N.H. AG: List of officers with credibility issues should stay private

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

Monitor staff
Published: 8/30/2018 2:15:59 PM

The New Hampshire attorney general’s office says a list of police officers with potential credibility problems, including several in Merrimack County towns, should remain confidential because the privacy of the officers outweighs the public’s right to know.

The Monitor filed a request to access the names on the list, which is often referred to as a Laurie List. The New Hampshire American Civil Liberties Union and Seacoastonline filed similar requests.

After delaying its response for a month, the AG’s office rejected the request, according to an Aug. 28 letter by Senior Assistant Attorney General Francis Fredericks.

Disclosure of the list would do little to “inform the public about the conduct and activities of their government,” Fredericks wrote, because it does not contain a detailed description of each officer’s conduct.

Gilles Bissonnette, legal director for ACLU-NH, called the decision “bad policy and legally incorrect.”

“The public has a right to know whether officers serving them have engaged in conduct that impacts their credibility or truthfulness,” he said via email. “As the New Hampshire Supreme Court has repeatedly explained, the public interest in disclosure is great when it will expose potential government misconduct.”

The list was established in 2004 as a way for prosecutors to identify information about a police officer’s credibility that may need to be turned over to a defendant.

Earlier this year, Attorney General Gordon MacDonald announced in conjunction with Gov. Chris Sununu and the New Hampshire Police Association that the list would include only “allegations of misconduct (by police officers), which are sustained after an investigation,” and changed the name to Exculpatory Evidence Schedule.

Bissonnette and defense attorney Robin Melone criticized the decision, saying in a June “Bar News” op-ed that the decision wrongly tries to give police officers the same rights as defendants. It also relies on officers who are under review to report their status to a prosecutor.

“The ‘MacDonald Memo’ adopts a police-centered approach that is inconsistent with the government’s sacred constitutional obligation to disclose exculpatory evidence to defendants,” they wrote.

The office released a heavily redacted version of the list in June that included 171 entries. Names, as well as dates of incidents, are blacked out, as are some dates of notification. While several entries include notes on why an officer appears on the list, such as “credibility,” “untruthful” or “excessive force,” many are left blank.

The entries include officers from all over the state. Some departments, like Manchester, have several entries. Concord has two; Weare has six; New Hampshire State Police have eight. Names are taken off the list only if a police chief determines the allegation against the officer was not credible.

The AG’s office acknowledged the public has an interest in the officers’ names and their conduct.

Yet, since the list doesn’t contain the context of what caused an officer to be added, releasing it would only serve “to label particular officers as generally not credible,” Fredericks wrote.

The list “was not created for public informational purposes, and, as such, the spreadsheet was not developed in a manner that substantively identifies, or provides context to, the conduct of the individual officers that resulted in his or her placement on the list,” Fredericks wrote.

Fredericks also cited the confidentiality of police personnel files in saying why the names can’t be released.

But Bissonnette said the state’s right-to-know law “makes clear that personnel file information can be produced where there is a significant public interest in disclosure.”

“Under the Department of Justice’s interpretation, police officers apparently have special treatment under the law with respect to disciplinary information in their personnel files,” Bissonnette wrote. “This view of the law is not only wrong, but it hinders transparency and government accountability.”

Bissonnette also disputed the idea that an Exculpatory Evidence Schedule listing could hurt an officer’s reputation – or that it matters when it comes to disclosing public documents.

“If that’s truly how the Department of Justice feels, they should produce the document and accompany it with an explanation of what the EES means and how it should be interpreted,” he said.

(Caitlin Andrews can be reached at 369-3309, candrews@cmonitor.com or on Twitter at @ActualCAndrews.)

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