a witness in a pending trial.

Ward, the assistant attorney general, disputed the concern raised by Bissonnette about defendants potentially not being informed about officers’ misconduct. Prosecutors have an “affirmative duty” to seek out and share that information, he said.

“Those inquiries have been made and continue to be made whether or not there happens to be a master list. The master list is only a jumping-off point that tells (prosecutors), ‘I need to do more digging as to this particular officer,’ ” he said.

The Attorney General’s Office also recently disclosed that it received 10 requests for officers’ names to be removed from the list between June 1 and Nov. 15, according to a document provided by the ACLU. Of those requests, the attorney general or his designee granted three and denied three, while four requests still are pending, Ward said.

Removing an officer’s name can be done only when it is determined that “the information in the personnel file would not be exculpatory in any case,” according to a March 2017 memo from the Attorney General’s Office.

In addition to the redacted list, the Attorney General’s Office also released an updated spreadsheet containing the police departments that have released to the attorney general all of the names of officers within their agency who have credibility and other issues that would land them on the Laurie List. With the exception of Hanover, Lyme and Orford, all Upper Valley departments have met the deadline and provided that information, according to the document released on Monday.

Each year by July, the heads of all law enforcement agencies must update the Attorney General’s Office if they have a new officer placed on the list.

The Laurie List discussion surfaced in the media in October when the ACLU of New Hampshire; InDepthNH.org; The Telegraph of Nashua; Union Leader Corp.; Seacoast Newspapers Inc.; Keene Publishing Corp.; and Newspapers of New England’s New Hampshire newspapers, which includes the Valley News, the Concord Monitor and the Monadnock Ledger-Transcript, sued the state over its failure to disclose the names.

The ACLU and the media organizations contend that the names on the list are subject to release under the state’s Right-to-Know law. The state maintains that the names themselves are confidential because they are part of a police officer’s personnel file and that releasing them would harm officers’ reputations, breach their privacy and could lead to fewer chiefs putting officers on the list, according to its response to the lawsuit, which also was filed in October.

Other agencies in the Upper Valley with officers on the list include Claremont, Newport, Grantham and Springfield. The three officers from Claremont no longer are with the department, Claremont Police Chief Mark Chase previously said.

Lebanon Police Chief Richard Mello declined to take a position on whether the officers’ names should be made public.

Queried about why five Lebanon officers were added to the Laurie List as of Aug. 15, Mello said he wasn’t sure. He said he didn’t make a recent report with the additional officers’ names.

Of the seven officers from Lebanon who are on the Laurie List, only one currently works for the department. But residents should not be concerned about that officer’s suitability to continue serving, Mello said.

“I don’t doubt the truthfulness and trust in that officer,” he said. “The officer wouldn’t be here if I didn’t think that to be the case.”

North Haverhill Police Chief Brandon Alling said the one officer from Haverhill on the list no longer works with his department or any department in the state. A police chief who preceded Alling dealt with that matter, he said.

Alling said he doesn’t think the names should be released because “it’s a personnel matter.” He believes the information would be of limited value to the public because there would be no context about what occurred that raised questions about the officer’s conduct, he said.

“It can convolute the situation,” he said, adding that the release could “interfere with a person’s constitutional rights.”

The lawsuit still is pending.

Jordan Cuddemi can be reached at jcuddemi@vnews.com or 603-727-3248.