By DAMIEN FISHER, InDepthNH.org
Police in New Hampshire continue to racially profile minorities leading to more abuses, according to Manchester criminal defense attorney Donna Brown, in one of 10 public statements submitted to the new police accountability panel.
“Criminal defense lawyers have been trying to educate law enforcement about racial bias since the 1980’s because we’ve had a front row seat to it. Every time we tried to combat racial bias, the police, and the prosecutors that enable them, have fought us every step of the way,” Brown wrote in testimony submitted to the state’s new Commission on Law Enforcement Accountability, Community and Transparency. https://www.governor.nh.gov/news-and-media/commission-law-enforcement-accountability-community-and-transparency-membership
Brown, representing the New Hampshire Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers in her written testimony, is one of 10 people, including a former Bartlett police chief, former county jail superintendent, and interested citizens, who have submitted written testimony to the commission.
See below for links to all of the testimony posted on the commission’s website, along with law enforcement presentations and other details.
Gov. Chris Sununu formed the commission in the wake of high-profile deaths of African Americans in police custody in other states that sparked nationwide protests, including in New Hampshire.
While much of the testimony has been focused on providing more training for police officers, Brown said in her statement that training needs to be part of an initiative where police are held to account on past and present racism.
“It is a time for an honest, likely painful and long overdue discussion about race and the criminal justice system,” Brown said.
The commission is chaired by New Hampshire Attorney General Gordon MacDonald and its membership includes police officials, civil rights leaders, and members of the public. The commission is tasked with examining how police can de-escalate situations, how and why police use deadly force, and training to overcome racial bias.
Brown writes that police in New Hampshire continue to profile minorities as part of regular procedure. New Hampshire police engage in regular motor vehicle stops in order to profile drivers, she said.
“The New Hampshire State Police even have a specialized unit trained to use these types of pretextual stops – it’s called the N.H. State Police Mobile Enforcement Unit (MET). As one of the troopers from that unit described it, the unit is a ‘proactive policing unit [where they] basically try to stop crimes before they actually occur,’” Brown wrote. “This is the motor vehicle equivalent of ‘stop and frisk’ that was outlawed in New York City due to its misuse as a tool for racial profiling. It is this type of policing that killed Sandra Bland.”
Sandra Bland is an African American woman in Texas who was arrested and jailed following a “pretextual traffic stop.” Three days later she was found hanging in her jail cell.
Attorney Brown lists four recent New Hampshire cases in which African American and Hispanic men were stopped by police on pretexts such as driving with their hands at 10 and 2 on their steering wheels, or in one African American man’s case, simply sitting in his car.
“These cases are just the tip of iceberg of persons who have been racially profiled. These are people who got arrested. This list does not include all the people who were stopped on a claimed violation of a motor vehicle offense, but they knew in their heart they were stopped because of the color of their skin. The police are supposed to be the good guys, but they are causing pain,” Brown wrote.
Police in New Hampshire do not keep full records on the race of people stopped for “pretextual” reasons. This allows police to continue to target minorities without being held accountable, Brown wrote.
“Our fight against racial profiling has always been hindered by police refusal to keep data on their motor vehicle stops and to have dash cams and body cams,” Brown wrote.
Brown wrote that police officials often cry poverty when it comes to instituting anti-bias and de-escalation training for departments, while at the same time purchasing expensive, deadly gear.
“We do not want to hear about the costs of this training – if the police have money for riot gear, drug interdiction, and police dogs they can find money to address racial bias. You cannot look back on 30 years of police misconduct and say we do not have enough money to do the right thing. That is unacceptable,” Brown wrote.
Brown’s statement sent in late last week is posted on the commission’s website. Some testimonial statements were from citizens who have complaints against police.
In addressing the new commission recently, Sununu said: “This moment demands change from the bottom up. That is where we are going to get the best results. Every idea is on the table. Nothing is taboo.”
He asked the commission to seek input from the public and focus on three core areas:
A. Training curriculum, procedures, and policies for police. De-escalation, use of deadly and nondeadly force, and diversity training.
B. Reporting police misconduct. Development of a uniform statewide system for reporting misconduct.
C. The current state of relations between law enforcement and the community.
Linda Wojas, the mother of Pam Smart, wrote that she was escorted out of the Department of Justice building in Concord when she brought in a typed 91-A public information request seeking a copy of the Exculpatory Evidence List of police officers who have been disciplined for dishonest behavior or excessive force.
The state continues to redact the names of all officers on the list, although the state Supreme Court is expected to decide if the names should be public as Superior Court Judge Charles Temple has already ruled.
“I do not believe any citizen should be treated this way and I would hope Attorney General MacDonald will indeed begin to exercise transparency in his office,” Wojas wrote.
Pam Smart is serving a life sentence without parole for her role in the 1990 murder of her husband Gregg Smart. Pam Smart was convicted of conspiracy to commit murder, being an accomplice to first-degree murder, and witness tampering for getting her then-16-year-old lover Billy Flynn and three of his friends to kill Gregg. She has maintained her innocence in the murder but has been unsuccessful in getting a hearing before the Executive Council.
Former Bartlett Police Chief Janet Hadley Champlin submitted 10 recommendations for improving policing in New Hampshire, including improving psychological screening for police officer candidates.
The New Hampshire Police Standard and Training Council, which operates the state’s only police academy, is in the process of adding psychological screening to the programming. A state audit last year found cadets were not being screened for psychological problems or drug use. Drug screening is now in effect at the Academy.
Former Cheshire County House of Corrections Superintendent Richard Van Wickler told the commission that law enforcement officers need more training in de-escalating people exhibiting aggressive behavior.
“In the absence of mature and responsible peer support and supervision, lack of training hours multiplied with significant frustration of the job, our system unfairly places officers in situations that set them up for pack mentality behavior, poor personal decision making in stressful situations and intense scrutiny by the public and criminal justice system afterward. The New Hampshire Police, Correctional Officers and Public deserve better than this,” Van Wickler wrote.
Attorney Brown wrote that the commission must not allow police to retreat into a defensive position when it comes to confronting the problems. She noted that Sununu started the commission’s first meeting by stating that New Hampshire law enforcement is already the “gold standard.”
“This is not the time for New Hampshire law enforcement to pat itself on the back. This commission will have no credibility if law enforcement keeps coming in here praising themselves,” Brown wrote.
Gov. Sununu’s Commission on Law Enforcement Accountability, Community and Transparency
- Donna Brown – NH Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers – Written Testimony
- Richard Van Wickler – Cheshire County Superintendent of Corrections (Ret.) and Law Enforcement Action Partnership – LEACT Testimony
- Bill Zebuhr – LEACT Comments
- Natalie Strickland – Request for Accountability and De-Escalation
- Bradford Hutchinson – Victim of Police Misconduct Speaks
- Janet Hadley Champlin – Recommendations for the NH Govenor’s Law Enforcement Commission
- Elizabeth Rawnsley – One more commission formed in New Hampshire, when we have how many media resources unable to even expose facts on to the view of the public, in this state, for how many years, now?
- Linda Wojas – Request for 91-A Laurie List
- Chief David Kurz – Durham Police Department’s Commitment to the Durham Community