The House Judiciary Committee voted to defeat an amendment that would have allowed a person to sue a public employer – including a police department – for any actions by an employee that violate another person’s constitutional rights.(Dave Cummings | New Hampshire Bulletin)
This story was updated April 17, 2021 at 10:30 a.m.
Police unions, New Hampshire newspapers, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office say they have reached an agreement on a way to release the state’s “Laurie List” – a list compiled over decades of police officers with credible complaints of misconduct.
A late amendment to a bill in the Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday would make the state’s “exculpatory evidence schedule” a public document, but also give officers a chance to challenge their inclusion on the list before their names are released.
“Subject to the provisions of this section, the exculpatory evidence schedule may be maintained by the Department of Justice and shall be a public record subject to RSA 91-A,” the amendment begins.
Since 2004, the state Attorney General’s Office has maintained a list of officers who have been found by their superiors to have credibility problems.
That list, officially called the “exculpatory evidence schedule,” includes officers who have “founded” complaints of falsification of evidence and excessive force against them.
The department keeps the list so prosecutors and defense attorneys can know which officers’ records may pose problems if they testify. But despite the severity of some of the complaints contained on the list, the names of the officers have been redacted from public record since the list’s creation.
The amendment to House Bill 471 would eventually make the state’s “exculpatory evidence schedule” subject to New Hampshire’s right-to-know law. But officers’ names wouldn’t be released until they had exhausted an appeals process outlined in the proposed bill.
Under the proposed amendment, the Attorney General’s Office would contact each officer on the list once the bill is passed. Those who were put on the list before June 2018 would have six months to file a lawsuit in superior court to challenge their status on the list; those added after June 2018 would have three months.
The superior court could at that point override the inclusion of the officer on the list, or send the matter back to the police department to ensure a more thorough due-process hearing.
The proposed changes echo some of the recommendations of the Commission on Law Enforcement Accountability, Community, and Transparency, which met through 2020 to consider reforms to New Hampshire’s policing statutes in the wake of the death of George Floyd in police custody.
The amendment, introduced by Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, a Wolfeboro Republican, still needs to be approved by the committee, and then the full Senate and House. But representatives from the ACLU and the Attorney General’s Office praised it during testimony Thursday.
“This is a strong proposal that not only addresses some of the concerns that we’ve heard from law enforcement, but also addresses, frankly, the concerns from some transparency advocates like myself: that this list was so confidential for so many years,” said Gilles Bissonnette, legal director at the ACLU of New Hampshire.
Bissonnette has led an effort by the ACLU and New Hampshire media outlets to sue the Attorney General’s Office and release the list under the right-to-know law. That lawsuit is presently pending in Supreme Court, but Bissonnette said the amendment could negate the need for court intervention.
“Really all of this was done in the hope to resolve the public disclosure of the EES once and for all, and also resolve the pending litigation,” he said.
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