By DAMIEN FISHER, InDepthNH.org
Scott Traudt is finally totally free 16 years after he was arrested for allegedly assaulting two Lebanon police officers and convicted of assaulting one of them, an arrest Traudt maintains was bogus.
Traudt was gearing up for Friday’s hearing in Grafton Superior Court where he anticipated prosecutors would seek to bring back the charges he has been fighting since 2007. Instead, Grafton County Attorney Martha Ann Hornick told the court and Traudt late Thursday she is dropping the case.
“Maybe a system can change its colors a little bit,” Traudt said.
Change may come from inside the system as well. Traudt filed numerous complaints against former Assistant Grafton County Attorney Nancy Gray and former Lebanon Police Chief James Alexander, including one Feb. 5 but since his convictions were vacated by the court in January it now seems the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Public Integrity Unit will look into the matter, according to an email obtained by InDepthNH.org.
“The Public Integrity Unit (PIU) has received your complaint. In that it seems to present additional evidence in support of a prior complaint you raised, that had previously been closed out, the PIU will therefore conduct a review of this information and respond back to you once that review is complete,” the email dated Feb. 10 to Traudt states.
Traudt has been fighting the case, which resulted in a 2008 conviction and jail time, since it started. Through lawsuits and volumes of right-to-know requests, Traudt has been prosecuting the system every step of the way.
He won a major victory in January when Judge Peter Bornstein vacated the convictions due to the state withholding exculpatory evidence concerning one of the two arresting officers, Richard Smolenski. The order mentioned complaints Traudt made against Roberts but based the ruling on the evidence about Smolenski that was withheld.
Traudt said the prospect of even more damaging information coming to light may be behind Hornick’s decision to drop the case.
“Maybe the thought of putting me on trial again gave them pause because of the amount of brutal discovery about the Lebanon Police Department that would come out,” Traudt said.
Traudt served one year in state prison for assaulting then-Sgt. Phil Roberts, who is now chief, during an altercation Jan. 14, 2007, after he and Smolenski stopped a car driven by Traudt’s then-wife for allegedly running a red light after the couple left a local nightclub.
Traudt, 57, of Strafford, Vt. has claimed ever since that he got out of the car to help his wife that night and was merely defending himself against two rogue cops who attacked him, then lied and claimed he assaulted them.
The jury found Traudt not guilty of assaulting Smolenski, who has since been fired from Lebanon police after being charged with stalking a woman with whom he had a previous relationship. Smolenski is expected to go on trial in March on the misdemeanor charge and has pleaded not guilty.
After years of fighting for the records, Traudt finally got the report that showed Smolenski had a record of discipline that should have been disclosed at the original trial.
Smolenski had received a three-day suspension and six months’ probation for an affair and sexually inappropriate emails Smolenski sent to a young woman while on duty in 2006. He had also ordered someone with whom she had a conflict to stop harassing her, the order stated.
Bornstein wrote in his January order there is no question that the state kept Smolenski’s record from Traudt at the 2008 trial.
“At the very least, the information should have been disclosed to (Traudt) because, given that his theory of the case was that the officers involved were renegade police officers and were not credible, the evidence of Smolenski’s investigation and discipline would have been relevant to that defense or otherwise used as impeachment evidence,” Bornstein wrote.
Traudt further discovered that Roberts had a history that included being investigated by Vermont State Police for allegedly taking part in a home-invasion assault of the roommate of a Hartford, Vermont police officer in the 1990s. Roberts was never charged for his role in the alleged assault.
Roberts has told InDepthNH.org that he has never been disciplined while a police officer.
While Traudt isn’t done with the Lebanon Police Department and the Grafton County Attorney’s Office, others may be joining the cause.
Recently a group of New Hampshire lawmakers sent a letter to the New Hampshire Department of Justice asking for an investigation into the case. And Traudt continues to file more right-to-know requests.
Traudt hopes to be able to do something about what he calls the awful culture in the Lebanon Police Department and get someone in the New Hampshire State House to fix the qualified immunity protection police departments enjoy, which keep bad cops on the streets, he said.
Traudt has been on the case 16 years now, and he has no intention of letting up.
“There’s that old saying, ‘the job picks the man, the man doesn’t pick the job,” Traudt said.