Lawsuit: County Attorney hid criminal investigation
Former police officer accused of cover-up
NASHUA – Hillsborough County Attorney Dennis Hogan is being sued after he failed to fully disclose his criminal investigation into a police officer accused of a cover-up, according to court records.
Epsom attorney Tony Solanti filed the Right to Know petition against Hogan in Hillsborough County Superior Court on behalf of Nashua resident Linda Censabella, a former Weare police officer. The case is set for a hearing on Friday in Nashua.
“At the core of this request was alleged felonious conduct by an active police officer while on taxpayer time,” Solanti’s petition states. “It spiraled to substantially deferential treatment of a police officer by the highest law enforcement official of the county, possible undue and improper influence of the outcome of a criminal investigation and the ultimate cover up manifested in a pattern of purposeful violations of the very rights guaranteed by the New Hampshire Constitution and further reinforced by several sessions of the general court.”
Censabella claimed during a New Hampshire Department of Labor hearing in 2015 that she was fired from her position partially because of conversations she had with then-Sgt. Kimberly McSweeney, conversations that Censabella disputes. According to Solanti’s petition, it was during the Labor hearing that Weare Police Chief Sean Kelly acknowledged McSweeney was fired after an internal affairs investigation into her attempt to cover up a cruiser accident.
“The investigation involved McSweeney being involved in a cruiser accident and allegedly soliciting a firefighter to cut the brakes lines of her cruiser to cover up the accident,” Solanti’s petition states.
Kelly further stated in the hearing that the matter of McSweeney’s alleged accident cover-up was referred to Hogan for a criminal investigation, the petition states. In December 2015, Solanti filed a Right to Know request with Hogan’s office seeking a record of the investigation into McSweeney.
What followed over the next 11 months, according to Solanti’s petition, was a series of attempts by Hogan and his office to deny the request and obfuscate the truth of the investigation.
In the first response to Solanti’s request, the petition states, Hogan violated the law in two ways. First, his response to the request came more than five business days after the request was made, and second, Hogan “failed to acknowledge the existence of the criminal investigation involving McSweeney.”
Over the next few months of legal back-and-forth, Hogan provided Solanti with files in which McSweeney was a witness in an investigation, but he still did not disclose the case in which she was the target of the accident cover-up, according to the petition.
Finally, after months more of requests and stalling from Hogan’s office, Solanti revised information at the end of November regarding McSweeney’s cover-up case, the petition states. Included was a Nov. 24, 2015, email from Kelly to Hogan asking for a criminal investigation into McSweeney, and then a Dec. 16, 2015, email from Kelly asking Hogan to close the investigation.
“In part, Chief Kelley wrote, ‘Today, the Town of Weare has received the resignation of Sergeant Kim McSweeney effective immediately. With Sergeant McSweeney’s resignation, I am closing the associated Weare Police Department Internal Affairs file. With this note, I am asking to withdraw my request to your Office for review of Weare Police Department Internal Affairs case IA-15-019. Please let me know when the file will be available for retrieval,'” the petition states.
Solanti’s petition states that McSweeney’s resignation and the timing of Kelly’s request for Hogan to drop his investigation are suspect, as evidenced by emails other Hillsborough County attorneys sent at the time of Kelly’s request.
“A third email disclosed to (Solanti’s law firm) dated May 23, 2016 was sent from Attorney Cassie Devine to Attorney Michele Battaglia who are both employed by the Hillsborough County Attorney’s Office,” Solanti’s petition states. “In part, Attorney Devine wrote ‘Nudge, nudge, wink, wink, say no more. If it wasn’t a condition, why did they try to withdraw the file? What am I missing?'”
One of the emails from Battaglia to Kelly indicates that with the close of the McSweeney investigation, she would return to Kelly records that were never shared with Solanti, the petition states. Those records include: “New Hampshire State accident report, Internal Affair investigation IA-15- 019, a disc containing video surveillance, a disc containing audio interviews and enclosures otherwise not identified.”
Solanti’s petition speculates as to why Hogan refused to release the information about McSweeney when the original request came in. McSweeney and another Weare police officer, Sgt. Kenneth Cox, were being sued in federal court by a man who claimed they had used excessive force on him during an arrest and violated his civil rights.
“The trial was held the week of February 18, 2016 during the same time frame Attorney Hogan affirmatively, intentionally, and with the purpose to obfuscate withheld Public documents involving McSweeney being investigated by Attorney Hogan’s office for possible criminal misconduct,” Solanti’s petition states. “The materials in Attorney Hogan’s possession regarding McSweeney engaging in fraud, cover-up or falsification would have been likely exculpatory and explosive for the jury to be made aware of during McSweeney’s direct and cross examination.”
McSweeney and Cox were found not guilty by a jury in the federal civil rights trial.
Solanti is seeking full disclosure of all of the records he has sought since the end of 2015.