State Trooper fired for illegal search, false statements in drug arrest, records show

  • A New Hampshire Deptarment of Safety State Police vehicle. GEOFF FORESTER

Granite State News Collaborative
Published: 1/29/2022 1:36:03 PM

New Hampshire State Police fired the trooper at the center of a controversial 2017 traffic stop after determining he illegally searched the driver’s phone and made multiple false statements during an internal investigation, according to records obtained by the Granite State News Collaborative.

In a letter to Trooper Haden Wilber dated Aug. 9, 2021, State Police Col. Nathan A. Noyes said he no longer trusted the trooper’s integrity.

“This investigation has revealed disturbing facts regarding your investigatory habits and overall integrity as a law enforcement officer,” Noyes said. “Your personal conduct as outlined herein reflects negatively upon your character, the law enforcement profession and is an embarrassment to you, your colleagues and the Division of State Police.”

On Feb. 10, 2017, Wilber pulled over a car on Interstate 95 in Portsmouth driven by Robyn White of Avon, Maine, ostensibly for having too much snow on it. After reporting that he had found heroin residue in the car, he arrested White.

Wilber stated he suspected she was transporting additional drugs, possibly inside her body, and ultimately charged her with delivering drugs to the jail. White was held for 13 days, during which she underwent two X-ray scans and an invasive body cavity search, which found no drugs. The charges were ultimately dropped.

White filed a lawsuit in 2019 accusing Wilber of illegally searching her bag and “fabricating evidence,” which the state recently settled for more than $200,000 without admitting wrongdoing.

Wilber was fired in August and added to the state’s Exculpatory Evidence Schedule, a list of officers with potential credibility issues, around the same time.

The Granite State News Collaborative obtained Wilber’s letter of dismissal through a public-records request to the Personnel Appeals Board, where Wilber is challenging his termination.

The letter, written by Noyes, details the internal investigation that began in 2020 into Wilber’s actions. It was signed and approved by Robert L. Quinn, the commissioner of the Department of Safety.

“This investigation has exposed your lack of integrity, as well as your unwillingness to apply the law within the correct legal parameters to which you are allowed,” Noyes wrote.

In a response dated Aug. 9, Wilber’s lawyer, Marc Beaudoin, wrote that Wilber “is adamant that he acted within Constitutional guidelines” in searching White’s phone.

“Trooper Wilber is appealing his termination and his inclusion on the Attorney General’s Exculpatory Evidence Schedule,” Beaudoin wrote in a statement to the Collaborative Friday. “He is adamant that he did not make any intentional misstatements of facts, and that he fully cooperated with the internal investigation.

Beaudoin said State Police misinterpreted faults in Wilber’s memory from a years-old case as lies.

“He is looking forward to his hearing in front of the New Hampshire Personnel Appeals Board so that he can be vindicated,” Beaudoin said.

State Police officials have declined to comment on the case due to a pending public-records lawsuit from the ACLU of New Hampshire.

The termination letter details what State Police officials say was an illegal, warrantless search of White’s phone, in violation of the federal and state constitutions.

After finding what appeared to be heroin residue in White’s car, Wilber texted a sheriff’s deputy in Maine, appearing to reference a message he had found on White’s phone, Noyes wrote. Wilber’s text read, in part, “Off the record, her phone said she picked up a ‘good and a half’ have you heard the term ‘good’ up that way?”

Wilber did not mention White’s message in his arrest report or a subsequent affidavit. According to the termination letter, he initially told investigators that all he had done was seize the phone, put it in airplane mode and place it in a plastic bag. When confronted with his text to the deputy, he stated, “I was conducting follow up on her phone, I did look at it.”

He further explained that he “wanted to make sure that I wasn’t going down the wrong path on my drug investigation,” before admitting he shouldn’t have done it.

The following month, 10 days before he obtained a search warrant to access White’s phone, Wilber took it out of evidence storage and said he does not know where it ended up.

The letter also documents what State Police officials said were other deficiencies in Wilber’s investigation.

Wilber searched White’s vehicle after, he said, obtaining her verbal consent, which is required in the absence of a warrant. (White, in her lawsuit, denies consenting to the search).

Prosecutors later determined that Wilber lacked reasonable suspicion of criminal activity, the legal standard for turning a routine traffic stop into a drug investigation, prompting them to drop the possession charge.

After arresting White on Feb. 10, Wilber told Rockingham County Jail staff that he thought she was carrying drugs in her body, so she was transported to Strafford County for an X-ray scan. Wilber said a male corrections officer told him the scan showed “abnormalities,” but failed to record that employee’s name.

Wilber subsequently charged White with delivery of articles prohibited, claiming she had brought drugs into the jail, and her bail was raised from $250 to $5,000 at a bail hearing.

At a later hearing, he agreed to drop the delivery charge and have her bail lowered, but asked that she undergo another body scan as a condition of her bail, which a judge granted.

Wilber stated White’s defense attorney agreed to the conditions. But that was not true, Noyes wrote, saying court records show the defense vigorously argued against the extra scan.

Wilber said a female corrections officer told him that the second scan, on Feb. 23, also showed abnormalities, though he again failed to record her name or when they spoke, according to the letter. Booking notes from Rockingham County state that no abnormalities were found, which Wilber was unable to explain, according to the letter.

Beaudoin wrote in his Aug. 9 response that Wilber “adamantly denies” he fabricated scan results, as alleged by White, and that there is no evidence of that. Wilber relied on the correctional staff’s verbal reports because he was unable to interpret the results himself, according to Beaudoin.

Wilber stated he had no conversations with prosecutors after they dropped the drug possession charge a few months after White’s arrest, saying he learned of it by mail.

However, Assistant County Attorney Aaron Dristiliaris said he “vividly remembers” having a conversation with Wilber, who was “very upset and argumentative,” Noyes wrote.

The letter concludes that Wilber made multiple false statements during the internal investigation.

“I believe you deliberately lied and intentionally misrepresented facts,” Noyes wrote.

State Police officials referred White’s complaints to the Attorney General’s Office for a criminal review after her lawsuit was filed, according to the termination letter. When the Attorney General’s Office closed that review without charges, State Police launched an internal investigation in December 2020.

Gilles Bissonnette, the ACLU-NH’s legal director, said the organization will continue to seek additional records.

“These records from the Personnel Appeals Board only confirm the obvious public interest in disclosure with respect to all information concerning Mr. Wilber’s misconduct in the possession of the State Police,” he said in a statement Friday. “There is no legal basis for secrecy. The State Police should immediately produce any additional information concerning this misconduct to the public.”

This article is being shared by a partner in The Granite State News Collaborative as part of our race and equity project. For more information visit collaborativenh.org. Reporter Paul Cuno-Booth can be reached at paulcunobooth@gmail.com.




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