By DAMIEN FISHER, InDepthNH.org
Claremont isn’t sure if it is legally obligated to release the internal affairs investigation files on former Claremont Police Officer Jon Stone and the city is now heading to court seeking clarification.
Attorney Shawn Tanguay, with the city’s law firm of Drummond Woodsum & MacMahon, filed a complaint in Sullivan Superior Court in Newport on Friday seeking a declaratory judgement in response to this reporter’s right-to-know request, filed last month with the Claremont Police Department seeking information about Stone’s employment.
Stone, a current city councilor and now a Republican candidate for the State House of Representatives, left his employment with the Claremont Police Department in 2006, about eight years into his career as a police officer. Stone did not respond to questions sent to him via email and Facebook messenger on this matter. He also did not respond to a voicemail.
Tanguay wrote in his complaint that given recent New Hampshire Supreme Court rulings on police personnel files, he was unsure how to respond to the request.
He was referring to the cases Seacoast Newspapers, Inc. v. City of Portsmouth and Union Leader Corporation v. Town of Salem.
“Ultimately, the Court determined that such records must now be analyzed pursuant to a balancing test that is employed with other potentially exempt documents under RSA 91-A. Shortly after the release and publication of these decisions, municipalities all across the State began receiving Right-to-Know Law requests concerning internal affairs investigations and settlements of potential police misconduct cases,” Tanguay wrote.
The request is seeking, “A copy of any internal investigative report into the conduct of Jon Stone as a Claremont police officer. A copy of any written communication to Jon Stone from the Claremont Police administration regarding his termination of employment…” and other documents sent to the New Hampshire Police Standards and Training Council about Stone.
In May, the New Hampshire State Supreme Court overturned a nearly 30-year New Hampshire legal precedent concerning police personnel files, ruling that such files can be made public in some circumstances.
The June right-to-know request was made in light of the new rulings, and Tanguay wrote in the complaint that he wants the court to decide what can be released.
“In the pending matter, the City is posed with two potential outcomes in responding to this right-to-know request: a) if the City refuses to disclose said governmental records, the City could be violating (this reporter’s) statutory right to a public inspection of such information; or b) if the City grants the disclosure of same, it could be performing an invasion of Jonathan Stone’s constitutional right of privacy. Either way, the City is put into an impossible position in that any decision likely constitutes a violation of one of the party’s statutory and/or constitutional rights as well as places the City in harm’s way of financial liability to any such party,” Tanguay wrote.
In October, Stone posted on Facebook that he allowed his certification to be a police officer in the state of New Hampshire to expire, and that he never had his certification suspended or revoked by the New Hampshire Police Standards and Training Council. According to Tanguay’s complaint, Stone had been investigated while he was a police officer, but the reason is not given.
“During Jonathan Stone’s tenure with the Claremont Police Department, he was the subject of internal affairs investigations, which resulted in varying determinations as to the merits of the underlying allegations,” Tanguay wrote. “Given the potential confidential nature of these investigations, as well as the legal obligations concerning Mr. Stone’s departure from the City’s employment, the City is unable (at this point) to divulge any additional information concerning the nature, context or results of any internal review of Jonathan Stone’s activities as a Claremont police officer.”
Tanguay notified both Stone and this reporter as to the complaint filed on Friday. He is seeking to have Stone’s file brought before a judge confidentially to decide how to balance the public’s right to know versus Stone’s privacy.
On the same day in June as this reporter filed the right-to-know request with the city, a nearly identical request was filed with the Sullivan County Attorney’s office. That request is still pending, and Sullivan County Attorney Marc Hathaway has indicated he will not seek a court order as Claremont is so doing.