Merrimack County police chiefs, top prosecutor look to improve relations in 2020

  • People arrive for the tour of the new Merrimack County Courthouse in back of the former building off of Court Street on Tuesday, October 9, 2018. GEOFF FORESTER

  • Robin Davis is the Democratic nominee for Merrimack County Attorney

Monitor staff
Published: 12/14/2019 9:23:42 PM

After a rocky 2019, Merrimack County’s police chiefs and the region’s top prosecutor agree that more frequent and constructive conversations between them will be an essential step toward improved relations in the year ahead.

While members of the local chiefs association have frequently invited prior Merrimack County attorneys to join them at their meetings, this month marked the first time Robin Davis – who was elected county attorney in November 2018 – was in attendance. Davis said in a recent interview that she requested to meet with the police chiefs as a group after Concord Police Chief Bradley Osgood and Franklin Police Chief David Goldstein shared with the Monitor their concerns about her leadership style and the office’s prosecution of certain cases, particularly those involving crimes of sexual and domestic violence.

“We don’t have the luxury of not communicating or disliking each other if we are going to do a good job for the community,” Davis said.

“Whenever someone poses that there has been a breakdown in communication by myself or by my office, I do try to reach out to them,” she added.

While certain chiefs, to include Pembroke Police Chief Dwayne Gilman, say they’ve had success in meeting one-on-one with Davis when prosecutorial concerns arise, others say communication has been trying.

The Monitor requested to attend the most recent Merrimack County chiefs’ meeting on Dec. 4 but that request was denied. However, Davis, Osgood and Goldstein each agreed to phone interviews afterward to discuss the issues raised at the meeting and their efforts to work toward solutions in the new year.

Specifically, all agreed that more regular chiefs’ meetings that include Davis as well as one-on-one meetings with her are a natural first step. Davis has also asked each police department to have a designated liaison – whether a detective, the chief or another officer – to the county attorney’s office to establish a point of contact for prosecutors.

“I think it was a constructive starter meeting,” Osgood said. “We talked quite a bit about the chiefs wanting to be brought into the loop about plea and sentencing issues.”

The Dec. 4 chiefs’ meeting took place on the heels of a controversial plea resolution in a sexual assault case in Pembroke. Gilman said the county attorney’s office did not notify him and his detectives about a plea resolution before the defendant, Griffin Furlotte, was scheduled to appear in court and enter guilty pleas to reduced charges. Advocates also said the office did not confer with victims, one of whom told the Monitor that she was never directly asked what she believed Furlotte should receive for a sentence.

The county attorney’s office has since acknowledged the miscommunication with the Pembroke Police Department and said it plans to consult with the chief directly in future cases. However, Davis, victim advocate Jessica Clarke and prosecutor Carley Ahern said in a recent interview that they believe they had effectively communicated with the victims throughout the case and that the Monitor’s prior reporting was inaccurate.

Advocates and the victim said they stand by their statements that the office violated the Victims Bill of Rights, which requires consultation with victims about potential plea agreements and not just notification of a resolution.

Davis, Clarke and Ahern said they sat down with the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office to explain their handling of the case before the final plea deal that included a felony conviction for Furlotte was ultimately accepted by a judge. Davis said she has also conferred with the attorney general’s office about how to approach and strengthen “victim-witness relations,” and noted she will be following through on several recommendations.

Goldstein, who serves as vice president of the county chiefs’ association, said he and a representative of Concord police previously met with the attorney general’s office earlier this year to discuss their concerns about Davis’s leadership and her approach to case resolution. Several chiefs have questioned her decision to disband the office’s specialized sexual assault unit in favor of distributing cases among assistant prosecutors. Goldstein also referred to repeat instances of the office negotiating plea resolutions that don’t incorporate police departments’ wishes.

In response, Attorney General Gordon MacDonald recommended the county’s chiefs meet with Davis in an effort to prevent any disagreements from escalating to the point that the attorney general’s office has to step in, as recently happened in Hillsborough County, Goldstein said.

While Goldstein could not attend the Dec. 4 county chiefs’ meeting with Davis due to a scheduling conflict, they are scheduled to meet one-on-one.

“I did have my detective sergeant and prosecutor, who used to work with Robin, there to represent me and the department,” Goldstein said. “I heard not a lot of discussion was had, and so I’m not sure how productive that meeting was.”

“We’re going to keep trying because we have the public welfare at heart,” he added.

The county chiefs have not met regularly in 2019 but Goldstein said that will change in 2020, and that Davis is always welcome to attend.

While the Dec. 4 meeting was a start, Davis was also a bit surprised by the lack of conversation. She said she felt individual chiefs were reluctant to speak up because they didn’t want to appear as the sole voice of the association.

Osgood said Davis had asked to meet one-on-one before the chiefs’ meeting but that he felt doing so was inappropriate because he didn’t want to speak for the group. However, Davis said she hopes that in the future the chiefs will feel comfortable speaking both as department heads with agency-specific concerns and as members of the association.

Both the county chiefs and Davis agreed they’ll always have philosophical differences but that those differences aren’t an excuse not to communicate.

“I do try to look at sentencing very broadly,” Davis said. “The police chiefs favor incarceration in the first instance and then some type of rehabilitative services. There are cases where incarceration is the first element of sentencing but I don’t think that’s always the case.”

Statewide, bail reform that aims to release defendants pretrial unless they pose a clear danger to the community remains a contested issue. In Merrimack County specifically, Davis said more defendants have failed to appear for scheduled court hearings after being released on personal recognizance. She said she understands that officers are increasingly frustrated when they’re arresting the same people again and again.

Although chiefs may have personal disagreements or issues with her, Davis said she doesn’t want to see that affect the work of her assistant county attorneys, many of whom were there before she arrived.

“I have not set any additional policies or protocols for the prosecutors. I don’t tell them how to prosecute their cases,” Davis said. “The impressions that the chiefs and the victim advocates are leaving is that there has been some real change in my office and that’s not true.”

Chiefs have previously pointed to the significant staff turnover at the county attorney’s office since Davis took over. Davis also eliminated two part-time positions held by career attorneys.

This past summer, the office’s former sexual assault investigator Jennifer Adams filed a lawsuit against Davis and the county alleging wrongful termination, intentional infliction of emotional distress and intentional interference of a contractual relationship. She has accused Davis of creating a hostile work environment.

Attorneys for the county have said that Davis acted within the scope of her employment and that her conduct was not intentionally reckless or ill-intentioned. They also contend that many of the allegations resulted from disagreements over policy and personnel decisions, which are not grounds for legal action.

The civil case is still pending.




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