By DAMIEN FISHER, InDepthNH.org
Claremont’s insurance company, Primex, paid out $75,000 to settle the lawsuit brought against two former city police officers by the man who they reportedly assaulted and arrested using faked evidence.
The federal civil rights lawsuit against former cops Ian Kibbe and Mark Burch by Christopher Ratcliffe, was formally settled last month, according to records available through the U.S. District Court in Concord.
Mike Richter, an attorney with Primex, Claremont’s municipal insurance company, confirmed the insurance company paid Ratcliffe a settlement amount of $75,000. He said there are no other payments pending.
Claremont Police Chief Mark Chase declined to comment on the settlement of the case that goes back to 2018. Samantha Heuring, one of the attorneys representing Ratcliffe, has said the agreement, once complete, will be filed in court and not sealed. The agreement has yet to be filed with the court, and Heuring has declined further comment.
Ratcliffe’s lawsuit, filed in September, accuses the former police officers of violating his civil rights and assaulting him. 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, including most of the charges the pair brought against.
According to court records, Kibbe lied about seeing weapons in the bedroom of Ratcliffe, a convicted felon, during the 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 Ratcliff’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 Ratcliffe’s 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 also agreed to not work in law enforcement after release from jail.
Kibbe shot and killed Cody Lafont, a mentally ill Claremont man, in September of 2016. Kibbe is the only witness to the shooting, and it was initially deemed a justified shooting by the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office. However, in the wake of the 2018 Ratcliffe case, the Attorney General’s Office took a second look at the LaFont shooting and came away with a different interpretation.
Then-Attorney General Gordon MacDonald’s second investigation found that he no longer considers the shooting of Lafont legally justified, but charges were not sought.
“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 had claimed that Lafont was armed during a confrontation at his home. The Attorney General’s investigation found that the revolver found near Lafont’s body 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, according to interview transcripts. 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 last. Attorney Jared Bedrick, who represented the family in that lawsuit, stated that the family did not wish to proceed with the emotionally grueling legal process.