Document: The List - Full Transcripts | New Hampshire Public Radio

Document: The List - Full Transcripts

Below you will find full transcripts for all episodes of Document: The List.

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EPISODE ONE

Nancy West is a local reporter in New Hampshire. She’s been at it for a long time - more than 30 years. She’s got a reputation: blunt, curmudgeonly, insistent.

[Nancy West] Yeah, some places you don’t want to drop my name. But that (laughs)... Actually there’s a lot of places -- don’t drop my name.

[Mux in]

[Nancy West] You know I have more questions so please don’t end the press conference.

[Jake Leon] Nancy, we have time for one more question.

At press conferences Nancy has a way of raising the temperature in the room.

[Jane Young] I don’t know Nancy because we have not been able-

[Nancy West] Well

[Jane Young] Can I finish? No, let me finish.

When Nancy starts in on something -- well she may never stop. That definitely goes for her coverage of cops.

[Nancy West] Once you do one story about a police officer who’s done something wrong, then you get about 10 tips on another police officer. So you sort of develop some expertise in that area.

Back in 2006, Nancy worked for the state’s biggest paper -- The Union Leader. One day she gets one of those tips. And it’s a good one. A really good one.

The tip was about a lawsuit -- between two sets of cops.

[Nancy West] The state troopers believed that the highway patrol had made illegal websites.

Illegal websites. No, really.

The websites were the culmination of a long running spat between two state police agencies. The public had no idea about any of it.

Today there’s just one state police agency in New Hampshire. But back then there were two: the state troopers and the highway patrol officers. Both patrolled the state’s highways -- and neither side seemed to like that very much.

[Nancy West] Oh there was a lot of animosity.

The stories from this rivalry -- they all have a schoolyard vibe to them.

State troopers were accused of sabotaging highway patrols speed traps. They'd allegedly drive further up the road and turn their lights on to get drivers to slow down before hitting the trap.

[Nancy West] I can remember being laugh out loud shocked at some of them.

There were stories of troopers and patrol officers arguing over traffic stops on the side of the highway. According to one patrol officer, a state trooper yelled at him “this is my patrol and you’re pissing on my boots.”

[Nancy West] It was a real look at the underbelly of some real...trouble between these two agencies.

Eventually the pettiness moved online. The union for the highway patrol created a website that was just one letter different from the state trooper union website. “Nhtroopers.org” vs “nhtrooper.org.” No “s.”

The state troopers union sued. They said the website was interfering with their fundraising abilities. The legal back and forth brought out all those other allegations - - and that’s the story that Nancy broke. The Union Leader --her newspaper-- went with the headline: “Feuding Forces.”

But there was something else in the lawsuit that really caught Nancy’s eye. Something that would come to define her career as a journalist in New Hampshire.

[Nancy West] At the time I did not realize what an important story it was.

Buried in some of the legal filings for this case Nancy found a transcript of testimony given by the woman who ran the highway patrol. In the testimony she made a strange allegation about the other side -- with a term Nancy had never heard before.

[Nancy West] The head of the state troopers union, in her opinion, shouldn’t testify if this civil lawsuit went to trial because he had a Laurie issue.

[mux in]

A Laurie issue. At the time, Nancy didn’t know what that term meant. It’s possible no one outside the legal community in New Hampshire did. But she could tell it had something to do with whether that state trooper could be trusted to tell the truth.

[Nancy West] Well the word “Laurie” didn’t send my reporter interest tingling, but the fact that somebody was calling a top state trooper a liar, or a potential liar, made me very curious about what the heck is a Laurie issue?

Nancy started in on figuring that out.

She talked to attorneys and law professors and dug up old case files. And she learned that a “Laurie issue” was a kind of black mark for police officers. If a cop had one, it meant that somewhere, sometime, something happened that could be used to call their credibility into question during a trial.

[Nancy West] And I was very startled to find out that a police officer could have dishonest behavior already in his discipline file and still work as a police officer. This startled me.

But that wasn’t all she found out. Nancy also got the scoop of a lifetime. She learned that for years government lawyers had kept track of all of these officers. They had a list, a secret list, of cops whose trustworthiness was in question. Nancy couldn’t believe it.

[Nancy West] When I started asking  questions about the list. I actually had a county attorney say ‘I can’t talk about that. I can’t talk about that. That’s secret.

[Nancy West] Now, as a reporter, you hear the words “can’t talk” “it’s a secret.” It’s like that’s all I wanted to work on.

[mux out]

The story about shenanigans between two sets of cops was suddenly so much more than that. Nancy wanted to know - and she thought you might like to know: who is on that list?

[Nancy West] There was a secret list of dishonest police officers and the public had no clue. // And they had a right to know.

[mux in]

There are lists like this all across the country.

LIsts that could help you decide whether you should trust the police -- even whether you should trust individual cops.

[Nancy West] These are the different reasons that people were put on the list. // Falsifying reports or records. // Issuance of unlawful orders. // Obedience to laws and policies.

The only problem- there’s a good chance you’re not allowed to see those lists.

[Greg Sullivan] We are talking about police officers who carry a gun, and a badge, and who have the right to arrest us. // It is a special trust.

[Yusra Alsadig] To turn a blind eye is basically saying ‘well I hope the justice system works.’ That’s not good enough for me.

Why do these secret lists exist? What have they done to the way you think about police?

[John Gantert] Just because someone’s on the list doesn’t mean they did something wrong.

[Nancy West] Everybody’s wanted the Laurie list. That’s sort of like the holy grail. // Once you know there’s this secret - all those blacked out marks, you know, we want to see what’s underneath those.

From the DOCUMENT team at New Hampshire Public Radio, this is The List. I’m Jason Moon.

ACT I: CARL LAURIE

If you were accused of killing someone in the late 1980s, in New Hampshire, chances are Jim Moir would be your lawyer.

