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Sunday, March 17, 2013

Credibility issues undermine police ‘Laurie List’

NASHUA – As many as eight Nashua police officers could have credibility issues should they be called to testify in court, according to documents released by the New Hampshire Office of the Attorney General.

So far, Hillsborough County Attorney Patricia LaFrance, who is required to track the so-called “Laurie List” of officers with potential issues, has declined to release the records. ...

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NASHUA – As many as eight Nashua police officers could have credibility issues should they be called to testify in court, according to documents released by the New Hampshire Office of the Attorney General.

So far, Hillsborough County Attorney Patricia LaFrance, who is required to track the so-called “Laurie List” of officers with potential issues, has declined to release the records.

However, Deputy Attorney General Ann Rice released the list of 47 officers connected to alleged incidents to The Telegraph.

The officers’ names have been redacted, and the list reveals no details of the alleged incidents, which could range from misfiling paperwork to planting evidence. But the list does report the officers’ departments, as well as the dates of the reported incidents.

According to the list, eight incidents were reported involving Nashua officers from 2000-06, with none reported in the years since.

Nashua Police Chief John Seusing didn’t return calls for comment last week. LaFrance said in many cases, judges have ruled the potential issues cited on the list have no bearing on the case, and many of the officers in question no longer work for the department.

“The Laurie List is mainly a gatekeeper,” she said. “Even if somebody’s on the list, it doesn’t mean they have credibility problems. It just means something in the personnel file caught our eye. … A lot of times these are total nonissues.”

The eight Nashua incidents included on the state list represent the second most across the state. Only the Manchester Police Department, with 12 alleged incidents from 2010-11, had more.

The Merrimack Police Department is the only other local agency represented on the list. Merrimack Police Chief Mark Doyle couldn’t be reached last week for comment.

The Laurie List draws its name from a 1993 murder case, State v. Laurie, which was overturned when the state Supreme Court determined prosecutors had failed to disclose evidence about a police officer who testified at trial.

Under a new state law enacted last year, authorities are required to track officers cited for a wide range of possible infractions.

The records are kept confidential as part of the officers’ personnel files, but if the officers are called to testify in court, authorities are obligated to submit the records to a judge, who then decides if they’re relevant to the case and must be submitted to the defense.

According to the state list, dated Jan. 9, five of the 47 incidents have been sent to a judge for a finding and two have been cleared.

Some of the issues raised have involved severe infractions, including planting evidence and lying in court. But more often, the accusations surround paperwork questions and other lesser charges, according to prosecutors and defense attorneys.

“It’s not necessarily planting evidence or committing perjury or anything like that,” Charles Keefe, a Nashua defense attorney and former prosecutor who has dealt with Laurie issues from both sides, said last month. “It usually has more to do with whether someone signed into court some day or not. Usually, they don’t go to the substance of a case.”

Most often, prosecutors are quick to submit all information available about the witnesses they call to testify, LaFrance said last week. Or in many cases, they may choose not to call witnesses with credibility questions that might damage their case, she said.

“I’m not going to call any officer who has a history of doing anything that would cripple my case,” said LaFrance, who worked for years as a county prosecutor before taking the county attorney position in January.

Still, defense attorneys fear the system, even under the state’s new reporting requirements, remains largely self-regulated, allowing police authorities to protect their own.

Earlier this winter, for instance, attorneys representing a Windham man, Cody Eller, appeared in Hillsborough County Superior Court in Nashua, asking a judge to throw out his assault and reckless conduct convictions after prosecutors acknowledged they didn’t report a potential credibility issue surrounding one of the investigating officers.

In court, prosecutors acknowledged becoming aware of the officer’s Laurie issue after the trial concluded.

“How would we ever know” if police didn’t report the information, Mark Sisti, a Chichester defense attorney, said last month “That’s the problem.”

“If a police officer has a credibility issue, they need to find another line of work,” said Brandon Giuda, a Chester attorney and former state representative who introduced the new reporting laws in the Legislature. “Who are we protecting?”

Jake Berry can be reached at 594-6402 or jberry@nashuatelegraph.com. Also, follow Berry on Twitter (Telegraph_JakeB).