The List, Update 2: A First Look at the Laurie List
As you might remember, The List was all about secret lists of police officers. Officers who engaged in misconduct that could potentially be used to undermine their testimony in a trial.
In The List, we talked why these lists were created in the first place, why some cops hate these lists, and why a lot of people think they shouldn’t be secret.
We focused largely on the story of New Hampshire’s version of this kind of list, what’s known around here as the Laurie List. And we asked: what would happen if the list was finally made public?
But it was a question we didn’t get to answer because – well, the Laurie List was still secret. We knew there were somewhere north of 250 names of police officers on it. But we didn’t know which names.
Just a few weeks ago, the first batch of names from the Laurie List was released to the public.
This is happening because of a new law in New Hampshire that struck a compromise between advocates for police reform and police unions. This new law says the state Attorney General must publicly release the Laurie List – but not right away.
Officers who are on the list were given one last window of opportunity to challenge their placement on the list before it comes out. But how much time the officers have to do that varies depending on when they were placed on the Laurie List.
And so, in practical terms, for the public, that means the names on the Laurie List will come out in multiple waves. And just recently, we got the first one – 90 names.
To talk about what we’ve learned so far, I sat down with my colleague Todd Bookman. Todd’s been covering the Laurie List for a long time. And he helped me create the first season of Document. And he came with the goods - the first unredacted version of the Laurie List we’ve ever seen.
Todd Bookman: 90 names. Yeah, I've got it here. Printed it out onto two pages. It's got, on the left hand column, the 90 names. It has the department that the officer was working for at the time, the date of the incident, the date they were added to the list and then category.
JM: And remind us, what information is under category?
TB: So I can read some of the categories: Falsifying evidence. Falsifying records. Criminal conduct. Dereliction of duty. Excessive force. And about two thirds of the officers on the list are listed for truthfulness, that's the only word listed
JM: Right and which is important to just point out as – that's the most information, that's all the information we get about why they're on the list, right? Whatever's in that category column for that officer?
TB: Yeah. Which raises questions about why everybody was so determined to see this list. No, we knew this, right. The list in a redacted form had been released prior. We knew that this list only contained sort of the barest information on here.
JM: All right. But we do have the names now or at least some of them, and we've never had that before. And that's not nothing, right? So, what are we learning from this?
TB: Yeah. So I mean, we've got officers from police departments, both large and small. We've got officers from the state police. We've got - let's see here. We did a tally, seven of the officers are on here for excessive force, 12 for criminal conduct, 60 for truthfulness. We definitely recognize some of the names. Some of these folks had been arrested for high profile incidents, not necessarily while on the job, but at least two of the officers on this list were arrested for domestic violence related matters in their private lives, which spilled over into public view. And so we knew those names were coming. And we've got what appears to be two police chiefs on here as well.
JM: Which definitely raised some eyebrows. But before we get to that, let me just ask you how many of the 90 names that are on the list are still working as police officers? Because I know sometimes cops get fired for the incident that lands them on the list.
TB: Yeah, so so knowing that this list was going to be released in December, I reached out to the agency that certifies law enforcement officers in the state months and months ago, actually, we did it back in July, and we asked them for a list of every certified police officer in the state of New Hampshire, and they were initially reluctant to release that.
JM: You had to fight them on this, didn't you?
TB: They had, they had safety concerns. They thought that this, publishing the list of every certified officer could lead to safety concerns for some of those officers. And that's not what we were trying to do. What we wanted was simply the names so that we could compare who is still a certified police officer in the state, who's on the Laurie List. And the day before the Attorney General released the Laurie List to us, police standards and training released the list of certified officers to NHPR. And so what we were able to do is run every name that's on the Laurie List through this other document to see if they're still certified. And what we found was that eight of the officers on the Laurie List are still actively working as police officers in the state of New Hampshire.
JM: So, all right, so there are eight New Hampshire police officers out there working right now who are on the Laurie List and two of them are police chiefs. What do we know about them?
