In her more than 30 years as a reporter in New Hampshire, Nancy West has earned a reputation: Blunt. Curmudgeonly. Unyielding.
At press conferences, West is often the one to insist that public officials stay for one more question. She’ll pursue the kind of needling line of inquiry that raises the temperature in the room for everyone. Public officials and press officers often know her by name, and, by now, they’re not afraid to ask her to tone it down.
This reporting is part of Document, NHPR's new podcast and narrative reporting project. This story is the subject of the podcast's first season, The List.
“Yeah, some places you don’t want to drop my name,” she told me. “Actually, there’s a lot of places: don’t drop my name.”
This attitude - some might call it pushy, others dogged - has paid off in West’s career as a journalist. Perhaps no more so than in her coverage of criminal justice.
Back in 2006, when West worked for the state’s biggest paper, The Union Leader, she got a tip, the kind reporters dream of. It involved a lawsuit between two sets of cops: the state troopers, and the state highway patrol.
Today there’s just one state police agency in New Hampshire. But back then, both of those agencies patrolled the highways - and neither side seemed to like the arrangement.
The fight West learned about revolved around illegal websites, the culmination of a long running spat between the two state police agencies. State troopers were accused of sabotaging highway patrol’s speed traps. They'd allegedly drive farther up the road and turn their lights on to get drivers to slow down before hitting the trap.
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.”
“I can remember being laugh-out-loud shocked at some of them,” West recalled. “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, claiming the website was interfering with their fundraising abilities. The legal back and forth brought out all those other allegations, and that’s the story West broke. Her story for the Union Leader carried the headline “Feuding Forces.”
But there was something else in the lawsuit that really caught West’s eye: Buried in some of the legal filings for this case, West 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 West had never heard before.
“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,” West told me.
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A Laurie issue. At the time, West 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.
“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?’ ”
So she started trying to figure 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.
But that wasn’t all she found out. West 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 secret list of cops whose trustworthiness was in question.
“When I started asking questions about the list, I actually had a county attorney say, ‘I can’t talk about that. That’s secret,’ ” West said. “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.”
West’s work to uncover that list, begun more than 10 years ago, has recently taken on new relevancy, as many Americans regard law enforcement with fresh skepticism in the wake of George Floyd’s killing by police.
For all the attention on police reform, it may come as a surprise to learn that secret lists of police officers with credibility issues are actually commonplace in America.
If the question on the minds of many people is “can I trust the cops?” these lists would be a good place to start looking for answers. The only problem: In many states, including New Hampshire, you’re not allowed to see them.
That secrecy not only obscures answers to today’s questions about police accountability; it also helps to explain how we arrived at the current moment. Lists like this shape the criminal justice system, affect the hiring decisions of police departments, and are, increasingly, coming to symbolize a status quo many no longer find acceptable.
The story of New Hampshire’s Laurie List starts with a man named Carl Laurie, who was charged with murder in 1989.
Police said his victim was 61-year-old Lucian Fogg, a roofer who lived on a secluded property in the town of Franklin, N.H. Fogg, who had a hunch in his back, had been beaten, strangled, and stabbed ten times. His body was found buried in some leaves in the woods on his property.
Police offered the following account: Fogg came home one April day to find Laurie rummaging through the cabinets in his kitchen. The two knew each other, and as Fogg tried to push Laurie out of his house, they struggled.
Laurie fell against the woodstove and burned his arm, and Fogg went for the phone to dial 911. But before he could, Laurie grabbed the base of the phone and hit him in the head.
He then strangled Fogg and stabbed him with a knife from the kitchen.
Afterwards, according to police, Laurie put Fogg’s body into the bed of his pickup truck and drove him a little ways up the dead end road that runs by his house. After dumping the body in the woods, and covering it with some leaves, Laurie then 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 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 brought Laurie in for questioning. Witnesses had seen him in Fogg’s truck the night police believe he was murdered.
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 were sunken and a little sad. His nickname “Butch” was tattooed across his fist.
Police interrogated Laurie for six hours. It 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.
Laurie denied everything. He said he was staying at a friend’s house the night of the murder. He acknowledged that he knew Fogg and 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 arrested Laurie, and he spent the night in county jail. After a few hours’ sleep he was interrogated again. The police chief used Laurie’s nickname: “You didn’t mean to do it, did you Butch?” According to police, it was then Laurie that broke down in tears and confessed.
Later, as an officer booked him for the murder, Laurie said, “I’m sorry it happened. I didn’t mean to hurt Lucian.”
