CONCORD — The board that decides police decertifications went behind closed doors on Tuesday to hear a case, despite the objections of a lawyer seasoned in laws involving access to government proceedings.
The Police Standards and Training Council entered executive session following a unanimous vote of all members present during a tele-conference meeting. The council considered a case involving an officer with the last name Swift.
Gregory V. Sullivan, a lawyer who represents the Union Leader Corp., urged the council to delay the hearing until he could file papers in Superior Court challenging the closed-door hearing. The council went ahead with its hearing, and Sullivan said he will still file a court petition asking a judge to clarify the practice.
Nearly all New Hampshire police, corrections officers and parole officers must obtain PSTC certification before they can work in law enforcement.
On Sunday, the New Hampshire Sunday News reported that the PSTC holds its decertification hearings in closed session, in contrast to nearly all other licensing boards, which hold such hearings in public.
On Tuesday, the council cited a provision in the Right-to-Know Law that allows it to close a hearing to protect one’s reputation. Council Chairman David Cahill, the Sunapee police chief, said the council only receives information in the closed meeting, and any votes on decertification are made and recorded in public.
But the closed hearings prevent the public from overseeing the council and determining whether its actions are appropriate or not, Sullivan said.
Supreme Court rulings in 1979 and 1996 rejected the notion of using concerns about reputational harm to hide cases of police misconduct, Sullivan said. Sullivan has been at the forefront of several key Right to Know actions, including recent Supreme Court rulings that granted access to police personnel files.
He also filed a Right to Know request with the city for access to portions of the personnel file of fired Manchester police officer Aaron Brown, which was released this week.
The council had been slated to review Brown’s certification, but Brown voluntarily suspended his certification, avoiding a hearing for the time being.