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N.H. court orders release of names of police officers who committed ‘sustained misconduct’

  • Department of Justice Solicitor Daniel Will speaks during a motion to dismiss hearing at Hillsborough County Superior Court South on Thursday, October 18, 2018. The ACLU-NH and several media outlets are petitioning the state's DOJ to release an unredacted Exculpatory Evidence Schedule.

  • Attorneys Gregory Sullivan (left) and William Chapman listen during a motion to dismiss hearing at Hillsborough County Superior Court South on Thursday, October 18, 2018. The ACLU-NH and several media outlets are petitioning the state's Department of Justice to release an unredacted Exculpatory Evidence Schedule.

  • A selection of the Exculpatory Evidence Schedule, or Laurie List, that the New Hampshire Attorney General's Office says can be publicly released.

Concord Monitor
Published: 4/24/2019 3:04:57 PM
Modified: 4/24/2019 10:28:56 PM

A Superior Court judge has agreed with media outlets including the Valley News and the ConcordMonitor that the state must release a list of roughly 250 New Hampshire police officers who have engaged in serious misconduct.

The court ruling, issued on Wednesday, dismissed a motion by the Department of Justice to not release what was known as the Laurie List, now called the Exculpatory Evidence Schedule.

The list names officers who have engaged in conduct such as lying in court, falsifying evidence or using excessive force. The DOJ has always kept it secret, arguing that is an internal document and a personnel file, both of which are shielded from the state’s right-to-know law.

In his ruling on Wednesday, Judge Charles Temple ruled that it met neither criteria based on various legal details, such as the fact that officers “do not share an employer-employee relationship with the (Department of Justice), and the Laurie List has obtained a sort of grandfathered status apart from the right-to-know law.

“The (Department of Justice) argues the court should defer to its interpretation … because it has independently interpreted the statute for approximately 15 years to mean that the EES/Laurie List is confidential,” Temple wrote. “The court disagrees that the DOJ is entitled to such deference.”

At least two local police chiefs don’t agree with the court’s decision.

“I feel it’s a personnel matter,” Lebanon Police Chief Richard Mello said. “I feel they are exempt under (RSA) 91-A.”

Claremont Police Chief Mark Chase concurred with Mello.

“I have faith that the Exculpatory Evidence Schedule is doing its job,” Chase said. “I am on the side of the Attorney General’s Office.”

Both chiefs said they feel there are enough checks and balances in place to make sure the list is used properly, including that all officers with credibility issues are placed on the EES and that those names are provided to defendants who are entitled to them.

“I think the current system works,” Mello said.

Claremont doesn’t have any officers currently working for the department who are on the list, but Lebanon has one, according to a release that redacted officers’ names but included municipalities. Claremont previously has had at least three officers on the list, but they no longer work for the department.

If the Lebanon officer’s name is released, he or she “may be spun through the media,” but Mello said he has full confidence in that officer and is comfortable with his or her credibility.

In a statement released on Wednesday, New Hampshire Solicitor General Daniel Will said the Department of Justice is “reviewing the order” and will decide how to respond.

“With its order today, the court denied the motion to dismiss. The court did not order the immediate production of an unredacted EES. The Court’s order is not a final order in the case and, therefore, is not subject to immediate appeal to the New Hampshire Supreme Court,” he wrote.

“We are reviewing the order. We will make a determination about next steps consistent with court procedure.”

The list, named after a 1995 state Supreme Court decision, includes the department an officer works for and, in most cases, the dates and nature of the offenses. As of Nov. 15, the list included 249 officers in local and state law enforcement agencies. It was designed as a way for prosecutors to let defendants know when an officer in a case has credibility issues.

Created in 2004, it was maintained by the state’s various counties for years until the Attorney General’s Office took it over in 2017.

A bill, HB 153, passed by the House and awaiting a hearing in the Senate would make these records public once the police officer was found guilty of the behavior.

The Justice Department’s decision to keep the list secret was opposed by five New Hampshire newspaper firms including Newspapers of New England, which owns the Valley News and the ConcordMonitor; independent news website; the American Civil Liberties Union; and the New Hampshire Center for Public Interest Journalism. The case was argued in a Feb. 25 hearing in Hillsborough County Superior Court South in Nashua.

Gilles Bissonnette of the New Hampshire ACLU, who argued the case in court, said of the matter: “Without transparency, the public is left unaware of which officers in their towns have had issues concerning their truthfulness or credibility.”

Valley News staff writer Jordan Cuddemi contributed to this story.

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