By DAMIEN FISHER, InDepthNH.org
The state must hand over the discipline records for fired New Hampshire State Trooper Haden Wilber after Merrimack Superior Court Judge John Kissinger ruled that the records are public.
Wilber was fired after he was found to have conducted illegal searches and lied about evidence during a 2017 traffic stop during an internal investigation. Wilber’s traffic stop of Maine woman Robyn White resulted in a federal lawsuit that was settled for more than $200,000.
The New Hampshire American Civil Liberties Union filed a Right to Know request seeking Wilber’s information, and the New Hampshire Department of Safety refused to hand over the documents. Kissinger writes in his order that the public has a right to the documents.
“Disclosure of Mr. Wilber’s personnel file will assist the public in determining whether the investigation into his conduct was comprehensive and accurate,” Kissinger wrote.
“Beyond Mr. Wilber’s own misconduct, the disclosure of Mr. Wilber’s personnel file could assist the public in scrutinizing the State Police’s effectiveness in supervising its employees.”
Kissinger’s order, based in part on the New Hampshire Supreme Court’s recent ruling in the Samuel Provenza case, allows the state to redact sensitive information from the file, but those redactions must be explained to ACLU representatives, who will have the right to challenge them.
New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office Director of Communications Michael Garrity said it is too soon to say if the state will appeal the case to the state Supreme Court.
“We are reviewing the order to determine how we will proceed. A decision will be made within the appropriate deadlines established by Court rules,” he said.
Gilles Bissonnette, the legal director at the ACLU of New Hampshire, did not respond to a request for comment.
Wilber is currently trying to get his job back, appealing his firing to the state’s Personnel Appeal Board. During a hearing last month he argued that his termination should be overturned because he misremembered facts during the internal investigation.
“During the investigation, Tpr. Wilber was interviewed numerous times, and he struggled to recall the incident which was several years in the past,” the appeal notice written by his attorney Marc Beaudoin states.
Wilber was a 13-year veteran of the State Police when he was put on the state’s Laurie List, also known as the Exculpatory Evidence Schedule, and fired as a result of the investigation into his alleged illegal actions. Wilber was accused of lying about evidence during the February 2017 traffic stop of White. She ended up in jail for 13 days and was subjected to body scans and an internal cavity exam, based on Wilber’s false statements, according to her lawsuit which was settled last year.
The termination letter from New Hampshire State Police Col. Nathan Noyes and Department of Safety Commissioner Robert Quinn to Wilber laying out the case for his firing was damning.
“The investigation has revealed disturbing facts regarding your investigatory habits and overall integrity as a law enforcement officer,” the letter states. “Your personal conduct as outlined herein reflects negatively upon your character, the law enforcement profession, and is an embarrassment to you, your colleagues and the Division of State Police.”
During the internal investigation, Wilber was found to have illegally searched White’s cell phone without a warrant. According to the termination letter Wilber received last year, at one point he took the cell phone out of the State Police Troop A evidence locker, and it has never been seen since.
However, according to his appeal, Wilber claims he never lied, and that any inconsistencies in his story is a matter of poor memory years after the fact.
“Tpr. Wilber adamantly denies any alleged intentional misstatements of facts, and any inconsistencies can be clearly attributed to a lack of memory recall,” Beaudoin wrote.
White, now 46, was stopped on Feb. 10 of 2017 on Interstate 95 on the pretext of that she had snow on her rear lights. Wilber illegally searched White’s handbag during the stop, reportedly finding heroin residue, according to White’s lawsuit. Wilber then concocted a lie that White may have hidden drugs in her vagina as a reason to enhance the charges and keep her held in jail. Despite weeks in jail and the illegal body searches, no drugs were found in her person.
Wilber is also alleged to have searched White’s cell phone during the initial stop, looking for supposed intelligence information to build a drug case against White, according to the letter.
When confronted about the illegal cell phone search, Wilber told the investigator that troopers on the Mobile Enforcement Team “do that all the time,” according to the termination letter.
“That’s, that’s how I’ve been trained,” Wilder reportedly told investigators.
The board is expected to take up his appeal during a hearing later this summer.