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NH's county attorneys failing to provide suspect police officer lists

New Hampshire Union Leader

October 21. 2013 9:40PM

County attorneys are not following a state protocol to provide local prosecutors with copies of confidential lists of law enforcement officers with potential credibility issues, according to Strafford County Attorney Thomas Velardi.

"That's not a policy I've ever followed," Velardi said. He is affiliate president of a New Hampshire county attorneys group.

County attorneys use so-called Laurie lists to guarantee that defendants are notified if a police officer testifying against them has been disciplined for dishonesty or excessive force issues.

The procedure is outlined in a 2004 memo distributed by then-Attorney General Peter Heed. Heed acted after the state Supreme Court reversed a first-degree murder conviction against Carl Laurie in 1995 because prosecutors failed to disclose a key police investigator's propensity for dishonesty.

The county attorneys are required to keep the lists. Heed's memo also said that, "Local prosecutors should be provided a copy of the list, or at least that portion of the list containing information from police departments from within their jurisdiction."

Velardi said he has never heard of another county attorney sharing their Laurie list with local prosecutors. Some, like Velardi, don't even share the list with other prosecutors in their office unless they ask about a specific officer.

Deputy Attorney General Ann Rice said her office was unaware that county attorneys were not sharing the lists with district court prosecutors.

"We will remind them of that suggestion in the memo," Rice said.

Most are "likely aware of any officer within the department whose name is on the Laurie list," said Rice in an e-mail.

Velardi said it is paramount to protect the confidentiality of the names on the list, rather than spread the list around.

Velardi said it is up to local prosecutors to contact him and ask if a testifying officer is on the list.

"They have to call and ask me," Velardi said.

He conceded it would be time consuming for local prosecutors to do so. They deal with a high volume of cases, most of which are misdemeanors, and range from drunken driving to drug and assault cases.

"No one has ever dealt with the practicality of having to do that," Velardi said, adding the state protocols are in the process of being rewritten.

That leaves local prosecutors — many of whom are police — to rely on informal methods of finding out if an officer is on the list. They can ask their local chief; but if an officer from an outside department or agency is involved in a case, finding out about a Laurie issue is even tougher.

It is another example of how the system is not working, according to Jim Moir, a Concord attorney who is an expert on Laurie issues.

"What happens is the only time this issue will come to light is when a defendant finds out that the officer who may have testified against him or her was on that list and (it) was not provided," Moir said.

In such cases, a conviction may be overturned.

"That has already happened in the Cody Eller case," Moir said, referring to a road-rage related conviction that was reversed because Eller's lawyer wasn't told a key police witness had a Laurie issue.

Outside officers are less likely to be called as witnesses in district court, but could be in cases where they assisted a local department, said Hanover Police Prosecutor Christopher O'Connor.

"I've never seen a list," O'Connor said.

He said he would be notified by local police chiefs of those officers with Laurie issues for the departments he represents in the Lower Grafton County Prosecutorial Association, including Lyme, Orford, Grafton, Enfield and Canaan.

"It could be that I would have a trial and have an officer from a different agency testify and not be aware there might be a Laurie issue in their file," O'Connor said.

Velardi said he has 21 officers on the Strafford County Laurie list, some from state agencies that were put on the list in the last year after the Sunday News reported they weren't reporting to all 10 county attorneys as required.

"Several of those have never been a police officer in Strafford County," Velardi said.

He believes many names on the list result from police chiefs over-reporting issues that shouldn't be considered Laurie issues at all. There are only three of those officers who are still active and who concern him, Velardi said.

During his 15 years as a prosecutor, only two names were disclosed and in each case, the judge made the final determination that they were not Laurie issues.

Most of the serious integrity matters result in the officer no longer serving as a sworn officer, he said.

"Those get reported to the chief and the chief takes corrective action. They go away and the system corrects itself. The bad guys get flushed out," Velardi said.

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