CONCORD — The last civil lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court against Weare police and the town over recording interactions with police has reached a financial settlement, to go with a written apology and the promise of change from the police chief.
Two Free State members and a Libertarian Party resident claimed their First Amendment rights were violated when they were arrested for recording interactions with Weare police officers on duty.
In addition to an undisclosed monetary settlement, Weare Police Chief John D. Velleca provided a written apology to Weare resident William Alleman, who had maintained he was exercising his First Amendment rights when he videotaped his interaction with Officer Brandon Montplaisir during a traffic stop in July 2011.
Alleman was arrested the following February for felony wiretapping in connection with the incident, but a Circuit Court judge dismissed the charge against him. Alleman then filed his lawsuit in U.S. District Court.
Two other Free State members, Carla Gericke and William Rodriguez, also had filed suit in connection with similar incidents involving Weare police. Those suits were settled previously.
The New Hampshire suits cite the U.S. Court of Appeals ruling in August 2011 that Boston police violated the rights of attorney Simon Glik when they arrested him for taping the arrest of a man on Boston Common and charged him with felony wiretapping.
The court said the First Amendment protects the right of citizens to tape the actions of police in a public place, and the Fourth Amendment protects against false arrests, and those rules apply in New Hampshire.
Concord attorney Seth Hipple, whose firm of Martin & Hipple represented Alleman, said: “We were perfectly prepared to present our case to the jury.”
But the real goal was to obtain an acknowledgement that the police behavior was wrong and to find a way to bring about change. The settlement does that, said Hipple.
In addition to the written apology, he said: The money is a way to bring about a change.”
The town has had its insurance premiums hiked dramatically as a result of the financial payouts by its insurance company on lawsuits.
Velleca said Tuesday that there is one more lawsuit pending, this one against him rather than the previous chief.
Shortly after Velleca started his job last November, he fired Sgt. Joseph Kelley for allegedly violating department policies and procedures. Kelley, who was cleared of any wrongdoing in connection with the fatal shooting of an unarmed suspected drug dealer, who was shot in the back of the head as he fled a botched drug buy sting. Kelley had gone on leave, claiming post traumatic stress disorder as a result of being present.
Kelley had not fired the fatal shot.
The settlement of a lawsuit by the parents of the Manchester man who was killed resulted in a $300,000 payment by the town’s insurer to the parents, who live in Puerto Rico.Change in the Weare Police Department began when elected police Chief Gregory Begin retired May 30, 2013, and Officer Lt. James Carney, who had been placed on administrative leave by selectmen in March 2013, for allegedly violating departmental polices, retired July 1, 2013.Velleca, who was hired by selectmen, had retired in 2011 as acting police chief in New Haven, Conn. He said Tuesday that he has made significant changes since his arrival. Among them is ensuring members of the department, all full-time officers now, are “very rights conscious.”
Velleca’s plan to equip officers with body cameras, worn on the chest and recording audio as well as video, is part of ensuring that, and he hopes to have the officers wearing the cameras within a month. “We’re still working on that. We’re really tweaking and adjusting the policy.”
The cameras will provide evidence, not only of what the officers are seeing and hearing, but also of what they are saying and doing. “You should never fear your police department,” said Velleca.
That video and audio evidence will be kept in the new evidence room.
“We’re upgrading our evidence room,” he said, making it secure, which was questionable before.
It’s part of making sure Weare police are meeting industry standards, along with making the officers all full-time, using body cameras and focusing on ensuring citizens’ rights as well as enforcing laws.
“This is a town that’s rooted in tradition,” said Velleca. He acknowledged that there is a trust issue regarding Weare police and conceded: “It’s going to take a while and consistency” to rebuild trust.
Among the ways to help in addressing the issue of trust has been through the creation of a new web site. Velleca gives major credit for the new site to administrative assistant Jennifer Postero.
“We tried to make it kind of user friendly,” he said, including a graph showing the officers activities each month. The most recent month posted online is May, but Velleca said June statistics should be posted within a few days.
The site also offers residents an opportunity for submitting feedback, including forms to complement officers, or to file complaints.