Ex-cop's claim he was given rifle is totally false says Auburn chief
Picard also rejected claims by Flight's attorney that there were other officers given weapons from the evidence room.
"I am sitting here and telling you today it's the furthest thing from the truth," Picard said during an interview Thursday. "Why would I give him something that wasn't mine to give?"
The prosecution against Flight dissolved last Tuesday when the state Attorney General's Office dropped felony theft charges alleging he took the high-powered rifle from a police evidence room sometime after Dec. 7, 1992. Before the charges were dropped, Flight's defense lawyer, Eric Wilson, suggested to a superior court judge that Picard gave Flight the weapon as payment for storing other firearms seized by the department.
"David Flight has a propensity for manipulating the truth," Picard said. "These claims that other officers were given weapons are totally false. The only advantage that David Flight had was that he had a good lawyer."
Picard said he had no doubt there was plenty of evidence about the alleged theft to put before a jury, despite the opinion of state prosecutors who felt that they could not prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt. Picard said he planned to write Gov. Maggie Hassan to voice his disappointment in the handling of the case, and for the Attorney General's Office not fully disclosing to the public their reasons not to prosecute.
He said the AG's investigation into Flight took hundreds of hours over the course of a year, and produced direct evidence, witness testimony and records that would have proven the case.
"I was extremely disappointed because this was a year-long investigation that expended a lot of resources. They talked to every police officer in the department," Picard said. "They definitely dotted all the i's and crossed all the t's. They left no stone unturned."
Picard said even officers no longer working at the department were interviewed.
Flight, a former evidence officer and department prosecutor, was scheduled to go on trial Monday in Rockingham County Superior Court on charges of theft by unauthorized taking and receiving stolen property.
"If (Flight's) whole case was that he was going to put me on the stand, I was ready for it," Picard said.
Deputy Attorney General Ann Rice said Thursday that the defense's motion asking a judge to dismiss the charges, which included suggestions Picard gave Flight the weapon, had "nothing to do with" the decision not to take the case to trial.
"We located some documents late in the game that created some problems with proving the elements of the case," Rice said.
She refused to disclose the exact details of that evidence, despite the case being closed.
"I'm not going to go into all the rationale," Rice said.
Picard said he was told by state prosecutors last week that they had concerns about the statute of limitations in the case. He said defense witnesses would have included Flight's ex-wife, who would have been called to testify she was told by her former husband that the gun was a gift. Picard said Flight never stored weapons on behalf of the Auburn Police Department.
David Dion, chairman of Auburn's police commission, said he believes Flight would never have been able to offer any evidence that he or other officers were given firearms.
"I would stake my life or my family's life on it that the chief never, ever told him to keep that gun," said Dion, who has known Picard for 20 years.
He said that Picard is a widely respected figure in New Hampshire's law enforcement community, known for maintaining his integrity and high ethical standards.
Flight retired from the department in November 2010 after a town audit returned inconclusive results on missing inventory from the evidence room. Dion said that even the 2010 matter was referred to the Attorney General's Office for review at the suggestion of Picard.
When Auburn police sergeants first linked Flight to the missing rifle last January, they turned the matter over to the state Attorney General's Office to avoid any suggestion that Flight was getting special treatment, he said.
AG stands by decision
Picard said he would be open to having another law enforcement agency review the decision to drop the prosecution against Flight, but expressed doubt that it would lead to charges being re-filed.
"I would be inclined to do that, but what chance would they stand if the Attorney General's Office, the state's top cop, decided not to go forward with the case?" Picard said.
Rockingham County Attorney James Reams said Thursday that he is not authorized to review a decision not to prosecute, unless it was requested by the attorney general.
"I don't have any authority unless I'm asked," Reams said. Reams said that there have been instances where the Attorney General's Office has asked county attorneys to give cases a second look. Reams said he did not know the details about the decision not to prosecute Flight, but noted prosecutors are often faced with competing versions of facts, and doubts raised by the defense.
"There's really no guarantees in life," he said "There's always a risk with a jury trial."
Rice said her office "absolutely" stands by the decision to drop charges in the case, and said they had an ethical obligation not to pursue charges any further.