ACLU sues State Police for records of ex-trooper’s ‘apparent misconduct’
In a new lawsuit, the ACLU of New Hampshire accuses the New Hampshire State Police of wrongly shielding the misconduct records of a former state trooper related to a 2017 vehicle-stop.
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In that case, a Maine woman, Robyn White, was falsely accused of having drugs on her person when she was taken into custody. She was held for 13 days, before an invasive body-cavity search confirmed she did not possess any drugs.
The trooper involved, Haden Wilber, was fired last August and added to the Exculpatory Evidence Schedule, a list of current and former officers with potential credibility concerns, according to records reviewed by the Granite State News Collaborative.
The state also recently settled a lawsuit that White brought in 2019, alleging Wilber conducted an illegal search and “fabricated evidence” in the case.
In August, the ACLU filed a request under New Hampshire’s Right to Know Law for records of “any adverse employment action” against Wilber. The state has not fulfilled that request, according to the ACLU, prompting the lawsuit.
“In this historic moment of conversation about police accountability nationally and here in New Hampshire, the State Police should take a position of transparency — not secrecy — concerning one of its troopers who engaged in potential misconduct,” Gilles Bissonnette, the ACLU-NH’s legal director, said in a news release announcing the lawsuit.
“There is simply no legal justification for the State Police’s effort to keep this information secret in this case — it only undermines trust and confidence in law enforcement.”
The ACLU says in its lawsuit that the records would not only shed more light on Wilber’s actions in the 2017 case, but also “how the Department managed, investigated, and supervised this trooper” and whether other criminal prosecutions have been affected.
The Department of Safety declined an interview request, saying it does not comment on pending litigation. Attempts to reach Wilber and White through their attorneys were unsuccessful.
Wilber is appealing his termination from State Police, according to a notice on the Personnel Appeals Board’s website.
Wilber was a member of State Police’s Mobile Enforcement Team, which has used traffic enforcement as a pretext to look for drugs, a practice the ACLU and other advocates have criticized.
The Robyn White case originated when Wilber pulled her over on Interstate 95 in Portsmouth on Feb. 10, 2017, ostensibly because the rear of the car had a “large amount of snow” on it.
On searching the car, Wilber found less than half a gram of heroin residue, according to court records. He wrote in his report that White had given him permission to search, which is legally required in the absence of probable cause. White’s lawsuit says she didn’t consent to the search.
White was arrested on a possession charge. Wilber also suspected she was transporting a larger quantity of drugs back to Maine on her person, though he had no direct evidence of that, according to his report.
The report says his belief was based on the evidence of drug use he’d found in White’s vehicle; his skepticism of her stated reason for driving from Maine to Massachusetts; and a phone conversation with a “drug investigator” from the Franklin County (Maine) Sheriff’s Office, who told him that a different individual, from the town next to White’s, had reportedly stashed oxycodone pills on their person and snuck them into a New Hampshire jail some five months earlier.
White denied she had drugs on her person, according to her lawsuit, and a thorough strip search at the Rockingham County jail found no drugs.
Wilber, though, told jail staff she could still be hiding something because his training and experience had taught him that “females often conceal significant amounts of contraband inside their body,” according to his report. White was transported to the Strafford County jail to undergo a body scan.
Wilber wrote that the scan showed two “unidentified packages” in White’s “intestinal region.” But White’s lawsuit cites booking notes from the Rockingham County jail describing the scan’s result as “NO FOREIGN OBJECTS DETECTED.” In a March 1, 2017, bail hearing, White’s attorney, Sydney Hanson, said jail staff had told her the scans were “inconclusive.”
Days after her arrest, according to her lawsuit, White’s bail was raised and she was charged with “delivery of articles prohibited” for allegedly bringing drugs into the jail, though no drugs had been found.
On Feb. 21, Judge Sawako Gardner reduced White’s bail, but required her to undergo another body scan before being released, which was done two days later, according to court records.
Wilber stated that the scan showed an object in her pelvic area, and that an unnamed corrections officer told him it was indicative of her placing something in her vagina — though Hanson said it was again unclear what the scan showed, and jail staff asked White “a number of very personal medical questions about it.”
“I think that they have some knowledge that what they could have stumbled upon was a medical issue, that medical issues could produce the same reading that we had there,” Hanson said, noting that corrections officers, not doctors or nurses, were the ones reading the scans.
After that scan, according to White’s lawsuit, an unidentified state trooper told White she could either consent to a vaginal and rectal search, or wait until they obtained a search warrant.
White’s lawsuit says that the trooper transported her to a hospital, where a physician performed the “invasive” exam. Nothing was found.
The charges against White were ultimately dropped. Her lawsuit claims the drug charges and associated bail conditions and 13-day detention were based on Wilber’s “false testimony” that she had drugs on her person.
The state agreed to pay White $212,500 to settle her civil rights lawsuit, according to InDepthNH, which obtained the settlement through a public-records request. The Department of Safety has not yet responded to the Collaborative’s request for a copy of that settlement.
Strafford County agreed to pay $25,000 to settle claims against its staff, according to InDepthNH.
These articles are being shared by partners in The Granite State News Collaborative as part of our race and equity project. For more information visit collaborativenh.org.