In those days Jim was part of a team of just three public defenders who handled homicide cases for the whole state. There’s rarely more than two dozen murders a year in New Hampshire.

Jim wears glasses and has the air of a professor. He’s steady. Like he’d be the last person to panic if the room caught on fire. Jim tries to extend that calm to the people he represents. People who often have good reasons to be a little freaked out.

[Jim Moir] With my clients, I always tell them: ‘by the time the prosecutor is done with his opening statement, you’re going to wish you took that plea.’ Which is always true because they’re giving you their best case.

Jim’s job as one of the only public defenders for homicide cases put him at the center of some of the state’s biggest news stories during that time -- including the case that gave the Laurie list its name.

[mux in]

The case began in 1989, with the murder of 61 year old Lucian Fogg. He was a roofer who lived on a secluded property in the town of Franklin, New Hampshire. He had a hunch in his back and had a cane.

Lucian Fogg had been beaten, strangled, and stabbed ten times. His body was found buried in some leaves in the woods on his property.

[Jim Moir] This is one of the first cases where the police department actually used video on the scene. I know it was like ‘okay!’ They found the body and they walk up with the video camera and they say ‘there’s the body.’

[TAPE FROM CRIME SCENE VIDEO HERE]

The man charged with the murder, Jim’s newest client, was Carl Laurie.

Here’s how police say it went down:

On April 14, 1989, Lucian Fogg came home to find Carl Laurie -who he knew- rummaging through the cabinets in his kitchen. Lucian yelled at Carl. Then tried to push him out of his house. Carl, who was a good 20 years younger, pushed back. They struggled. Carl fell against the woodstove and burned his arm. Lucian went for the phone to dial 911. But before he could, Carl grabbed the base of the phone and hit him in the head. He then strangled Lucian and stabbed him with a knife from the kitchen.

Afterwards, according to police, Carl Laurie put Lucian Fogg’s body into the bed of Lucian’s pickup truck and drove him a little ways up the dead end road that runs by his house. Carl put the body in the woods, covered it with some leaves and left in the pickup truck of the man he just killed.

The next week, the meals on wheels volunteer who was used to being greeted by Lucian Fogg in his driveway when he made deliveries noticed that the food he’d been dropping off wasn’t being eaten. By the third day, he called the police.

About a week or so later, police bring in Carl Laurie for questioning. Witnesses had seen him in Lucian Fogg’s truck the night police believe he was murdered.

Carl Laurie was known for being quiet and by his own admission, for his drinking problem. He had a thick black beard and mustache. His eyes sunken and a little sad. His nickname “Butch” was tattooed across his fist.

Police interrogated Carl Laurie for six long hours.

[TAPE FROM INTERROGATION]

The interrogation was full of all the things you’d expect from watching TV. Even a good cop bad cop moment where one officer shouts that he’s sick of playing games and storms out, while the other gets in real close and pats Carl on the leg and says he can tell by his face that he wants to come clean.

Carl denies everything. He says he was staying at a friend’s house the night of the murder. He knew Lucian and says he might’ve been in his truck but can’t remember much because he’d blacked out from heavy drinking.

At the end of the six hours police arrest Carl, and he spends the night in county jail. After a few hours’ sleep he was interrogated again. The police chief uses Carl’s nickname. He says, “You didn’t mean to do it, did you Butch?” According to police, Carl breaks down in tears and confesses.

Later, as an officer booked him for the murder, Carl said “I’m sorry it happened. I didn’t mean to hurt Lucian.

Remember how Jim Moir said most people will wish they’d taken a plea deal after the prosecution lays out their side of things? The case against Carl Laurie did seem strong. But Jim? He wasn’t so impressed.

Jim argued at trial that Carl’s confession was coerced . Six hours of the cops wearing Carl down, of feeding him details about the crime, of threatening him with a first-degree murder charge, of saying he would get off easier if he showed remorse.

A lot of Jim’s defense, it got back to this idea - that the police did a sloppy, improper investigation.

But it wasn’t just Jim who said that. The prosecution was also concerned that the cops botched the investigation.

[mux in]

One of the best pieces of evidence for Carl Laurie was a police report written by a Franklin police officer around the time the first call came in that Lucian was missing.

In the report, the officer said he drove over to Lucian's to see if he was there. When he arrived, he looked up the driveway and saw Lucian. They waved to each other and he left.

This police report was a real problem for the prosecution because in their theory of the case, Lucian Fogg was already murdered by the time this officer says he saw him from the bottom of the driveway.

To deal with this, prosecutors took that police officer for a ride.

[Jim Moir] They actually put him in the backseat of their car and they drive out and they bring him to the driveway and say ‘hey, can you see his house from here?’

‘No I can’t.’ 

‘So you didn’t see him, did you?’

‘No, I didn’t.’

‘Fine, write up a report.’

And so he wrote up a new report saying ‘I was wrong about what I saw. I never really saw Lucian Fogg.’

Prosecutors said at trial that the officer’s conduct was “disgraceful.”

So, jurors heard from the defense that some cops badgered Carl Laurie into a false confession.

And they heard from prosecutors that a different cop told a “lazy lie” when he said he had checked in on Lucian Fogg.

In one way or another, the jury’s decision would hinge on questions of police credibility.

[Jim Moir] The Carl Laurie case was, in my career, the longest jury deliberation I’ve ever been through. If I remember correctly it was four days. Which is really long. // And during that time, we can’t leave the courthouse. So the jury is there from 9 to 4. And we’re there from 9 to 4. Wait for the next day, 9 to 4.

On the fourth day the jury announced it was deadlocked. The judge told them to keep going. Then, a verdict.

[Jim Moir] And they came back and they did reach a verdict, which was guilty on first degree murder… You know, they bring him back into the courtroom, they say first degree murder, the judge sentences him to life without parole, and that’s that. You walk out the door.