The case against Laurie did seem strong. But his lawyer, Jim Moir, remembers being less than impressed.
If you were accused of killing someone in the late 1980s, in New Hampshire, chances are Moir would be your lawyer. Back then, he was part of a team of just three public defenders who handled homicide cases for the whole state.
Today, Moir 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. Moir tries to extend that calm to the people he represents.
“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,’” Moir explained to me. “Which is always true, because they’re giving you their best case.”
Moir had a strategy when it came to Laurie’s confession. He argued at trial that it confession was coerced, forced after six hours of the cops feeding Laurie details about the crime, threatening him with a first-degree murder charge, saying he would get off easier if he showed remorse.
A lot of Moir’s defense, it got back to this simple idea: that the police did a sloppy, improper investigation. And he told jurors that their decision must hinge on this question of police credibility.
After a weeklong trial, and four days of deliberation, the jury found Laurie guilty of first degree murder. His sentence: Life in prison without parole.
“You walk out the door, we go down to the cellblock downstairs and just talk for a little while,” Moir recalled. “I mean there’s very little to say at this point.”
That was the last time Moir and Laurie spoke in person. For Moir, it was on to the next homicide case. For Laurie, it was off to state prison.
But that wasn’t the end. About a year after the guilty verdict, Moir was walking out of the courthouse when he bumped into a prosecutor he knew. The man hinted to Moir that he should look into the background of one of the police officers involved in Laurie’s case, an officer named Steve Laro.
“He said, ‘Oh, well, there’s a lot of stuff about Steve Laro that you need to find out about,'" Moir recalled. “Basically what it was was that Steve Laro had a background of...professional dishonesty.”
“Professional dishonesty,” it turns out, was an understatement. Laro’s record was full of accusations of misconduct and abuse. At his first job as a cop in Massachusetts, Laro got so many letters of complaint his chief said his personnel file was three inches thick. He was accused of verbal abuse, of threatening people with physical harm, and, in some cases, choking people who questioned his demeanor.
It got so bad the chief sent 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, Laro got another gun and badge when he was hired by the Franklin Police Department, where he arrived just a few years before Lucian Fogg’s murder.
Once there, the pattern continued. Eventually, 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 state 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, Laro was clearly not a shining example of protecting and serving. But here’s why that mattered to Laurie’s case.
In a well-known 1963 U.S. Supreme Court case, 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. It sounds great -- but it still happens.
One report by 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.
That’s exactly what happened in Carl Laurie’s 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.
The problem with Brady, according to many legal scholars, is that it requires prosecutors 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 Laurie’s defense hinged on the credibility and conduct of police officers.
Remember when Laurie said “I’m sorry it happened. I didn’t mean to hurt Lucian”? He said that to Steve Laro.
Or did he?
Laro was the only one in the room during the booking procedure when he claims Laurie said that. The prosecution had used that statement to undermine the argument that Laurie’s confession was coerced. They said that moment with Laro was a second confession.
But if the jury had known that a psychologist said Laro shouldn’t be trusted with a police badge, they might not have been so quick to believe that story. But Jim Moir, Laurie’s lawyer, never got to tell the jury about that, because he had no idea about any of it.
All this was enough for Laurie to launch a new appeal. The case went to the New Hampshire Supreme Court, which sided with Laurie and overturned his conviction. They rejected the state’s argument that Laro’s background wasn’t relevant and, in doing so, 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.
“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,” Moir said.
And that evidence includes whether a cop who investigated the case has a sketchy past.
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 him available for an interview.
For public defenders like 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 logistical problem that they still struggle with 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. As is the case in lots of states, they’re confidential by state law, except in really rare circumstances.
The information about 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. 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.
So that’s what they did. 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.
But those lists created a record: something that nosy reporters like Nancy West eventually learned about.
When West first started asking county attorneys 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.
West walked me through her copy recently. The current version stretches across 14 pages and contains the names of roughly 270 police officers. Five columns catalog the following information: name, department, date of incident, date of notification, and category, with the “name” and “date” columns redacted.
The “category” column is a mix, a rundown of various reasons why a cop landed on the list in the first place: Falsifying reports or records. Issuance of unlawful orders. Deception and credibility. Truthfulness. 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,” West said. “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.
These lists are supposed to ensure that what happened in the case against Carl Laurie never happens again.
But, to this day, that doesn’t always work.
