By DAMIEN FISHER, InDepthNH.org
Lebanon Police hid the discipline records of two officers whose testimony helped send a man to jail, and now the department faces a federal civil rights lawsuit.
Vermont resident Scott Traudt continues his relentless campaign against the department after he was convicted of assaulting a Lebanon police officer during a 2007 traffic stop and spent a year in jail as a result.
Traudt, 57, got his conviction overturned in May based on evidence the department hid exculpatory evidence on former Officer Richard Smolenski, and current Chief Phil Roberts.
Now, Traudt has filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court in Concord seeking monetary damages.
Lebanon City Manager Shaun Mulholland told InDepthNH.org Monday the Lebanon Police Department did nothing wrong.
“They followed the procedures they were supposed to follow then,” Mulholland said.
According to Mulholland, the department did not violate the legal standards of the state’s Laurie List in 2007 and 2008. Those standards have changed over time, he said.
The lawsuit lays out the evidence Traudt used to get his case overturned in the Grafton Superior Court, namely that the department hid the fact Smolenski had been disciplined months before the arrest for conducting an affair on department time, and that Roberts was subject to a criminal investigation while he was a Vermont police officer before taking a job in Lebanon.
The city and the department are both named as defendants, as are Roberts, Smolenski, and former chiefs James Alexander and Gary Smith.
Grafton Superior Court Judge Peter Bornstein ruled this year the department did, in fact, violate the law when it came to divulging exculpatory evidence on Smolenski.
“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 was charged with assaulting Roberts during the 2007 traffic stop at which Smolenski was responding as back up, according to court records. Their testimony was key to the later prosecution, as no video recording was made of the incident.
While Traudt requested any exculpatory evidence on the two officers, the department claimed none existed, according to the lawsuit.
“During the trial, the state emphasized the credibility of the two officers. The prosecutor stated, ‘There’s been absolutely no evidence of any kind of a disciplinary mark on [Robert’s] record’ and ‘absolutely no evidence of any disciplinary mark on [Smolenski’s] record, no evidence of any prior complaint,’” the lawsuit states.
However, as Traudt has already shown in the state court, that is not true.
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.
Roberts’ history includes a Vermont State Police investigation for his alleged role 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 and Roberts has told InDepthNH.org that he has never been disciplined while a police officer.
Roberts has gone on to become the chief of the department, while Smolenski rose to the rank of lieutenant and was, at one point, the department’s prosecutor. Smolenski was fired from the department after he was charged in 2021 for allegedly stalking an ex-girlfriend. That case is in the Lebanon District Court pending trial.
In 2020, Smolenski was disciplined after he allowed two intoxicated police officers to get on the front line of a potentially deadly call in which an armed man was holding a woman hostage, according to yet more records Traudt uncovered. Smolenski was the commander of the department’s SWAT unit at the time. The incident was resolved without injury to the woman or the alleged hostage taker.