By DAMIEN FISHER, InDepthNH.org
The two former Claremont Police Officers accused of violating the civil rights of a man they arrested after falsifying evidence are close to settling the lawsuit, although the city will be on the hook for the deal.
Christopher Ratcliffe filed the lawsuit in September in the United States District Court in Concord against Ian Kibbe and Mark Burch. Kibbe and Burch both pleaded guilty last year to charges stemming from the 2018 search where they arrested Ratcliffe.
Samantha Heuring, one of the attorneys representing Ratcliffe, said nothing has yet been finalized and the lawsuit has not been withdrawn, but an agreement to resolve the case is close to being complete.
“We’re still in the process of ironing things out,” Heuring said.
Heuring said that both Kibbe and Burch are indemnified for their actions in faking the evidence against Ratcliffe. That means that any settlement would be paid out by the city of Claremont’s insurance company.
Kibbe’s attorney, Brian Cullen, filed a motion in court earlier this month indicating Kibbe and Burch were set to enter into mediation with Ratcliffe’s attorney, possibly resolving the case. Cullen was not available for comment. Ratcliffe did not respond to a request for comment.
Ratcliffe’s lawsuit, prepared by attorney Jared Bedrick, connects his February 2018 arrest at the hands of Kibbe and Burch with the killing of Cody Lafont, the mentally ill Claremont man Kibbe shot in September of 2016.
Bedrick deferred comment on the potential settlement.
Kibbe pleaded guilty to one count of unsworn falsification and one count of obstruction of government administration for his role in Ratcliffe’s arrest. Burch pleaded guilty to one count of unsworn falsification, a class A misdemeanor. More than 30 criminal cases were dropped by Claremont Police and the Sullivan County Attorney’s Office as a result of Kibbe’s and Burch’s actions.
According to court records, Kibbe lied about seeing weapons in the bedroom of Ratcliffe, a convicted felon, during his February 2018 arrest in Claremont. Kibbe was in Ratcliffe’s apartment with Burch and New Hampshire State Trooper Eric Fosterling to serve an arrest warrant on Ratcliffe.
Kibbe and Burch lied at the scene, telling Fosterling that a baton, a Glock pistol, and a rifle were among the weapons in plain sight in Ratcliffe’s bedroom, according to testimony brought out in court during the criminal cases. Instead, the weapons were inside closed bags when the officers first arrested Ratcliffe. Kibbe wrote in his report, and the subsequent affidavit, that the weapons were in plain sight, and he then signed the affidavit to support the arrest, according to testimony.
According to the lawsuit, Kibbe used his department taser on Ratcliffe while Ratcliffe was still in bed.
“Ratcliffe, at the time Kibbe unlawfully discharged his taser, was not attempting to avoid a lawful seizure, nor did he pose any threat to an officer’s safety or the safety of the public while sleeping in bed,” the lawsuit states.
Ratcliffe’s lawsuit makes claims of civil rights violations including the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures, claims that Kibbe assaulted Ratcliffe, and Burch failed to intervene.
Burch avoided jail time as part of his plea deal last year, the negotiated sentence called for a year in jail, but that sentence was suspended for two years on the condition of good behavior. Burch was also required to complete 100 hours of community service within the next six months. Burch also agreed not to seek work in New Hampshire law enforcement.
Kibbe was sentenced to a year in jail in January of 2019, with all but 90 days suspended. He has also agreed to not work in law enforcement after he was released from jail.
Ratcliffe’s inclusion of the Lafont shooting in his lawsuit raises the questions about the first case in New Hampshire where the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office overturned a ruling in a police shooting.
Kibbe was initially cleared of wrongdoing in the shooting that was deemed legally justified. After Kibbe’s conviction for lying in the Ratcliffe case, Attorney General Gordon MacDonald re-investigated the shooting and found that he no longer considered the shooting legally justified.
“Instead, the Office has concluded that it could not disprove Mr. Kibbe’s self-defense claim, beyond reasonable doubt, and therefore no criminal charges will be filed against Mr. Kibbe as a result of Mr. Lafont’s death,” MacDonald’s statement reads.
Kibbe was the only witness to his shooting of Lafont, and he claimed that Lafont was armed during a confrontation at his home. The Attorney General’s investigation found that the revolver found near Lafont may not have functioned.
LaFont was known to be depressed and in the habit of calling police officers when suffering a mental health crisis, according to court records. Lafont’s family has disputed that he owned any guns at the time of his shooting death.
Kibbe was known to be aggressive on the job, Burch told investigators in the aftermath of the Ratcliffe arrest. Ratcliffe was arrested by Kibbe hours before the Lafont shooting, according to his lawsuit.
“During the stop, and throughout the encounter, Ratcliffe observed Kibbe to be acting unnaturally aggressive. Hours later, Kibbe would shoot and kill Claremont resident Cody Lafont,” the lawsuit states.
Ratcliffe would learn of the shooting a few hours later and he posted to social media that he believed Kibbe was the shooter even before that was confirmed by authorities.
“There was only one sociopath on duty that night,” Ratcliffe wrote.
Ratcliffe’s lawsuit states that, “Kibbe noticed, read, and saved Ratcliffe’s social media postings about the shooting.”
Lafont’s family brought a lawsuit against the city, but dropped the case earlier this year. Attorney Bedrick, who represented the family in that lawsuit, stated that the family did not wish to proceed with the emotionally grueling legal process.