[Jim Moir] We go down to the cellblock downstairs and just talk for a little while. I mean there’s very little to say at this point. I remember Carl being very gracious though and thanking us for doing everything we could.

That was the last time Jim Moir and Carl Laurie spoke in person. For Jim, it was on to the next homicide case. For Carl, it was off to state prison.

But then something happens that will keep the Carl Laurie case in Jim’s life for the rest of his career.

[Jim Moir] ‘hey, did you hear about Steve Laro?’ I said ‘no.’ He said ‘oh, well, there’s a lot of stuff about Steve Laro that you need to find out about.’

That’s on the next episode of The List.

The List was created by the DOCUMENT team at New Hampshire Public Radio.

It was reported, written, and mixed by me: Jason Moon.

Lauren Chooljian is DOCUMENT’s Senior Producer. DOCUMENT is edited by Dan Barrick.

Additional editing help from Erika Janik, Maureen McMurray, Mary McIntyre, and Todd Bookman.

Original artwork for the series was created by Sara Plourde. She also manages the digital presence of the DOCUMENT team.

NHPR’s Director of Audience is Rebecca Lavoie.

Part two of The List is available right now.

EPISODE TWO

You’re listening to The List - part two. I’m Jason Moon.

About a year has passed since Carl Laurie was found guilty of the murder of Lucian Fogg. His attorney, Jim Moir, is walking out of the courthouse when he bumps into a prosecutor he knows.

[Jim Moir] And he pulled me aside and said ‘hey, did you hear about Steve Laro?’

Steve Laro. Steve Laro was a Franklin police officer. One of the ones who investigated Carl Laurie’s case.

‘hey, did you hear about Steve Laro?’

I said ‘no.’

He said ‘oh, well, there’s a lot of stuff about Steve Laro that you need to find out about.’

‘Let’s not be coy, what is it?’ Well he was coy. Basically what it was was that Steve Laro had a background of...professional dishonesty.

Jim is being polite here.

At Steve Laro’s first job as a cop in Massachusetts. He got so many letters of complaint his chief said his personnel file was three inches thick. The letters alleged that Steve Laro was verbally abusive, that he threatened people with physical harm, and that in some cases he choked people who questioned his demeanor.

It got so bad the chief sent Steve Laro to see a psychologist. The psychologist concluded that he ''should not be entrusted with a gun and a badge and that he should be referred to counseling.”

Despite all this, Steve Laro got another gun and badge when he was hired by the Franklin police department. He arrived just a few years before Lucian Fogg’s murder.

At the Franklin PD, the pattern continued.

Eventually, Steve Laro’s bad behavior had become so well known that instructions came down from the New Hampshire Attorney General’s office. In a phone call a lawyer for the AG told the Franklin chief of police, “if you had a homicide tonight in Franklin, I would instruct you that Sgt. Laro not be involved in the case in any capacity.''

So, clearly Steve Laro: not a shining example of protecting and serving.

And here’s why that mattered to Carl Laurie and his lawyer, Jim Moir.

In a famous U.S. Supreme Court case from 1963 called Brady v Maryland, the court said that prosecutors must turn over evidence that is favorable to a defendant.

Prosecutors usually have control over the bulk of the evidence in a criminal trial -- they work with the police who did the investigation. Before they use any of that evidence against someone at trial, they generally have to share it with the defense team. But what if the investigation found something that strengthens the defense’s case? Sometimes prosecutors would just leave that out.

In the Brady decision, the Supreme Court said you can’t do that anymore. Sounds great -- but it still happens.

A report from the National Registry of Exonerations looked at 2,400 exonerations in the U.S. since 1989. In almost half of those, prosecutors withheld evidence that could’ve helped the accused.

[Jim Moir] As any practitioner knows Brady is, ugh, like a piece of Swiss cheese.

This is what happened in the Carl Laurie case. All that bad stuff about officer Steve Laro - the prosecution knew about it before trial, but they just left that part out when they turned over their evidence to the defense.

[Jim Moir] The state admits: ‘yes we knew about this.’ The issue really came down to this: do we have to disclose it? And the state’s position was: ‘no, we don’t.’

The problem with Brady, according to lots of legal scholars, is that it says prosecutors have to turn over evidence favorable to the defense only if they think it’s relevant to the case.

In the Laurie case, the prosecutors decided that all that stuff about officer Steve Laro -- it just wasn’t relevant. Even though the arguments -on both sides- hinged on the credibility and conduct of police officers.

Remember when Carl Laurie said “I’m sorry it happened. I didn’t mean to hurt Lucian”?

He said that to Steve Laro. Or did he?

[mux]

Laro was the only one in the room during the booking procedure when he claims Carl Laurie said that.

The prosecution had used that statement to undermine the argument that Carl Laurie’s confession was coerced. They said that moment with Steve Laro was a second confession.

But if the jury had known that a psychologist said officer Steve Laro shouldn’t be trusted with a badge -- they might not have been so quick to believe that story. But Jim Moir never got to tell the jury about that, because he had no idea about Laro’s history.

All this was enough for Carl Laurie to launch a new appeal. The case went to the New Hampshire supreme court. Their decision would put Carl’s last name in newspapers for decades to come.

The court sided with Carl Laurie -- and overturned his conviction. They rejected the state’s argument that Steve Laro’s background wasn’t relevant. And in doing so they set a new standard for New Hampshire courts.

It said the prosecution has to turn over every piece of evidence favorable to the defendant, unless they can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the evidence would not affect the verdict.

[Jim Moir] The Supreme Court basically -not basically- expressly acknowledged that if you have evidence that’s helpful to a defendant in a criminal case, you must provide it.

And that includes whether a cop who investigated the case has a sketchy past.