It was 2004, and Robin Melone, a young lawyer in the New Hampshire public defenders’ office, had a tough case ahead of her. Her client was facing a domestic violence charge for allegedly assaulting his wife. It wasn’t the man’s first such case, and he’d already turned down an offer of 18 months in prison from the state.
Melone had seen the photos of the victim, and didn’t think her client stood much of a chance at trial. But then his luck changed.
When Melone showed up in court that afternoon with her client, the prosecutor had a new deal: no prison time.
“I was a little stunned, frankly, to go from 18 months to serve to nothing,” Melone recalled. “I had seen the victim come in so I knew they had their witnesses.”
Confused, Melone 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.
Melone brought the news back to the prosecutor. And as she prepared her things in the courtroom a few moments later, the prosecutor pulled Melone into the hallway with even more shocking news: they were dropping the charges. Melone asked why.
“He’s like: ‘We don’t want to disclose the Laurie stuff.’"
Rather than turn over information from the personnel file of a cop involved in the case, the prosecution decided to drop the case altogether.
What happened next is something that’s always stayed with Melone. As she and her client sat in the courtroom, she 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,” Melone said. “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.”
Today, Melone is head of the New Hampshire Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. That experience, early in her law career, helped solidify her view of the Laurie list -- a view that’s shared by most defense attorneys across the state.
“People have a strong disdain for it,” she said. “I think they hate it. We don’t trust the process.”
In fact, it’s hard to find anyone in the New Hampshire’s legal community who trusts the Laurie list process - who gets on it, how that information is disclosed or not - or believes it’s working exactly as intended.
One problem is what Melone’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 police 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. That responsibility rests solely with the town’s police chief.
The New Hampshire attorney general’s office tries to ensure some consistency, asking 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.
Another complaint that often comes up: there’s only a vague agreement on what defines a Laurie issue, with no clear rules on which cops get added and for what.
The New Hampshire Department of Justice 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.
“That always gave me cause for concern,” said Leslie Gill, who worked as a prosecutor in New Hampshire for a dozen years. “Because you’re having somebody, a non-lawyer essentially, make that initial determination. And it’s such a gray area to begin with.”
Rachel Moran, a law professor at the University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis, studies how access to police personnel files shapes the American legal system. She 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.
“Touch of a couple buttons on a screen and the prosecutor has access to that kind of information,” Moran said.
But what if you, as the defendant, wanted to know a few things about that officer? Like if they have a history of filing a high number of resisting arrest charges? Do they have an unusual rate of defendants being found not guilty at trial?
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.
The secrecy surrounding the Laurie list doesn’t always work in police officers’ favor.
In 2011, John Gantert was working an evening shift at the Rochester, N.H. police department when he was handed what should have been a routine assignment.
Two officers come in with a fresh arrest and tell Gantert, a relatively rookie cop at the time, to book, fingerprint and arrange for the guy’s bail and release. All pretty routine.
But then there’s a hiccup: The man in custody refuses bail. This means that suddenly Gantert has a ton of paperwork to do for an arrest he didn’t make. Meanwhile, Gantert’s supervisor is getting annoyed that he’s still at the station and not out responding to calls.
Worried he could get written up for taking too long, he rushes to finish. 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, Gantert starts looking through the files of the arresting officer. He finds a recording of the victim’s statement. He figures it’s the best he could hope for right now. And even though the victim is not asked the specific questions from the LAP form in the interview, some of the answers come up anyway. So he fills out the form as best he can based on the recording.
“It wasn’t my intention to do anything bad with it,” he told me recently. “Was it an intentional mistake? Yes. Maybe they should’ve trained me again on the LAP form.”
Gantert 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, where he was told he was being dismissed from the force.
Gantert 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 Gantert filled out, most of the answers were marked “no,” which 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 Gantert and added his name to the Laurie list.
“And I looked at the chief and I was like, ‘Are you kidding me? Over this?’ ” he said. “I’m not going to deny that I got super upset at that table.”
From there, things started to unravel for Gantert. 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. His girlfriend left him. And even harder, Gantert said, was trying to explain this to his family.
“They kind of 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?’ ”
Gantert fought his firing, winning an appeal to a third-party arbitrator who ruled that though Gantert broke department policy, he didn’t intentionally falsify the form and didn’t deserve to be fired.
Relations with the chief remained chilly, so Gantert started applying for jobs at other police departments. That’s when he says the Laurie list really comes into his life.