TB: One of them was not a police chief when he was added to the list, so he was a rank and file cop. Guy's name is Shaun O'Keefe. He's been very candid, very open about his conduct and what landed him on the list. He was involved in a hunting incident way back in 2008. He was in Pennsylvania. He was with a hunting party. They were accused of taking a deer, perhaps illegally or out of season. We haven't really gotten clarification, but it was that kind of incident.
JM: Fascinating. All right. Who's the other chief?
TB: So this is a guy named Dave Ellis. He is also on the list for a single word: truthfulness. He is the police chief in In Troy, New Hampshire, which is a small town in the southwestern corner of the state. Chief Ellis has gotten some publicity because in well, actually, just about a year ago, on January 6th, he attended the rally to support then President Trump down in Washington, D.C. He did not march over to the Capitol as far as we know. He has since, you know, tried to distance himself from the event. He certainly has has spoken publicly about his abhorrence of the violence that took place that day. But this is a guy who has been in the public eye in recent times.
JM: That was one of the names I recognized. Yeah.
TB: Exactly. Chief Ellis says he does not know why he's on the Laurie List. This is what he has said to NHPR when we've asked him this question. The Board of Selectmen, that's kind of like the people who would hire and fire a police chief in a small town. The Board of Selectmen in Troy say the same thing, that they were not aware of his status on the Laurie List. And so now you've got the board and Chief Ellis both saying they've reached out to the Attorney General to find out why he may be on the Laurie List. We don't know the conduct. He claims he doesn't know the conduct that landed him there.
JM: So this select board, which is the boss of the police chief, right, they found out the same time the rest of us did that their police chief is on the Laurie List. I mean, it kind of puts them in a bit of a dilemma, like what are what are they supposed to do with this information now, right? I mean, have they - what more have they said about what they what they will or won't do?
TB: So we actually were able to interview the head of the select board from the town of Troy. His name is Dick Thackston. This is what he said.
[Dick Thackston] What does this mean in our case? Truthfulness, I mean. All right. Did he egregiously lie? Did he lie on his taxes? I mean, what the hell did the guy do? There is no way to judge that magnitude or the, you know, implications of it without knowing what it is.
JM: Huh. Yeah. I mean, I guess in a way that kind of says it all. I mean, it seems like the release of the list, at least so far, is raising more questions than it answers because it's so vague about the underlying conduct. And then so once again, we're in this position where the only people who can tell us more about police misconduct are the police themselves.
TB: Yeah, we actually, we reached out to a lot of the various police departments that have officers on the list. Heard back from essentially none of them. Nobody wanted to talk about this. Nobody wants to talk about the officers who they still employ, who are on the Laurie List. That said, there are certainly people who are suing for these records. The ACLU continues to file lawsuits. Other media outlets in the state of New Hampshire are suing to try to get access to these police disciplinary files, and we'll see what happens in the coming months and years. It's possible we'll get some more disclosure on this. It's also possible we never find out a lot of what landed people on the list, though.
JM: Well, you mentioned so the ACLU and others are pursuing some of these names. What has been the reaction from other other folks who had a stake in this?
TB: Yeah, I think it's been a little bit mixed. We have seen some prominent defense attorneys in the state, some public defenders come out and say immediately that they didn't recognize some of these names, that they had not been disclosed of some of these names in their previous cases. And that's really big because that was the entire reason this Laurie List exists, right? The whole point of this is that so county prosecutors and county attorneys, every time you know they go to trial and a police officer’s involved, they don't need to sift through the records for every cop. They have this list so they know who has credibility concerns that needs to be disclosed. And so if you've got public defenders, if you got defense attorneys who are saying, wait a second, I've dealt with some of these police officers in recent cases and this information wasn't disclosed to me. That raises huge, huge questions about, well, who was managing the list, what was the point of even keeping this list if it wasn't doing its job in getting the exculpatory information to defendants? I spoke with Robin Melone, I think you had interviewed Robin for the first season of Document.
JM: Yes. I think the second episode, yeah.
I don't think that prosecutors have ever intentionally. You know, I'm going to strike that. I would like to believe that prosecutors have never intentionally withheld evidence, but I'm not naive enough to believe that. And I know that there are things that have not been disclosed. Certainly, there was chatter even yesterday that there were names that we had no idea about.Robin Melone
JM: Hmm. Now just, I mean, isn't there a world in which though those officers who are on the list who weren't disclosed to defense attorneys, maybe the, maybe the reason they were on the Laurie List wasn't relevant to the, the case before them, right? Isn't that a possibility?
