Concerns Mount About Sununu’s Police Accountability Panel

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DOJ photo

Gov. Chris Sununu is pictured swearing in Attorney General Gordon MacDonald in 2017.

By NANCY WEST, InDepthNH.org

Almost a month into testimony, some citizens question whether the Commission on Law Enforcement Accountability, Community and Transparency can finish its work in the 45 days allotted and others ask whether everyone is getting the chance to be heard on the remote calls.

The next remote meeting is Tuesday at 9:30 a.m., but it was just posted on Monday. Another is scheduled for Thursday. Meeting information here: http://indepthnh.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/20200714-meeting-notice-agenda.pdf

Retired Nashua Police Officer Tony Pivero and Linda Wojas, who has been trying to get a commutation hearing for her daughter, convicted murder accomplice Pam Smart, both said they raised their hands remotely to speak at last Thursday’s meeting but were ignored.

“I think they are making it difficult for people to voice their concerns,” said Pivero, a retired Nashua police officer who has also filed written testimony as well. There is no way to know if the administrator knows who is waiting on the line to speak, he said.

The meeting ended without Pivero speaking, but after he complained to Gov. Chris Sununu’s office, he was added to the list of speakers on Tuesday’s agenda.

“They don’t acknowledge receiving the written testimony, either. The commission only has 45 days so what’s left 20 days?” Pivero said. The commission’s website hasn’t been updated with new testimony for a week, he said.

“They underestimated the number of people who would be interested,” Pivero said.

Wojas was disappointed last week and on Monday hadn’t been informed of the Tuesday meeting.

“It was my understanding that members of the public would be the first to speak on the Thursday, July 2, 9:30 a.m. teleconference.  I had my ‘hand raised’ again for two hours with no acknowledgment,” Wojas said.

She directed her question to Attorney General Gordon McDonald.  “If you truly believed in transparency why did you not accept the lower court’s decision stating the Laurie List (Exculpatory Evidence Schedule) is, in fact, the public’s right to know, and instead sent that decision to your brethren in the New Hampshire Supreme Court for reversal?” Wojas asked.

InDepthNH.org asked spokesmen for Sununu and MacDonald Friday about the concerns and also about ending an hour-long session for the public to comment on the Governor’s Economic Re-Opening Taskforce Thursday in only 30 minutes.

The response wasn’t signed but seemed to ignore the concerns about the commission and focused on the task force.

“Our office heard from three individuals who said they were having issues calling in, and we will make sure they have an opportunity to call-in next week. Two of the individuals sent us written comments, and our office passed that along to the Taskforce. Regarding letters, the most recent public comments will be uploaded by BEA,” the response said.

On Monday, Deputy Attorney General Jane Young said in an email responding to follow-up questions: “In response to your first question, please be assured that all voices should be heard on these important issues. In response to your second question, the issue of timing will be assessed as we continue forward in the process.”

David Saad, president of Right To Know NH, a grassroots organization that promotes the public’s right to know, said he, too, is concerned there isn’t enough time to examine all of the issues. So far, the commission has focused on police training, and Saad is concerned there will be little time to address police accountability and community interaction.

In his written testimony, which also hadn’t been posted Monday, Saad addressed the availability and cost of police records to the public.

“The public has a right to records which help them understand what law enforcement is doing on our behalf.  These records inform the citizens so they can hold public employees accountable for their actions,” Saad wrote.

“For example, all video and audio recordings made by a law enforcement officer using a body-worn camera, which are not considered an invasion of privacy, should be available to the public.  Currently, most recordings are exempt from public disclosure.”

Saad noted that until recently, police personnel records were categorically exempt from public disclosure until the rulings in two recent New Hampshire  Supreme Court cases which are expected to make more information public.

“When it comes to the behavior of the law enforcement officers, in their official capacity, they should have no privacy or confidentiality interest in nondisclosure. Law enforcement officers perform vital functions on behalf of the public, and their misconduct creates the potential for considerable social harm.  Officers are trusted with one of the most basic and necessary functions of civilized society, securing and preserving public safety,” Saad said.

“Disclosure of misconduct is in the public interest.  Yet, today, the names of law enforcement officers (150 in 2015 and 260 in 2019) who received due process and remain on the Exculpatory Evidence Schedule (EES) are shielded from the public’s right to know. 

“All citizens have the right to know which officers have engaged in misconduct, what they did, and what is being done to prevent it from happening again,” Saad said.

Gov. Sununu appointed the commission June 16 headed by Attorney General MacDonald in the wake of the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police. Floyd’s death prompted protests around the world and in New Hampshire.

“New Hampshire finds itself in a pivotal moment that demands prompt action to initiate important conversations and develop recommendations for reform,” Sununu said.

“The state has an obligation to participate in the national conversation and engage in self-examination to identify any opportunities to improve the state of our law enforcement and the relationship between law enforcement and the communities they serve, and I would like to thank the members of this commission for agreeing to serve.”

Tuesday’s meeting

To access video conferencing, tap this link and enter the event password:
https://nhgov.webex.com/nhgov/onstage/g.php?MTID=ed90893714a4b8c72f2a5180ac6945122
a. Event Password: LEACT
b. To provide testimony using computer/app – Find your name on the participant list, and hover over your name. A Raise Hand icon will appear. Click on the Raise Hand button,
which will place a small hand icon next to your name in the participant list.

  1. To access by phone, dial: 415-655-0001 and enter the access code: 160 631 9938
    a. To provide testimony dialing in via phone – if you would like to speak, press *3 to
    raise your hand. Once you have raised your hand, you will hear the prompt, “You have
    raised your hand to ask a question. Please wait to speak until the host calls on you.”
  2. Any member of the public having difficulty accessing the telephonic public meeting should
    contact the Department of Justice at (603) 271-1202 for assistance

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