Lawsuit alleges excessive force by former Canaan police officer

New Hampshire Public Radio
Published: 9/25/2020 5:03:40 PM
Modified: 9/25/2020 5:03:30 PM

A woman injured during a 2017 motor vehicle stop is suing the officer and the town of Canaan for damages. The federal civil suit, which claims the officer used excessive force, comes as a related legal battle over an internal investigation into the incident plays out in state court.

According to the complaint, Crystal Wright alleges that she was pulled over by Officer Samuel Provenza in November 2017.

“He stuck his head into her car through the driver’s window and placed his face so close to Mrs. Wright’s face that he could have kissed her cheek,” the lawsuit states. “In fact, Mrs. Wright could feel his breath on her skin.”

Concerned by his behavior, Wright alleges, she reached for her cellphone with the intention of recording the interaction.

“Then, when Officer Provenza realized that Mrs. Wright intended to record his conduct on her cell phone, the stop then escalated into an arrest with excessive force,” the suit claims.

Wright describes being dragged from her vehicle by her hair. She then contends Provenza kneed her, resulting in her suffering a ruptured ACL.

While Provenza’s cruiser is equipped with a dash cam, the camera wasn’t activated during the stop.

According to court paperwork, Wright was acquitted of resisting arrest charges, but was found guilty of disobeying a police officer.

Her civil lawsuit seeks financial damages against Provenza, Canaan Police Chief Samuel Frank and the Town of Canaan. She’s represented by Chuck Douglas and Samantha Heuring of Douglas, Leonard & Garvey.

In 2018, the town of Canaan hired an outside investigator, Municipal Resources Inc., at a cost of more than $6,400, to conduct a review of the arrest. The town, however, has denied releasing that report to the public, which prompted a lawsuit by the Valley News and ACLU of New Hampshire.

Provenza, who is now a New Hampshire state trooper, is seeking to block the report’s release. In court paperwork, he states the report found that Wright’s allegations were “unfounded” and that he received no disciplinary action.

A recent state Supreme Court decision could impact the release of the internal report. In an opinion handed down in May, the justices found that certain internal personnel documents held by governments aren’t categorically exempt from the state’s right-to-know statute, and that the courts should make a determination if releasing such documents is in the public’s interest.

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