NH AG tries to block release of records of police misconduct

Mar. 29—New Hampshire authorities recently rejected two separate requests for internal information about problem police officers, bucking a trend of more police accountability and transparency since the murder of George Floyd, advocates said.

The latest resistance occurred two weeks ago, when Attorney General John Formella filed court challenges to efforts by the ACLU-New Hampshire to access records regarding the termination of State Trooper Haden Wilber last August.

The state already has paid $212,000 to resolve a lawsuit filed by Robyn White of Maine against Wilber. In 2017, White was jailed for 13 days because Wilber believed she had hidden drugs inside her body, according to her federal lawsuit.

She was prodded to submit to body cavity searches, two full-body X-ray scans and a drug test and had to wait in jail until she passed whatever authorities believed was inside. No drugs were found, and prosecutors eventually dropped all charges against White.

Last year, the ACLU-New Hampshire requested information about Wilber’s termination from the New Hampshire State Police.

«It’s really regrettable that in the wake of the murder of George Floyd we still have police agencies arguing that records of police misconduct should be categorically secret and shielded from public view,» said Gilles Bissonnette, legal director for ACLU-New Hampshire.

The ACLU plans to ask a judge to grant access to the internal investigation into Wilber’s handling of the case at a hearing March 31 in Merrimack County Superior Court.

Meanwhile, the Department of Safety recently denied Union Leader requests for documents that would explain how three former state troopers landed on the Laurie list. A list of police officers with credibility problems, the Laurie list is slowly being released under provisions of a state law passed last year.

But the list provides only the briefest explanation for an officer’s inclusion on the list. Explanations include «truthfulness,» «excessive force» and «dereliction of duty.»

In both the ACLU and the Union Leader cases, lawyers for the state point to a February ruling by the state Supreme Court on the disclosure of police personnel files in criminal cases.

That ruling relied heavily on a 2012 state law that calls for confidentiality of personnel files of officers involved in criminal cases.

«Federal courts — under a (federal Freedom of Information Act) analysis — have found that low-level police personnel are entitled to privacy in their personnel records,» reads a brief submitted by Assistant Attorney General Jessica King in the ACLU case.

According to King, the Legislature has decided that police officers have high expectations of privacy; the public’s right to know how state police commanders addressed the Wilber matter is low.

«Against a minimal public interest, the invasion of Wilber’s privacy is significant because (the 2012 law) grants police officers substantial protection,» King wrote.

Wilber is contesting his termination and has filed a challenge with the state Personnel Appeals Board.

Details about trooper

To date, information about Wilber comes from two sources — the federal suit filed against him by Robyn White and his termination letter, which was released by the Personnel Appeals Board.

Wilber was a member of the Mobile Enforcement Team, whose job was to look for people transporting drugs on state highways. In February 2017, he pulled over White, saying she had snow on her taillights.

According to the lawsuit, a Franklin County, Maine, police dispatcher told Wilber about another Maine resident who had hidden oxycodone in her body while traveling through New Hampshire the previous year.

Based on that story, Wilber suspected White was attempting to conceal drugs, according to the lawsuit.

He had her transported to Rockingham County jail and then to Strafford County jail to be scanned.

In his reports, Wilber wrote than an unnamed operator told him the scan showed some «abnormalities.» That prompted Wilber to charge White with delivering drugs to a jail, and a judge to increase her bail from $250 to $5,000 cash, which she could not afford.

Unable to make bail, White sat in jail for the next 11 days, while jailers waited for something to pass. Nothing did. White agreed to submit to a second x-ray scan if a judge would reduce her bail.

But after the second scan, Wilber applied for a warrant for a search of White’s vaginal and rectal cavities. No drugs or foreign objects were found, and she was released on $250 cash bail.

According to his termination letter, Wilber’s story contradicted several other accounts. He said a fellow trooper was on hand when he searched White’s vehicle; the other trooper said he showed up at the end.

Despite Wilber’s claims, Strafford County jail records show everything was normal with White’s x-rays.

Wilber initially insisted he made only a cursory glance at White’s cellphone, which led him to suspect she was carrying drugs. But he texted a Maine deputy sheriff and said DEA had downloaded the phone contents and he had the PDF file.

He later told investigators that the Mobile Enforcement Team does such illegal phone searches all the time.

In November, his lawyer, John Krupski, told the Police Standards and Training Council that Wilber was «illegally terminated» by the state police, and that he had a part-time job as an officer in Kingston. He is not listed on that police department’s website.

Wilber’s termination is scheduled to be heard by the Personnel Appeals Board on April 19 and 20.

Strafford County paid $25,000 to settle claims brought by White.


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