BRENTWOOD — The Union Leader Corporation and American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire have jointly filed a lawsuit in Rockingham County Superior Court against the town of Salem to release an unredacted version of a report that outlines numerous issues within the Salem Police Department.
The petition is to access the 177-page report by Kroll Inc., along with the written response by then-Police Chief Paul Donovan and an October memo about the report from Town Manager Chris Dillon to Donovan, based on the state’s Right-to-Know law.
In the suit, the newspaper and the civil liberties advocacy group say that the report in question “depicts a department that is dysfunctional and poorly serving the taxpayers it is tasked with protecting.”
A redacted version of the report was released by the town on Nov. 23. In it, the report’s authors state they “see a system designed to intimidate the members of the public and make them fearful of the consequence of filing a complaint about concerning police conduct.”
The report describes a pattern of mismanaged internal affairs investigations, poor record-keeping, officers working outside details during their regular shifts and ignoring or discouraging citizen complaints.
“The town should produce the complete, unredacted audit report immediately,” Gilles Bissonnette of the NH-ACLU said. “Keeping information secret, especially when it comes to police behavior, only creates distrust and suspicion.”
Bissonnette said “secrecy” prevents Salem taxpayers from fully evaluating whether the police are taking corrective measures.
“One of the quickest ways for the town to restore confidence in its police department would be to produce this report in its entirety,” Bissonnette said.
The lawsuit describes in detail numerous concerns raised by the audit report, as well as comments by certain leaders in the department who responded to the report with criticisms on social media.
On Dec. 6, the Union Leader filed a Right-to-Know request with Salem to release the unredacted report. The town denied that request, citing the exemptions section of the state’s Right-to-Know statute.
The ACLU filed a Right-to-Know request with Salem for the unredacted report on Nov. 8, before the redacted report was made public. In response, the town said the redacted portions represented “confidential personnel records.”
The suit argues the Kroll report is not a personnel record because it does not directly pertain to employment. It cited past legal cases to support this, including one in Massachusetts, where a court ruled that officer reports, witness interview summaries and internal affairs reports did not fall under the definition of “personnel file or information.”
The suit also argues the audit report is not confidential because “public officials — especially police — have no right to confidentiality concerning their performance of official duties.”
It goes on to argue the public interest in this matter outweighs any potential privacy concerns, and that the taxpayers of Salem are entitled to read the full report since they paid for it with approximately $77,000 from the town budget.
Defense attorneys for a youth hockey coach arrested and Tasered by Salem police last year have also motioned to obtain the unredacted audit report because they view it as exculpatory evidence.
Robert Andersen of Wilmington, Mass. was charged with resisting arrest and assaulting an officer after an incident at the ICenter in Salem on Dec. 2, 2017. Witnesses say he was trying to mediate a dispute between angry parents when police arrived, responding to a call about a verbal fight.
When Andersen filed a citizen complaint about the arrest, police completed an informal inquiry in under 24 hours without interviewing him or any of his witnesses, according to the audit report.
So far, 14 previously redacted pages related to the incident were provided for review by Judge Andrew Schulman, who is presiding over that criminal case. Andersen’s lawyer, former New Hampshire attorney general Michael Delaney, has already filed another motion requesting the full unredacted report.
The Kroll audit was led by Daniel Linskey, a former superintendent-in-chief of the Boston Police Department.