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Gilmanton police chief takes selectmen to court for alleged meddling

Union Leader Correspondent

March 20. 2018 9:45AM

Some Gilmanton residents were recently asked by the town to take down signs supporting the police department in its dispute with selectmen. The town dropped it's request after the ACLU raised First Amendment concerns. (COURTESY)

LACONIA — A dispute over operation of the Gilmanton Police Department has ended up in court.

Chief of Police Matt Currier filed a petition in Belknap County Superior Court last month asking a judge to decide whether selectmen are overstepping their bounds in asking him to comply with written formal policies governing various administration functions of the department.

Currier contends control of the department rests with him under state law.

Selectmen assert that the written formal policies adopted by the board in Dec. are both lawful and enforceable.

A hearing to determine the respective authorities of the parties is scheduled to be held this afternoon.

In a March 16 response to Currier’s petition, selectmen assert that it was the Chief’s change of heart on a prior agreement that prompted them to adopt a set of written directives.

Prior to the formal adoption of the directives, Stephen McWhinnie who chairs the board of selectmen, and Town Administrator Heidi Duval met with Chief Currier, gave him a working draft and asked for his comments regarding possible revisions, the town’s response says.

In 2016, after negotiating with selectmen, while being represented by an attorney, Currier agreed to provide the board with work schedules of officers and official personnel files, but later “went back on his agreement, necessitating formal action with the selectmen in accordance with RSA 104:4,” wrote Attorney Mark Broth of Concord, who is representing the board.

The town’s response to the petition claims that McWhinnie told Currier that the board wanted to work with him collaboratively with respect to the directives.

But rather than attempt to communicate with the board, selectmen assert that Currier hired a lawyer who questioned the legality of the directives and threatened legal action.

Court intervention is necessary, according to Broth, to ratify the selectmen’s authority to exercise their statutory right to adopt written formal policies concerning the police department and Chief Currier.

In a nine-page petition filed “ex parte” without notice to the town, on Feb. 12, Attorney Ed Philpot of Laconia, who represents Currier, argued that the threat of harm was “immediate and irreparable,” if the selectmen were allowed to enforce the policies. That same day Judge Amy Ignatius granted a temporary restraining order, blocking the town from implementing them.

To completely comply with the directives, Currier argues that he will be required to staff the police department at set times, allowing the public to know when and where officers are working, posing a safety risk.

The directives deprive Currier of his ability to direct and control all employees in the normal course of their duties, authority given by state law, Philpot said, asserting the policies “represent a threat to public safety, officer safety, and trample upon the basic responsibilities and obligations of RSA 105:2-a.”

Attorney Broth asserts that selectmen, as the employer of the police department, have the right to examine background information of the town’s police officers, and maintains it is inappropriate for Chief Currier to refuse to turn those files over for review.

The requests don’t compromise officer safety, he said, and the information provided will remain confidential consistent with state law.

Broth pleadings say it is a mischaracterization by Currier that the directives request information concerning where any officer is at a particular time. Rather selectmen are simply seeking copies of a general work schedule so they are aware of the police coverage in town.

The directives don’t request confidential background information, according to Broth, and selectmen have the right to examine background information “in order to verify that Currier is properly discharging his duties and that each of his employees is, in fact, suitable.”

In response to Currier’s petition, Attorney Broth denies that selectmen ever threatened the Chief with specific disciplinary action or termination with respect to the police directives, or that the formal policies in any way interfere with Currier or his officers’ ability to perform day-to-day police functions as outlined in RSA 105:4.

Currier is requesting that the town reimburse him for attorney’s fees needed to settle the dispute.

The petition names McWhinnie and fellow selectmen Marshall Bishop and Michael Jean as defendants.

On March 13, Jean was defeated in his bid for re-election in a four-way race by Michael Wilson by a vote of 374 to 212. Voters also narrowly defeated a request to add $45,000 to a court cases non-capital reserve fund established in 2003.

Courts Public Safety Mount Sunapee Gilmanton Gilmanton Ironw. Laconia

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