Officers tied to 2010 Strange Brew incident ask to be removed from 'Laurie list'
Three Manchester patrolmen whose discipline for off-duty excessive force was overturned in connection with beating a man outside the Strange Brew Tavern three years ago want their names removed from a highly secretive "Laurie list" of law enforcement officers with credibility problems.
Jonathan Duchesne, Matthew Jajuga and Michael Buckley have asked Hillsborough Superior Court Judge David Garfunkel to order the county attorney to take their names off the list in connection with the March 3, 2010, beating of Christopher Micklovich.
The three officers were disciplined soon after the highly publicized incident, but an arbitrator later determined Manchester "did not have just cause" and ordered all related records removed from their personnel files.
Former Attorney General Michael Delaney ruled the officers didn't commit a crime, but made no determination as to whether they used excessive force.
In court records filed by their attorney, John Krupski, the officers argued the excessive force allegations were "determined to be incorrect and any and all discipline in which they were subject was reversed...."
"The (officers) claim that their inclusion on the Laurie list for the acts on this occasion is improper and is an abuse of discretion by (County Attorney Patricia LaFrance)," Krupski wrote.
A court hearing Sept. 5 provided a glimpse into the workings of the Laurie list process, according to a recording of the hearing obtained Friday. Before the officers filed for court relief, it was not known their names were on the list.
Judge Garfunkel, who raised questions about the Laurie process during the hearing, has yet to rule on their request, which also seeks attorney fees.
"I need a more complete description of the Laurie list. Is there a document that exists in which officers' names appear statewide ...?" Garfunkel asked.
As a judge, he said, he is asked to review the personnel files of police officers with Laurie issues under seal to determine whether details should be allowed into evidence to possibly impeach an officer's testimony.
Garfunkel has one such request pending and still conceded he was unsure how the process works.
Prosecutors are constitutionally required to disclose all evidence that may be helpful to the defendant - including dishonesty issues involving officers who are to testify - or risk having the conviction overturned.
A 2004 memo by former Attorney General Peter Heed said Laurie issues could include officers lying under oath, being convicted of fraud or theft, manufacturing evidence or other dishonest behavior. Heed's memo said excessive force could be considered Laurie material, as well.
The court overturned the murder conviction of Carl Laurie in 1995 because prosecutors failed to tell the defense one of the lead investigators was known to be dishonest.
Associate Attorney General Jane Young offered comment at the recent hearing involving the Manchester officers, although her office is not a party to the case.
Some police chiefs and county attorneys send names of officers with potential Laurie issues to her office, she said.
No centralized list
"Is there this magical list somewhere? No. There's certainly not a statewide comprehensive list," Young said. "We hope that each county attorney has a sort of ongoing list of their own."
Several of the arguments were based on the Heed memo, including those by Carolyn Kirby, representing the county.
Young said her supervisors might not be thrilled to hear it, "but we pretty much discount that (Heed) memo," adding her office has undertaken a comprehensive review of Laurie policies.
Garfunkel pressed Krupski on whether police chiefs would be able to tell prosecutors of the excessive-force allegations against Duchesne, Jajuga and Buckley if Garfunkel issued the order Krupski is seeking.
Krupski said they would not be able to disclose it. There is nothing in their personnel files to disclose, Krupski said.
Young told the court it wouldn't matter what he ordered relative to the three officers.
"No disrespect, but even if you say they have to come off the list, I know it, and I'm going to turn it over every time until the Supreme Court tells me differently," Young said.
Young said the names should remain on the Laurie list. Prosecutors at least have to notify the courts in such cases and leave it to judges to decide whether the officer's credibility issue can be used at trial. It's a two-step process, she said. The state may disclose Laurie material, then argue that it shouldn't be allowed at trial.
"I don't want to be five years down the road - and I'm sure these officers and their departments don't want to be five years down the road - and see somebody who committed a heinous crime walk out the door because this little factor wasn't known, and we didn't have the ability to try to fight to keep it out," Young said.
"We just want there to be an even playing field, and we want to make sure our convictions are sustained and not overturned because we didn't turn something over...," Young said.
Said Krupski: "I strongly urge the court to think of stigma attached to Laurie issues.... It is a stigma that follows you. People think you are a liar."
No set procedure
The three officers had no due process, he said. Some police officers are fired because of Laurie issues and others have trouble transferring to other police departments because the designation follows them, Krupski said.
"These people are on the list, and there is nothing in their personnel file, and they can't get off," Krupski told the judge. "There's been no finding of excessive force that has been sustained, and as a result, they don't belong on the Laurie list."
Young told Garfunkel that being on the Laurie list and disclosing to a judge in each case in which the officer is to testify isn't as bad as it sounds.
"Just because you have a letter issued that's a Laurie matter doesn't mean you are wholesale dead on this job," Young said.
The officers in the Strange Brew matter were all cooperative, Young said. Young said she wouldn't hesitate to call them to testify.
"I don't see this as a career-ending matter," Young said.