TB: That's exactly right. But I think the defense attorneys would say it's not the prosecutor's job alone to make that decision. I think the, I think the defense attorneys would say bring that to us.
JM: Maybe I think it is relevant, even if you don't.
TB: Correct. Or let's ultimately let the judge decide, you know, in private chambers whether or not that information is relevant. I think that's the frustration you're hearing from people like Robin Melone.
JM: Well, I can't help but think that this is a little bit of a dud. We finally get the names, but we don't learn that much. I guess you're right, we kind of knew that, you know, we weren't. This is all we were going to get is just names. But it it does seem like, as a tool for public accountability or public transparency for police officer misconduct, this seems like a pretty bad tool.
TB: Yes, this list, the Laurie List on its own, does not radically change how police accountability is handled in the state of New Hampshire. It doesn't change on a dime like that, but I do think it is an important step, I think, for advocates who have been pushing for greater transparency because it does vindicate what some activists have been saying and what some people in power were not saying, which is that police misconduct does happen here, like we are not exempt. And if you are sitting in a jail cell right now and the officer who arrested you or interrogated you was just outed as a cop on the Laurie List and that wasn't told to you previously? That can have huge ramifications for your case. And that's what Joseph Lascaze told me when we spoke about the release of the list. He's an organizer with the ACLU.
What it does is it gives and it gives an opportunity for the state of New Hampshire to bring justice to the claims of individuals who have been convicted or have been treated poorly at the hands of officers who are on that list. And when people are making these claims about this happening and you have people that are sitting in decision making positions in the state saying, Well, no, this doesn't occur at all. No, this is your proof right here that it does.Joseph Lascaze
TB: It's actually interesting, in the months to come, there's going to be a lot of debate about an independent police misconduct commission and the creation of that in the state of New Hampshire. There are people who really think that the next step here is more public involvement, not leaving just these decisions up to chiefs of police, county attorneys, ultimately, the attorney general. But by bringing in more members of the public to sit on these boards to think for themselves about, yeah, what is this conduct here and what does it mean? And and is this something that that's acceptable? I think something like the Laurie List gives the possibility of an independent public body more credence and, and perhaps more more sort of likelihood of actually happening.
JM: Hmm. Yeah, I get that, that there is something powerful about this secret list finally coming out in that it's a huge vindication for anyone who's ever said police misconduct is a serious issue in this state, it's yeah, it's harder to like bat that claim away when you now have names and dates in black and white. And yeah, maybe it does will lead to more momentum for more transparency. You know, we'll see about that. But in the meantime, like this is this is what we got. It is the best we've ever had. Like this is the most transparency we've ever had. But at the same time, it's just a list of names with one or two word descriptions of what the officer did.
TB: I think one issue is that it leaves open so much to interpretation. You've got this one word here, truthfulness. And I spoke with police chiefs in the past week or two who have said the same thing to me over and over again. Like, What does that mean? There is no definition. There is no standard for that. You've got police officers on here who may be on here for falsifying time cards. That's very different than falsifying evidence. Or excessive force. But if it is all captured under these, these really vague categories, it doesn't really tell us about their conduct in a way that tells us, well, was this handled appropriately or not? You know, when you've got officers who are still working, who have these truthfulness truthfulness issues on the Laurie List, like how can we, as the public know if they should still wear a badge? It's impossible. You can't just look at this Laurie List and say, no, none of these officers should be wearing a badge because we don't really know the extent to what that untruthful conduct was.
JM: The remaining names on the Laurie List are set to be released in March. For those officers who filed lawsuits challenging their place on the list, their names will only be released if they lose in court.
JM: The List was created by the Document team at New Hampshire Public Radio.
This episode was produced by me, Jason Moon, Todd Bookman, and Lauren Chooljian, with additional reporting from Paul Cuno-Booth. It was edited by Dan Barrick.
You can read Todd Bookman’s story about the release of the Laurie List and the newly released portion of the Laurie List itself here.