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Judge orders fired Manchester officer back to jail to finish sentence

New Hampshire Union Leader

July 10. 2014 5:52PM


MANCHESTER — Fired Manchester police detective Stephen Coco was ordered back to jail Thursday, to serve the rest of his one-year term for felony hit-and-run.

Coco had been released June 5 at the discretion of Hillsborough County Jail Superintendent David Dionne, 72 days after he began serving his sentence. The release was provisional, with Coco ordered to keep in daily contact with correction officials.

But Hillsborough County Superior Court Judge Gillian decided the release from jail was inappropriate. Abramson said: “His conduct merits nothing less than the original sentence imposed.”

Abramson said Coco is “a defendant who requires punishment and deterrence, goals of sentencing not served or met by release after just 72 days in jail.”

Coco, a 17-year police officer, had been promoted to sergeant not long before the March 22, 2013, incident. He struck and injured two teens while driving an undercover police SUV and left the scene without stopping. Coco pleaded guilty to two felony charges of conduct after an accident in a negotiated plea.

In her order, Abramson wrote that in Coco’s case, “participation in a day reporting program, without the need for rehabilitation, is the functional equivalent of release from custody.” That, she wrote, “is inappropriate and defendant shall be returned to the Hillsborough County House of Corrections to serve the remainder of his sentence.”

Sullivan County Attorney Marc Hathaway, who prosecuted the case, Thursday said: “The court made a very well reasoned decision that validates the sentencing.” He said the sentence was meant to be a specific deterrent, a general deterrent and punishment.

Coco, who admitted to having a glass of wine several hours before leaving a colleague’s residence, said he was distracted by his cell phone and didn’t know he had hit the teens. One teen was thrown 20 feet and sustained a back injury and a broken elbow. The other teen was run over and suffered bleeding on the brain and a concussion. Both have recovered.

Dionne said he had moved Coco to the Coos County Jail in West Stewartstown to serve his sentence for safety reasons, but Coco was still in Dionne’s custody and would be for the duration of his sentence. Now, with credit for good behavior, Coco would be released in November, after completing eight months of the sentence. Coco also has a suspended sentence, two years of probation and was ordered to pay restitution.

Dionne was able to change Coco’s classification under a 2013 law that gave superintendents the authority to make decisions about releasing prisoners on work release, home confinement with an anklet or day report status without obtaining a judge’s oversight. Dionne said he determined Coco was a candidate for day report status.

Dionne said the jail superintendents sought the change because it could take months to get a hearing before a judge on a petition for status change, which could jeopardize prisoner jobs, Social Security benefits and medications and rehabilitation programs.

But the change also included the requirement that the superintendent notify the prosecution, who could request a hearing if there was an objection to the reclassification. Dionne notified Hathaway on June 13 that Coco had been released.

Hathaway, who had been appointed to avoid any concerns about possible conflict of interest, objected to the reclassification and requested a hearing before Abramson. The hearing was held on Monday.

Hathaway had requested that the original sentencing order forbid home confinement, but Abramson did not do so at the time. She noted in Thursday order that she had specifically made no recommendation for rehabilitative release because “defendant is not in need of rehabilitation.”

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