New Hampshire court rules police wrongdoing list must be made public
FILE PHOTO: Haywood Street is cordoned off by police, Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2017, in Manchester, N.H. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
(Concord, N.H.) — A secret list of more than 260 police officers in New Hampshire who have committed misconduct such as lying or excessive force must be made public, a court has ruled.
Hillsborough Superior Court Judge Charles Temple agreed Tuesday with seven media outlets and the American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire that releasing the list is in the public interest. The ACLU said the list should be released immediately. But the list wasn’t made public Wednesday, pending a possible appeal to the state Supreme Court.
Temple rejected the state Department of Justice’s argument that the list should remain confidential under a law pertaining to personnel files and that the list was exempt from the state’s right-to-know law. The department previously produced a list in January that redacted any personal information but did list the officer’s misconduct. The allegations included misuse of authority, falsification of records, excessive force and receiving stolen property but many were only described as truthfulness or credibility.
“It’s the right result, the right result,” Gilles Bissonnette, the ACLU’s legal director, said. “We’re really excited about the decision. Frankly, it’s a historic victory for transparency and accountability. This list should always have been made available to the public.”
Solicitor General Daniel Will said in a statement that his office was reviewing the order and “will make a determination about next steps consistent with court procedure.”
Several media companies include The Telegraph of Nashua, Newspapers of New England Inc. and Seacoast Newspapers, were part of the lawsuit.
“Today’s court ruling is not a victory for just newspapers and journalists. It is a win for the public, because the public has a right to know if there has been misconduct that could potentially impact the community at large,” Telegraph Publisher and General Manager Heather Goodwin Henline said in a statement. “We never considered this to be personnel information and subject to exclusion. The court also agreed that this is vital information critical to public safety and public trust.”
Known as the Exculpatory Evidence Schedule, the list is maintained by the department and contains names of officers across New Hampshire who committed wrongdoing that could raise questions about their credibility as witnesses in criminal cases. Should they be set to testify in a case, a prosecutor is supposed to alert the defense team. But with the list secret, Bissonnette said it was unclear if that always happened.
“We don’t know if the system is working because the system works completely in secret,” Bissonnette said. “There is no ability for defense lawyers to vet whether or not prosecutors are complying with their obligations. We have good reason to believe the system isn’t working.”
The fight over the New Hampshire list is a debate playing out across the country. Similar lists are kept by law enforcement agencies in many states but, because they are secret, no one can say for sure how many exist.
Last year, Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office provided a list of dozens of problem officers to the Philadelphia Defender Association after a court ordered the list should be released. The list was obtained by The Philadelphia Inquirer and the Philadelphia Daily News. A similar lawsuit is pending for the release of a list kept by New York City’s district attorneys.