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AG criticized for flawed, deadly April drug raid in Greenland
Longtime Rockingham County Attorney Jim Reams says the state’s attorney general bears ultimate responsibility for the botched drug raid April 12 that left Greenland’s police chief dead and four other officers wounded.
“He’s the head of the agency,” Reams said of Attorney General Michael Delaney. “Of course (the buck) stops with him.”
On Friday, Delaney declined to take any direct responsibility for the operation’s failures — which were uncovered by an independent review committee and announced Dec. 14 — and he said he would not assign blame to others.
Nonetheless, Delaney did acknowledge placing the commander of the Attorney General’s Drug Task Force on administrative leave shortly after the raid. Delaney said on Friday that James Norris was briefly put on leave in May, then decided to leave voluntarily, retiring in August.
“I relieved (Norris) of his duties as commander,” Delaney said, insisting no one was disciplined over the Greenland raid.
Bloody mayhem erupted that evening when task force members and local police tried to serve warrants on suspected drug dealers Cullen Mutrie and Brittany Tibbetts at their 517 Post Road residence.
Mutrie, 29, ended his shooting rampage by killing Tibbetts and himself that night, police said.
The raid was criticized in great detail by the Greenland Incident Review Commission, which released its findings at a news conference about two weeks ago.
Delaney said he took action against Norris only after reviewing his overall leadership.
But Reams said Delaney should have been well-aware that some of the same problems existed eight years ago when Reams investigated drug task force members for an off-duty brawl outside a Portsmouth bar on St. Patrick’s Day in 2004.
Delaney was deputy attorney general at the time, Reams said.
Reams said he found many of the same problems with the drug task force as were recently identified by the independent review commission, such as failed leadership and lack of policies and procedures.
“It was all the same things that contributed to Mike’s (Maloney) death,” Reams said. “It didn’t have to happen.”
Chief Maloney was killed because the raid was poorly planned and executed, Reams said. “It is maddening.”
Delaney said he didn’t request the commission review to find a scapegoat, but to learn how to do things better in the future. “That was not a process to assess responsibility or allocate blame. The process was to help educate ourselves and gain a new perspective to enhance the operation,” Delaney said Asked specifically whether he bore any responsibility for the drug task force failings, Delaney referred the Sunday News to the organizational chart in the review commission report.
“The organization chart shows the chain of command reporting through the criminal bureau.... I’m the department head,” Delaney said.
Delaney said Norris was on a “minivacation in Berlin” the night of the raid and was unaware warrants were to be served in Greenland.
No one up the chain of command in his department knew about it before the shooting started either, Delaney said.
When reached by phone, Norris said that after many years with the New Hampshire State Police and 16 years with the Attorney General’s Drug Task Force, he didn’t want to discuss the incident. He declined also to be interviewed by the commission.
“This is behind me. I’m moving on,” Norris told the Sunday News. “I don’t want to be disrespectful, but I’m going on with my life.”
The commission painted a heartwrenching picture of what task force members faced after breaking down Mutrie’s door with a battering ram.
“As the DTF members began their entry, they were immediately met with gunfire from Cullen Mutrie, who was standing a short distance inside and behind a large air hockey table. ...” the commission said.
Mutrie fired rounds from a .357 magnum revolver that struck drug task force members Jeremiah Murphy, Scott Kukesh, Eric Kulberg and Gregory Turner, who are also detectives with area police departments, the commission reported. Mutrie retreated and shot and killed Chief Maloney through a basement window before killing his girlfriend and himself.
The commission also criticized the Attorney General’s Drug Task Force for lack of planning, lack of proper safety equipment, minimal operations planning, inadequate communications and performing the raid when some members were unavailable to participate.
There was no reason the raid had to be done that day, the commission found.
On Thursday, Delaney released a letter marked “confidential” that wasn’t made public last week with the other files.
The letter, dated May 9, focused on whether the drug task force had been turned down for help from the local SWAT team — known as the Seacoast Emergency Response Team — because Greenland wasn’t a dues-paying member.
Delaney said the letter from SERT Cmdr. Lt. Michael Maloney (no relation to Chief Maloney) to SERT President James Sullivan showed there had been discussion by two members about seeking SERT assistance, but no formal request was made.
In the letter, Lt. Maloney summarized a discussion that took place a month or two before the raid between Officer Tim Black and Detective Kukesh, the drug task force’s team leader. Black explained to Kukesh that since Greenland was not a SERT member town, any decision on whether a team could be used there would have to be made by the SERT board of directors.
“Officer Black also told Detective Kukesh that Greenland was bordered by towns that are members of SERT and that a possibility for him would be to use some sort of ruse to get the suspect into a SERT member town,” Maloney wrote. Black also suggested Kukesh consider using the State Police Swat Team, Maloney wrote, although no such request was made.
The review commission criticized the decision.
“All available intelligence and background information indicated that a trained tactical team should have been used once the decision was made to do a dynamic entry,” the commission found in light of Mutrie’s criminal history and “propensity for violence.”
Delaney said the policy has already been changed, along with other changes.
“We have stopped the use of ‘no knock’ warrants without a tactical team,” Delaney said.
Don Conley, a retired Nashua police chief who chaired the volunteer review commission, hoped its recommendations would prove valuable to other agencies.
Conley praised Delaney for being “very clear (that) what he wanted was an independent review. My hat goes off to the attorney general for asking for that.”
It was a major undertaking, Conley said.
“But worth it,” Conley said. “If we save a life or injury to another policeman or member of the community, it will be well worth it.”
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