Carl Laurie’s case was sent back to a lower court. But rather than going through with a new trial, he decided to plea to a lesser charge: second-degree murder. He’s still in state prison today, at 70 years old. He’ll be eligible for parole in 2024. The state prison system didn’t make Carl available for an interview.

For public defenders like Jim Moir, the Laurie ruling was a big win. It meant, at least in theory, that more evidence favorable to defendants would be turned over in future cases.

But for prosecutors, this ruling created a problem--a logistical problem--that they’re still trying to work out today.

To turn over the evidence of an officer’s checkered history in a court case, the prosecutor has to first know it exists. But in New Hampshire, even prosecutors don’t have access to police personnel files. Except in really rare circumstances, they’re confidential by state law. That’s true in lots of states - we’ll dig into that later.

The information about Steve Laro’s past didn’t even come from his personnel file. It came from a background check that state police did when he applied to be a state trooper.

The only way for prosecutors to learn about future Laurie issues -- is to ask. For every case involving a cop, a prosecutor had to contact the police department and ask if there was anything in the officer’s file that could damage their case.

This process was a huge pain.

Cops testify in lots of cases. And for every single one, County Attorneys were supposed to make formal requests to police chiefs.

Until finally, someone said instead of asking who’s got a Laurie issue every time -- why don’t we just make a list? A Laurie list.

[Nancy West] When I started asking questions about the list I actually had a county attorney say ‘I can’t talk about that. I can’t talk about that. That’s secret.

County attorneys started keeping a list of every officer they knew about with a Laurie issue - something in their history that could undermine their credibility at trial. When Nancy West first started asking about the list she says they refused to turn it over. But eventually, after filing a public records request with the Attorney General’s office, she was given a redacted copy. Big black boxes cover almost half of what’s on every page.

[Nancy West] At the top you have different columns.

The current Laurie list stretches across 14 pages. It contains the names of roughly 270 police officers. The redactions make it impossible to say how many there are for sure. The list is broken out into five columns.

[Nancy West] So under the columns you have: name, department, date of incident, date of notification, and category. Now, totally blacked out are the names and the dates of the incident.

What you can see is the column that reads “category.”

[Nancy West] These are the different reasons that people were put on the list. And these are each different officers.

Deception and credibility. Truthfulness. Sustained violation of department rules. Falsifying reports or records. Issuance of unlawful orders. Obedience to laws and policies. Couple of excessive force, excessive force, excessive force.

There’s just quite a variety but largely a lot of them based on someone’s ability to testify truthfully at a trial. Which is...kinda sad.

Across the country there are many different versions of this same story. Secret lists, that don’t always work, and that have unintended consequences. In many states they’re simply called Brady lists... after that original supreme court case.

[local news montage]

Colorado, Arizona, Massachusetts, California.

The LA Times found one officer was put on a list because he faked blood on a shirt with taco sauce after he lost the actual bloody shirt that was supposed to be kept as evidence.

THESE lists are supposed to ensure that what happened in the case against Carl Laurie never happens again.

After a break, why that hasn’t worked.

[BREAK]

ACT II: THE LIST TODAY

Robin Melone had a tough case ahead of her. She was a young lawyer in the public defender’s office in New Hampshire. Her client was facing a domestic violence charge for allegedly assaulting his wife.

[Robin Melone] This was not his first domestic case. We had tried to negotiate. The offer from the state had been 18 months. And my client ultimately said, ‘no, I want my trial.’

She’d seen the photos of the victim. It didn’t look good for her guy. But then his luck changed.

[Robin Melone] I showed up in court that afternoon with the client, checked in with the prosecutor to see if all the witnesses were there and if there was anything last minute, and at that point he offered a no-time deal.

[mux in]

[Robin Melone] I looked at him. I was a little stunned, frankly, to go from 18 months to serve to nothing. I had seen the victim come in so I knew I had their witnesses.

Confused, Robin took that offer to her client. He could plead guilty, serve no jail-time, and be on probation for a couple years. He still said no.

[Robin Melone] So I was ready. I went back to the prosecutor and I said ‘he’s declined but we’re ready. Should I tell the court that we’re good to go?’ And he just looked at me and he said ‘ok.’ So we went into the courtroom, I was setting up my documents, putting stuff out on the table, the clerk was getting ready to call the judge in and the prosecutor came in and he grabbed me and he was like ‘I need to talk to you.’ He took me back out into the hallway and said, ‘we’re dumping it.’

I said ‘what do you mean you’re dumping it?

He’s like ‘we don’t want to disclose the Laurie stuff.’

We don’t want to disclose the Laurie stuff.

According to Robin, rather than turn over information from the personnel file of a cop involved in the case, the prosecution decided to drop it.

[Robin Melone] And my client was like ‘what’s going on?’

I took him out to one of the conference rooms and I said ‘they’re dropping it.’

He’s like ‘why?’

And in that moment I was like ‘don’t ask why, just accept it.’

And he was like ‘okay!’ ...um, so… I had no fucking clue what was going on (laughs) sorry pardon my f-bombs.

What happened next is something that’s always stayed with Robin.

[Robin Melone] I sat with my client and I watched the victim leave. She was very upset. She was crying. She had a friend with her. It was patently clear to me that she did not want this result. It was confusing for me, because I had for all intents and purposes won. But it didn’t feel like I’d won for the right reasons. It felt really dirty.

[Robin Melone] So I got back to the office and everyone was like, ‘what happened? That was so quick!’

and I was like, ‘who is this Laurie person!?’

‘What do you mean, who is Laurie?’

I was like ‘they said they didn’t want to give me the Laurie stuff so they’re dropping the case.’

And one of the senior attorneys was like, ‘Laurie is a case…’

And I was like, ‘oh…’

Today, Robin is head of the New Hampshire Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. That experience, early in her law career helped solidify her view, and the view of most defense attorneys, of the Laurie list.

[Robin Melone] People have a strong disdain for it. I think they hate it. // We don’t trust the process.

