By DAMIEN FISHER, InDepthNH.org
Claremont agreed to keep quiet about why Jon Stone was fired as a police officer in 2006, and the city agreed to purge his personnel records, according to information revealed in court on Thursday.
Stone, now a city councilor and Republican candidate for state representative, is fighting the release of his personnel records which include 11 internal affairs investigations with sustained findings.
Stone’s records are subject to a June right-to-know request filed by this reporter in light of the May New Hampshire State Supreme Court rulings that found police personnel records can be released after a balancing test for privacy is done.
Stone’s attorney, Peter Decato, argued that at least four internal affairs investigations are bound up in a confidentiality agreement between Stone and the city, which was reached in 2006 after an arbitration hearing, and that the city cannot release information that is supposed to have been purged from Stone’s file, per the agreement.
Decato’s move to keep the files secret comes after City Manager Ed Morris sent a letter to this reporter stating that the 11 internal affairs reports would be released.
“Why would there be internal affairs reports still there when there was an agreement to purge them,” Decato said.
Decato is arguing that the four files relevant to the agreement cannot be released, and the other files are likely protected under privacy laws.
After Stone was fired by the city in March of 2006 he brought forward four grievance cases, and as part of the grievance award the city agreed not to disclose what happened with Stone and it agreed to purge his files including the notice on a one-day suspension and his notice of termination, Decato said in court.
Sullivan Superior Court Judge Brian Tucker seemed unconvinced the files would remain sealed with or without the confidentiality agreement. Tucker noted that most such agreements include a stipulation that state law or court orders can override the agreements. Decato acknowledged there is such a stipulation in Stone’s confidentiality agreement with the city.
The contents of the files were not discussed, but Decato said one of the complaints involved in the confidentiality agreement dealt with Stone’s interactions with then Police Chief Alex Scott.
Decato now has 15 days to file an argument with the court explaining why he thinks the confidentiality agreement can override the state’s right-to-know law, and City Attorney Shawn Tanguay has 10 after that to respond to Decato.
After leaving the police department Stone began work with the Vermont Department of Corrections. According to a right-to-know request, Stone is paid an annual salary of more than $115,000 per year by the state of Vermont. Stone also owns the Black Ops Arms gun store on Washington Street in Claremont.
According to the results of another right-to-know request, Stone’s gun store has done steady business with the Claremont Police Department since 2013. The department has purchased about $5,000 worth of guns, ammunition, and other items from the store.
After this reporter’s June right-to-know request was filed with the city, Tanguay went to court to force Tucker to decide what in Stone’s record should be subject to the right-to-know law. Tucker dismissed that effort and instructed Tanguay to go through the file and decide what can be released. According to Morris’s Aug. 28 letter, that includes 11 sustained findings from internal affairs investigations. It is not clear from Morris’s letter what the findings were about.
“For purposes of clarification, a ‘sustained’ finding occurs when a police officer(s) involved with those investigations are found to be in violation of City of Claremont’s and/or Claremont Police Department’s policy, standard operating procedures, NH Police Standards and Training Council’s rules/regulations or New Hampshire law,” Morris wrote.