“As soon as you say you’re anything remotely similar to this Laurie list, they kind of back up in their chairs,” he said. “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 Gantert’s name off the list and already, in job interviews, it was haunting him.
During this period Gantert 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, drawn to welcome a new member.
“I would get random phone calls, like ‘Hey let’s meet up. This is what I did. What did you do?’ ” Gantert said. “Some guys were on it for embezzlement, theft. I’m like ‘uh, ok.’ That’s when I really determined, I don’t want to be on this list. I don’t belong on it.”
Gantert learned he would need a court order to be taken off the list. So gets a lawyer and sues the city he works for. His case went all the way to the New Hampshire Supreme Court.
Gantert’s argument was that 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 seemed sympathetic. One of them even imagined a hypothetical that helps make Gantert’s point: Imagine a cop joking with other cops about lying to his wife. A prosecutor walks by and overhears it. Is that sufficient reason to land the officer on the Laurie list?
But another justice put her finger on the absurdity of how what was supposed to be a simple list was causing so much trouble. Wasn’t the whole thing just a question of administrative book-keeping?
In other words, Gantert’s case before the highest court in the state came down to the question of whether his name gets 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.
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.
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.
Yusra Alsadig was sitting on her couch in Berlin, N.H. when the video of George Floyd’s death started spreading across the internet.
She watched the whole thing, all nine minutes. The video scared Alsadig, but she tried to push that fear away with her next thought.
“I’m like, ‘I’m sure, you know, the justice system is going to work it out. It’s fine.’ ”
But as the days passed with no arrests of the police officers who were present for Floyd’s death, Alsadig grew worried. That worry was wrapped up with her own position in American society. She moved to the U.S. from Sudan about seven years ago through a refugee resettlement program. She’s lived in California and New York before landing in northern New Hampshire.
Along the way, she learned that even if she didn’t identify as African American, that was how people saw her - and that that part of being Black in America is being treated differently by police.
“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,’ ” she told me. “Then I come to 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.’ ”
After the third day with no arrests, Alsadig decided to do something. She made a sign, one side reading, “Say his name: George,” the other, “Am I next?” Sign in hand, she began walking through Berlin, her hometown, a largely white working class city of about 10,000 people.
She was alone, 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.
“He was like, ‘This is in Minneapolis, why are you here? Go home.’ Like I don’t have anything better to do.”
It wasn’t just strangers on the street. Back at her apartment, Alsadig and her housemate had a falling out over their different reactions to George Floyd’s death. For Alsadig, it was a tragedy. She said her housemate didn’t see it that way.
It led her to move out. But she also 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
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.
The group includes a letter carrier, a grad student. One of them works at a restaurant. Many of them met at protests in May. Now, they often check in via Zoom.
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.
But one thing Alsadig and this group cannot get from local police departments is any information about police officers who’ve been disciplined for misconduct. The closest thing New Hampshire has to a central database of that, of course, is the Laurie list.
They asked a few departments if they had officers currently serving who were on the list, but got no answers.
For Alsadig, as someone who has increasingly asked herself if she might be next when it comes to racist injustice, 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 told me: it would help to just know.
“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,” she said. “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, the law professor who studies this, told me you can split states up into three basic categories. A few make the files themselves entirely accessible to the public. Some states allow police misconduct files to be somewhat public.
One example is Minnesota, where George Floyd was killed. That’s one big reason why the public came to know so much about the prior complaints against Derek Chauvin, the Minneapolis police officer involved in Floyd’s death.
And then there are states like New Hampshire, where police misconduct files are confidential. If Floyd had been killed in this state, it’s possible we still wouldn’t know whether the officer had a history of complaints.
Public Interest, Public Trust
In those states where police files are confidential, one of the only ways that misconduct makes it out is through reporters - like Nancy West
Today West runs her own non-profit news website called InDepthNH, where she’s still chasing that story of a secret list of dishonest police. 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 West and other media outlets about joining the case. She jumped at the chance, as did a handful of local newspapers. They each filed a public records request for an unredacted Laurie list and they were all denied.
Arguments for that case reached the New Hampshire Supreme Court in September. State attorneys said there’s really no compelling public interest in making the list public. They noted 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.
Gilles Bissonnette, the attorney for the ACLU, countered that the current list undermines public trust in law enforcement and the criminal justice system.
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, with findings of misconduct made public.
But those are just recommendations. At present, all we have is the Laurie List. No one knows exactly what will happen if it is made public. Defense attorneys are likely to take a close look; 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 like Carl Laurie’s be overturned? 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.