The process Robin is talking about -- the Laurie list, who gets on it, how that information is disclosed or not - it’s actually hard to find anyone in the legal community in New Hampshire who trusts it’s working exactly as intended. That it can prevent another case like Laurie.

[mux in]

One problem is what Robin’s story shows: the list can create an incentive for prosecutors to drop cases. Either the prosecutor in that case discovered the Laurie issue late and decided it weakened the case so severely that he dropped it -or- the prosecutor was talked out of going through with the case in order to simply not embarrass the officer with the Laurie issue.

Another problem with the list: the whole system relies on police departments turning over their own misconduct files. No one else has the authority to go through officers’ personnel files to spot Laurie issues. The responsibility rests solely with the town’s police chief. The New Hampshire AG’s office tries to ensure some consistency. They ask every police department to certify that they’ve reviewed their personnel files for Laurie issues each year. But in 2019, only 17% of police departments said they did that. There’s no penalty for not doing it.

[Robin Melone] I wouldn’t take a test that was 17% reliable. You want me to send my kid for driving test and if he gets a 17%, I’m going to let him drive? That’s not going to happen.

Another complaint that often comes up: there’s only a vague agreement on what defines a Laurie issue. There aren’t clear rules on which cops get added and for what.

The AG’s office offers a general description: Deliberately lying during an official proceeding or in a police report. Falsifying records or evidence. Theft. Fraud. Egregious dereliction of duty. Excessive use of force. And mental instability. Officers’ names are only supposed to be added to the list if an internal affairs investigation confirms that one of those things happened.

But even within those categories there’s a lot of gray area. What if a cop fakes their time card to get overtime pay? Did they falsify a record? Should they go on the List? It’s up to individual police chiefs to decide.

[Leslie Gill] That always gave me cause for concern. Because you’re having somebody, a non-lawyer essentially, make that initial determination. And it’s such a gray area to begin with.

Leslie Gill spent a dozen years as a prosecutor in New Hampshire. She used to keep the Laurie list open on her computer.

[Leslie Gill] It was a one page excel spreadsheet, essentially. And so every time I would get cases for indictment I would just have the Laurie list up and I would refer to it. At some point you get so familiar with it you just know who is on there.

Leslie did not want to be like the prosecutors in the Laurie case. Having a conviction overturned, violating a defendant’s due process rights? It’s not a good look.

But Leslie says the list didn’t even guarantee that wouldn’t happen. Arguably the one thing it should be able to do.

[Leslie Gill] I mean I can recall, having a case in our office done by very experienced prosecutors, they had a trial, they were successful with the trial, they got a guilty verdict on a very major case, I was having a with the attorney because there was an officer who was on the list and I had the same officer coming up in a case and I said ‘what happened with the Laurie material? Did it end up coming in a trial?’

And the attorney looked at me and was like ‘what are you talking about?’

‘Well that officer is on the list.’ And they never turned it over. So that trial, after a guilty verdict, the state had to tell the court that they failed to provide that material and the case got reversed and they had to retry it. So, I mean, it does happen.

[Rachel Moran] I actually think a lot of people care about this issue once it has been drawn to their attention.

For years Rachel Moran at the University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis has studied how access to police personnel files -or lack thereof- shapes our legal system. Rachel points at how imbalanced the system is when it comes to getting a look at a police officer’s history versus a defendant’s history.

Say you’re charged with resisting arrest. It’s your word against the cop’s.

One of the first things a prosecutor will do is see if you have a criminal record.

[Rachel Moran] Touch of a couple buttons on a screen and the prosecutor has access to that kind of information.

But if you, as the defendant, wanted to know a few things about that officer?

[Rachel Moran] Let’s propose a couple things that might be relevant. Does this officer have a history of filing resisting arrest charges -- a surprisingly high number of them? Have previous resisting arrest claims been dismissed or have defendants been found not guilty at trial? // That’s where the obstacles come in. I can’t just click on a database and access that kind of information.

In states where officer personnel files are shielded by law, like New Hampshire, it would be really hard, maybe impossible to get that kind of information.

On the next episode of the List: How the Laurie list fits into the conversation this country is having right now around police accountability.

[Yusra Alsadig] But I was like ‘it affects me. It affected me.’

And how keeping the list SECRET backfires for some officers today.

[John Gantert] It’s the kiss of death for your career.

The List was created by the DOCUMENT team at New Hampshire Public Radio.

It was reported, written, and mixed by me: Jason Moon.

Lauren Chooljian is DOCUMENT’s Senior Producer. DOCUMENT is edited by Dan Barrick.

Additional editing help from Erika Janik, Maureen McMurray, Mary McIntyre, and Todd Bookman.

Original artwork for the series was created by Sara Plourde. She also manages the digital presence of the DOCUMENT team.

NHPR’s Director of Audience is Rebecca Lavoie.

Part three of The List is available now.

EPISODE THREE

ACT III: LAURIE FOR COPS

You’re listening to THE LIST - part three. I’m Jason Moon.

[John Gantert] Well, I’m John Gantert. A lot of people say GanTERT but it’s really Gantert.

There was a time in John Gantert’s life when things got bad. Really bad.

He got evicted from his apartment. Then his girlfriend dumped him.

To cope, John decided to escape to different worlds. He started writing science fiction.

[John Gantert] I know this is stupid but uh...// it’s about an apocalyptic earth. It involves a team of pilots.

The stories are inspired by the ones his grandpa, a world war 2 pilot, used to tell him. But they’re also about what John was going through at the time.

[John Gantert] So if they’re fighting tight Gs, if they’re exploring another atmosphere, and they’re burning up in the atmosphere and something is going wrong -- the more action that’s in the book, that’s one of my worst days being fired. I just kind of harnessed all that negative energy and I had to put it into writing and at the end of they day I might’ve punched out 35 to 40 pages without eating anything, but I felt better.

