By DAMIEN FISHER, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD – The lawyer for State Trooper Samuel Provenza asked the New Hampshire Supreme Court on Wednesday to keep hidden from the public an investigation into his alleged misconduct while he was working as a Canaan police officer.
“Police officers do not have watered down Constitutional rights,” said John Krupski, Provenza’s lawyer.
Provenza, who left the Canaan Police Department in 2019 to work for state police, is appealing Grafton Superior Court Judge Peter Bornstein’s order that the town of Canaan must publicly release a report on Provenza, which the town had conducted after Provenza was accused of assaulting a town resident during a 2017 traffic stop.
Valley News journalist James Kenyon is seeking a copy of the 2018 report conducted by Municipal Resources Inc., or MRI, and went to court to get it released after being denied.
Crystal Eastman Wright accused Provenza of assaulting her during the 2017 traffic stop, prompting the MRI report. According to Bornstein’s ruling, the MRI report found that Wright’s excessive force allegation against Provenza was “not sustained,” though nothing is known about how that conclusion was reached.
Krupski argued that because Wright’s complaint is unfounded, releasing the report would violate Provenza’s right to privacy. He said releasing personnel files on unfounded complaints would open the floor for abuses.
“Unsustained are, shall I say, issues that have no merit. Therefore, this would be rewarding, allowing, and incentivizing people to make complaints that are not true,” Krupski said.
ACLU attorney Henry Klementowicz, representing the Valley News, argued that the Supreme Court’s recent ruling on police files compel the court to allow for the release of the Provenza report. Last year, the New Hampshire Supreme Court ruled that some police personnel files, previously kept from public view, could be released under the state’s right-to-know law.
“The statute does not create an exemption for the right to know for police officers,” Klementowicz said.
Crystal Wright and her husband Douglas Wright are currently suing Provenza and the Canaan Police Department, as well as the town, in the federal United States District Court in Concord.
According to the lawsuit, Provenza had a well-known reputation for use of force when he pulled Wright over on Nov. 30 of 2017.
“Mrs. Wright had heard about his history of and reputation for using violence while carrying out his law enforcement duties. In fact, Mrs. Wright heard that Officer Provenza frequently drew his gun and taser on people he came into contact with. Mrs. Wright had also heard that Officer Provenza had engaged in a pattern of roughly handling women, including pulling their hair,” the lawsuit states.
Wright and her family had issues with the school bus driver and after hearing her daughter had another problem Crystal Wright was following the bus when she was stopped by Provenza, according to her lawsuit.
During the stop, Provenza put his head into Crystal Wright’s car and was acting aggressively, according to her lawsuit. Crystal Wright is a sexual abuse survivor, according to the lawsuit, and she was uncomfortable with Provenza’s behavior. She picked up her iPhone and started recording when she heard a “ruckus,” her lawsuit states.
“It was Officer Provenza grabbing onto the door and ripping on it in an attempt to open it. His eyes were bulging out of his head, his veins were popping out of his neck, and he was visibly enraged,” the lawsuit states.
Provenza then allegedly grabbed the 5-foot, two-inch, 115-pound woman by her ponytail and dragged her out of her car as she was screaming and begging for someone to help, according to the lawsuit. He handcuffed her and hit her in the knee, despite the fact she was not resisting, according to the lawsuit. That blow to the knee tore her ACL, according to the lawsuit. Though Provenza’s police cruiser was equipped with a dashboard camera, that camera was not turned on during her stop, according to the lawsuit.
Crystal Wright was eventually charged with resisting arrest for the incident, but was later found not guilty, according to the lawsuit. She was convicted of disobeying a police officer, according to Bornstein’s order, and she lost her appeal to that conviction.
The federal lawsuit claims that the town and the police department knew about Provenza’s violence and that he was never properly disciplined.
Provenza was the only other witness present when State Trooper Christopher O’Toole shot and killed Jesse Champney in December of 2017. The shooting was deemed justified despite the fact Champney was running away from O’Toole and died from a gunshot wound to his back, according to the New Hampshire Attorney General’s report.