By DAMIEN FISHER, InDepthNH.org
Claremont City Councilor Jon Stone allegedly assaulted a disabled man while on duty, according to a federal lawsuit the city of Claremont settled in 2003.
Stone, the former city police officer who is now a Republican politician, is in court on a recent matter trying to keep the city from releasing 11 cases of internal affairs investigations in which Stone was found to have engaged in some form of misconduct.
Stone is an elected city councilor and a candidate for the state House of Representatives. This reporter filed the right-to-know request in June to access Stone’s discipline records. In court, Stone’s attorney Peter Decato argued that the records need to remain sealed as Stone reached a confidentiality agreement with the city when he was terminated and filed four union grievances against the city.
Stone did not respond to requests for comment. It is not clear if the incident that sparked the civil lawsuit triggered any internal affairs investigation.
According to the lawsuit which was filed in May of 2003, Gareth Richardson claimed that Stone assaulted him and used pepper spray on him during an incident that took place in December of 2000. Richardson is described in the lawsuit as having developmental disabilities.
Richardson was walking on Pleasant Street at 9:30 p.m. on the night of Dec. 3, 2000. Richardson stated that he was not intoxicated when he left his home. As he walked on Pleasant Street, Richardson saw two city police officers walking in his direction, and so he decided to cross the road, according to the lawsuit.
“Due in part to prior incidents, and plaintiff’s developmental disability, plaintiff maintained a persistent fear that he would be persecuted by Claremont police officers,” the lawsuit states.
When Richardson crossed the road, Stone, who was in a cruiser, pulled his vehicle to the side of the road and stopped several feet in front of Richardson, according to the lawsuit. Stone was allegedly belligerent and told Richardson he was being taken into protective custody.
Richardson states in the lawsuit that he tried to ask why he was being taken into custody when Stone then violently seized Richardson and threw him to the ground. Stone then sprayed pepper spray into Richardson’s eyes while he was on the ground and handcuffed him, according to the lawsuit.
Richardson suffered bruises, facial lacerations, injured ribs and a chipped tooth, according to the lawsuit, as well as psychological damage. He was charged with resisting arrest and simple assault on Stone, but both charges were dismissed, or nol prossed, in court, according to the lawsuit.
Richardson’s attorney, Larry Vogelman, said he could not recall the details of the case and that he no longer had access to the file since he was at a different law firm at the time it was filed.
The federal case was dismissed with prejudice in September of 2003, meaning it cannot be brought back to court, after the parties agreed to a settlement.
The Gareth Richardson v City of Claremont lawsuit is filed in the United States District Court in Concord, though the actual files have been sent to an archive in Massachusetts.
The settlement should have been a public record, however, the case was settled before the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office updated memo on the Right to Know Law, RSA 91A, made that a universal rule for cities and towns in cases of legal settlements. Even then, the Attorney General stipulates that records of legal settlements must be kept for 10 years. If the city did keep the settlement on file, the requirement to keep that record would have ended in 2013.
Claremont’s insurance carrier at the time was a company called Legion Insurance, which has since gone insolvent. Legion’s records are now being kept by the New Hampshire Insurance Guaranty Association, the non-profit that manages policies for insolvent insurance carriers. Representatives with the New Hampshire Insurance Guaranty Association refused to release any information about the settlement.