It all started when John Gantert was fired from his job as a cop.

It happened in 2011 at the Rochester, New Hampshire police department. John was working an evening shift. And he was handed what should have been a routine assignment.

[John Gantert] Two officers just came in, they have a booking procedure I need you to just book and process and bail this person and then get back on the street because we have about 15 to 20 pending calls -- which is normal for Rochester.

With that, the other officers leave and John is left alone with the suspect. John’s job is to basically process the arrest: book him, fingerprint him, have someone from the court set bail, and then the guy would be released.

But then there’s a hiccup. Something nobody was expecting. The guy in custody refuses bail.

This means that suddenly John has a ton of paperwork to do for an arrest he didn’t make. Meanwhile John says his supervisor is getting annoyed that he’s still at the station and not out responding to calls.

[John Gantert] Over 45 minutes and then the supervisor comes back ‘John, what’s taking so long? Get going.’

I’m like, ‘well, listen’

‘Just get it done. I don’t care. Go, just go. Get it done, you’re taking too long.’

John knows he could get written up for taking too long with this. So he’s rushing to get it all finished and he’s almost there, when he comes to a form called the Lethality Assessment Protocol, or LAP form.

It might sound like a bit of bureaucracy, but it’s actually an important document. The LAP form is used to gauge the risk for victims of domestic violence, which is what this guy was arrested for. If a victim answers ‘yes’ to enough of the questions, it triggers an immediate referral to the local domestic violence hotline.

But the victim is not there. In desperation, John starts looking through the files of the arresting officer. He finds a recording of the victim’s statement.

John figures it’s the best he could hope for right now. The victim is not asked the specific questions from the LAP form in the interview, but some of the answers come up anyway. So John watches the recording and answers ‘yes’ on the form where he can and ‘no’ where he’s not sure.

Looking back, John admits this was a mistake.

[John Gantert] It wasn’t my intention to do anything bad with it. Was it an intentional mistake? Yes. Maybe they should’ve trained me again on the LAP form.

John thought he would be in bigger trouble if he didn’t send out this form. He was wrong.

He remembers getting called to the chief’s office a few days later.

[John Gantert] I’m like ‘oh, jeeze, the chief’s office, what is this?’ So I get escorted upstairs and his echelon is basically around the table in his office and he’s like:

‘It concerns me two-fold that you’re not conditioned to be a supervisor to make these calls… this official, official report.’

I’m like ‘wait a minute, it’s LAP form. It’s a courtesy form, it was still under trial, it was brand new at that point. It’s not even implemented state-wide. What do you mean?’

And he was like ‘well, it’s an official report and I’m suggesting your termination.’

John didn’t know- the arresting officer had already filled out and sent off a LAP form before he got there. So now there were two forms with two different sets of answers. And the difference wasn’t trivial.

On the form John filled out, most of the answers were marked ‘no’ -- and that meant the domestic violence protocols would not have kicked in. But on the one filled out by the arresting officer, most of the answers were marked ‘yes’ -- and that did trigger the protocols meant to protect the victim.

For this, the chief fired John and added his name to the Laurie list.

[John Gantert] I’m just like ‘are you kidding me?!’ And I looked at the chief and I was like, ‘are you kidding me!? Over this!?’ I’m like ‘I got dumped a booking procedure, I did it the best I could, I explained this, and now you’re firing me!? WHY?!’ I got really upset. I’m not going to deny that I got super upset at that table. And now I understand why the sergeant was next to me, cause I was under escort.

This is when things started to unravel for John. He was living in an apartment run by the public housing authority, part of a program to get cops to move in. Now that he wasn’t a cop, he got evicted.

Even harder John says was trying to explain this to his family.

[John Gantert] And just like I predicted, the kinda gave me the glazed over look, like ‘is  this what really happened? What really happened? This sounds stupid. Like, what really happened? What did you do, then?

Eventually John decides he wants to fight his firing through the police union.

It takes months, but after a third party arbitrator reviews the decision, John wins. The arbitrator rules that, yes John made a mistake, he violated policy and didn’t follow protocol. But the arbitrator said John didn’t intentionally falsify the form and that firing him was too severe a punishment.

John is thrilled. But back at the station, with the chief who fired him -things are a little awkward.

[John Gantert] I met with the chief and he’s like, ‘oh, ok, it’s good to see ya.’ And I’m like ‘ok.’

So John says he started applying at other police departments. That’s when the Laurie list really comes into his life.

[John Gantert] As soon as you say you’re anything remotely similar to this Laurie list, they kinda back up in their chairs // they’d stop writing, they’d cross their arms // they’ll start distancing a little bit like you have a cold. It’s really amazing to watch.

The arbitrator gave him his job back but didn’t have the power to take John’s name off the list and already, in job interviews, it was haunting him.

[John Gantert] I applied over 25 times to leave Rochester right after that and no one called me back.

During this period John says he connected with lots of other cops who were also on the list. Just through word of mouth. Many of them were former officers -- whatever put them on the list also got them fired. And he says it was almost like they were members of an exclusive club, some of them felt drawn to welcome a new member.

[John Gantert] I would get random phone calls ‘hey let’s meet up, this is what I did. What did you do?’ Some guys were on it for embezzlement, theft. I’m like ‘uhhh ok.’ That’s when I really determined, I don’t want to be on this list. I don’t belong on it.

A few years after he was fired-then-reinstated, a new chief arrived in Rochester. And John decides to ask if he can take him off the list. The chief says he can’t -- he would need a court order. So John decides to try to get just that. He gets a lawyer and he sues the city he works for.

[Court Clerk] This is case 2015-0062 Officer John Gantert vs City of Rochester et al.

His case went all the way to state supreme court. John was there for the arguments.

Here’s John’s basic case: cops don’t get enough due process when they’re put on the list. A chief makes a subjective decision to put you on it -- and that’s it. You’re marked for the rest of your career.

Some of the justices seem sympathetic. One of them even imagines a hypothetical that helps make John’s point. The justice says: imagine a cop joking with other cops about lying to his wife. A prosecutor walks by and overhears it.

[Justice Robert Lynn] ...yeah and Joe over there told his wife he had to work last night ha ha ha’ And they’re all laughing. And Joe says ‘yeah I did, well shoot me.’ But it’s clear, or it least it could be found that the officer lied to his wife. If the prosecutor now says ‘I’m putting this guy on the Laurie list because he admitted that he lied to his wife.’ There’s no review of that?

But another justice puts her finger on the absurdity of how what was supposed to be a simple list was causing so much trouble.

[Carol Ann Conboy] Let’s assume we agree with you: your client should not have been placed on the Laurie list. Now a case comes up involving your client. Doesn’t the prosecutor in this situation have the responsibility under Brady to make the disclosure about your client, even if he’s not on the Laurie list? Does this all simply turn on administratively keeping track of people?

The answer to both of the justice’s questions is ‘yes.’

Yes: There could be cases where John’s incident with the domestic violence form is relevant for a defendant. And it’s on the prosecutor to turn that over, whether John is on a secret list or not.

And so yes: this case before the highest court in the state really is just about whether John’s name is written down somewhere.

That’s the weird thing about the Laurie list. Over time it has accumulated all kinds of extra meaning it was never meant to have. The Laurie list was created to make prosecutors’ lives a little easier. To help them remember which cops might have stuff in their past that needed to be turned over.

It was not created to be a roster of cops who couldn’t be hired, or to become a public symbol of police misconduct. But that’s exactly what the list has become.

How did that happen? Secrecy.

[John Gantert] The list is only as bad as the worst egg on there. It’s public perception. If you’re on this list, ‘oh you must be a corrupt cop. You must be dirty.’ And that’s what I’m constantly fighting if someone ever talks about it, I’m just like ‘ugh, that’s not what it is.’

The secrecy of the Laurie list leaves no room for nuance. The cops who are on it share in a simple description: their past behavior could prove useful to a criminal defendant. That’s arguably as true for John Gantert as it is for Steve Laro, the officer from the Carl Laurie case. And yet there’s so much that separates them.

It’s very likely that not everyone who should be on the list, is. Remember only 17% of police departments in New Hampshire said they reviewed all their personnel files for Laurie issues. As for the rest? Who knows?

And so this is what we’re left with: a secret list that doesn’t contain everyone it should, that maybe contains a few names it shouldn’t, and that affects everyone who is on it as if they were the same.

John Gantert lost his case at the supreme court. He’s still on the Laurie list today. And he’s still a patrol officer. Fifteen years into his career he says he continues to get passed up for promotions because of his place on the list.

After a break, why the Laurie list’s days might be numbered.

[BREAK]

ACT IV: MAKE THE LIST PUBLIC?

Yusra Alsadig was sitting on her couch in Berlin, New Hampshire when the video of George Floyd’s death started spreading across the internet.

[Yusra Alsadig] I remember I was just scrolling on my facebook when I saw it in my living room. It was just… you know we’ve all heard it before but we’ve never really sat down and watched the video and watched it happen for long 9 minutes. And that was traumatizing.

The video scared Yusra. Like it scared a lot of people. But she tried to push that fear away with her next thought.

[Yusra Alsadig] And so I’m like ‘I’m sure they’re going to get what they- you know the justice system is going to work it out. It’s fine.’

[mux in]

[Yusra Alsadig] So comes day one, day two, day three - still no arrests. At that point I’m freaking out. Is the justice system going to do what it’s supposed to do? Are these people going to get in trouble or not?

Yusra is originally from Sudan. She’s a social worker and is also going to school for a degree in computer science. She moved to the U.S. about 7 years ago through a refugee resettlement program. She’s lived all over. LA, New York, and now the North Country of New Hampshire.

She says she learned in America that even if she didn’t identify as African American, that was how people saw her.

[Yusra Alsadig] I was like ‘oh I’m international, I’m different.’ But then very quickly reality set in and I realized, ‘oh, you’re just Black here.’

Yusra quickly found out that part of being Black in America is being treated differently by police.

[Yusra Alsadig] Then I come and find out that if you are black, it’s more likely that if it goes bad it goes really bad. And I’m now realizing that ‘oh I am black and it could go horribly wrong for me.

Now with the killing of George Floyd, that was really hitting home.

A third day passed with no arrests and Yusra decided to do something. She made a sign. On one side it read “Say his name: George.” On the other side it asked: “Am I next?”

Yusra took her sign and started walking down the street in Berlin, New Hampshire, a largely white working class city of about 10,000 people.

Yusra went alone. This was not part of a planned protest. She says some people honked in support. Some people stopped to ask her who George was. And one person gave her the middle finger.

[Yusra Alsadig] He was like ‘this is in Minneapolis, why are you here? Go home.’ Like I don’t have anything better to do, why am I worried about something that’s happening in Minneapolis, this is not here. But I was like ‘it affects me. It affected me.’

It wasn’t just strangers on the street. Back at her apartment, Yusra says she and her housemate had a falling out over their different reactions to George Floyd’s death. For Yusra, it was a tragedy. She says her housemate didn’t see it that way.

[Yusra Alsadig] It broke that relationship. No one else had seen me go through that, but he was there. He knew I was not sleeping, I sat there and I cried with him at the kitchen table.

Yusra moved out. Then she got connected online with other people in her area who wanted to do something, anything in the wake of George Floyd’s killing at the hands of police.

[TAPE OF GROUP]

This group includes a letter carrier, a grad student, one of them works at a restaurant. Many of them met at protests in May. Their goal is simple: to make their own local police more transparent. They’ve asked about a dozen departments to share information about their budgets -- and about their policies on things like use of force.

They’ve had mixed success. One department not only turned over what they asked for but also posted it online so everyone could see. Others have turned them down flat.

One thing Yusra and this group cannot get from local police departments: any information about police officers who’ve been disciplined for misconduct. The closest thing New Hampshire has to a central database of that, is the Laurie list.

They asked a few departments if they had officers currently serving who were on the list, but of course they didn’t get answers.

For Yusra, as a member of the public -as a Black member of the public who has to wonder if she is next- if she could just peek under the hood to see if that system of police policing themselves is working the way it’s supposed to, she would feel better. She says it would help to just know.

[Yusra Alsadig] But if I don’t know, I’m thinking ‘maybe the justice system works. Maybe they’re doing what they’re supposed to do.’ But since I don’t know, maybe not. To turn a blind eye is basically saying ‘well I hope the justice system works.’ That’s not good enough for me.

It’s also not how it works everywhere in America. Access to police misconduct files is a patchwork in the U.S.

Rachel Moran is the law professor from earlier who studies this. She says you can split states up into three basic categories.

[Rachel Moran] There are a few states where the files themselves are entirely accessible to the public, save for redactions about, you know, personal phone numbers or home addresses. Those states, Florida, Georgia, I think Arizona, those are examples of states that have truly broad records laws that allow any member of the public to access the personnel file except for redactions.

Then there are states where police misconduct files are somewhat public. One example is Minnesota, where Rachel lives and where George Floyd was killed.

[Rachel Moran] So let’s put this in the context of Derek Chauvin, the officer accused of murdering George Floyd. He has, I believe it’s 19 prior complaints over his career. Only two of them were sustained with discipline imposed and therefore those files are accessible. The remaining 17, all we know is complaints were made and they were closed without discipline.

And then there are states like New Hampshire, where police misconduct files are confidential. If George Floyd had been killed in this state, it’s possible we still wouldn’t know whether the officer had a history of complaints.

And in those states one of the only ways that police misconduct makes it out, is through reporters.

[Nancy West] Once you do one story about a police officer whose done something wrong, then you get about 10 tips on another police officer.

Today Nancy West runs her own non-profit news website called InDepthNH. And she’s still chasing that story of a secret list of dishonest police. And now, more than 10 years after she started digging, she might actually get to see it through.

In 2018 the ACLU of New Hampshire decided to sue to make the Laurie list public. They approached Nancy and other media outlets about joining the case. She jumped at the chance.

[Nancy West] We are the named plaintiff and I believe that’s because we’ve done the most work over the years on the Laurie issues and I’m very proud of that.

A handful of local newspapers are also named as plaintiffs in the case. They each filed a public records request for an unredacted Laurie list and they were all denied.

[courthouse ambi]

That lawsuit reached the New Hampshire Supreme Court in September of 2020.

I was there for the arguments - along with a handful of lawyers. They argued through masks.

Dan Will, for the state, went first. He told justices there’s really no compelling public interest in making the list public. He reminded them that for every officer on the list there’s just a word or two, like “credibility” or “falsifying evidence.” If you make the list the public that’s all the public will know about that officer.

[Dan Will] ...it’s not a mechanism that has been designed to advance transparency and accountability for police misconduct. This list is not the tool to achieve that. It was never intended to be and it cannot serve that function.

Gilles Bissonnette with the ACLU argued next. He said the Laurie list - as it exists today - undermines public trust in law enforcement and the criminal justice system.

[Gilles Bissonnette] ...the system that we currently have in criminal cases is that defendants just have to trust that this regime is working well. That they are getting everything that they’re supposed to get. They have no way of verifying it.

[Justice Hicks] Thank you for those excellent presentations and the case is taken under advisement of course and the court is in recess.

A ruling could come by the end of the year. And for now, that’s where the story of the Laurie lists stands. Still secret, but maybe not for much longer.

A state commission on policing recently recommended that not only should the Laurie list be made public, it should be made obsolete.

The commission called for a single new agency to investigate all complaints against police. And findings of misconduct would be made public.

But those are just recommendations. For now all we have is the Laurie List -- the same one Nancy West first fought to make public more than a decade ago.

No one knows exactly what will happen if it is made public. Defense attorneys are likely to take a close look. And newspapers are sure to publish it. But what will we see? How many people on the list are still working as police officers? Will cases be overturned like Carl Laurie’s? Will it give people like Yusra Alsadig more faith in law enforcement?

Maybe. But what making the list public won’t do is change the fundamental nature of secrecy around police misconduct in New Hampshire.

And so for now, if you're looking for an answer as to whether you can trust the cops... you're on your own.

CREDITS

The List was created by the DOCUMENT team at New Hampshire Public Radio.

It was reported, written, and mixed by me: Jason Moon.

Lauren Chooljian is DOCUMENT’s Senior Producer. DOCUMENT is edited by Dan Barrick.

Additional editing help from Erika Janik, Maureen McMurray, Mary McIntyre, and Todd Bookman.

Original artwork for the series was created by Sara Plourde. She also manages the digital presence of the DOCUMENT team.

NHPR’s Director of Audience is Rebecca Lavoie.

Thank you to Buzz Scherr, Larry Vogelman, Janet Champlin, Jonathan Abel, Maryka Gillis, Karin Nikolina Stevens, Chelsea Cathcart, Sam Mayne, Sabastian Wee, Bill Chapman, Gilles Bissonnette, Tracey Riehl, and the National Registry of Exonerations.

We also want to send special thanks to some of our radio peers for their advice, including Emmanuel Dzotsi, Max Green, Madeline Baran, Parker Yesko, Natalie Jablonski, Rehman Tungekar, Cate Cahan, Tony Arnold, Britta Greene, and Angela Evancie.

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