Gantert v. City of Rochester

Officer on Laurie List Provided Adequate Procedural Due Process
New Hampshire Supreme Court, No. 2015-0062
Friday, March 18, 2016

The plaintiff, a Rochester police officer, was terminated, and his name was placed on the Laurie List, for failing to comply with protocol for questioning an individual arrested for domestic violence, which required the officer to interview the arrestee and answer various questions on a Lethality Assessment Protocol (LAP) form. The officer challenged his termination before the PELRB, which determined that, although the officer answered questions on the LAP that he had no reason to believe were true, termination was too strong a punishment. However, the arbitrator did not rule on whether the officer’s name should remain on the Laurie List. Upon request from the plaintiff, the police chief and the county attorney refused to remove the officer’s name from the list.

The plaintiff then sued the city, claiming he was not provided adequate procedural due process when his name was placed on the Laurie List, and also seeking a court order to remove his name from the List.

According to a memorandum from the attorney general’s office, information relative to the following must be retained in an officer’s personnel file so that it can be reviewed in camera by a judge to determine if it must be disclosed to defense counsel for impeachment purposes where the officer is intended to testify as a witness:

· any sustained instance where an officer deliberately lied during a court case, administrative hearing, other official proceeding, in a police report, or in an internal investigation;

· any sustained instance when an officer falsified records or evidence;

· any sustained instance that an officer committed a theft or fraud;

· any sustained instance that an officer engaged in an egregious dereliction of duty . . . ;

· any sustained complaint of excessive use of force;

· any instance of mental instability that caused the police department to take some affirmative action to suspend the officer for evaluation or treatment.

In addition, the attorney general’s memorandum outlines a process for identifying Laurie issues, which includes an opportunity for the officer to meet with the police chief and review the facts and evidence before a final determination is made. The Rochester Police Department had adopted this sample procedure, except that the police commission provided an additional hearing to the plaintiff prior to his name being put on the List.

Because the plaintiff was actually provided more due process than the attorney general’s recommended procedure, the Court did not directly address whether the attorney general’s procedure comported with due process, and it instead addressed whether Rochester’s procedure was constitutionally sufficient.

After balancing the officer’s private interest with the government’s interest, the Court determined that the procedures struck the proper balance to satisfy procedural due process. The process began with an internal investigation, and then provided two layers of review within the department, an opportunity to meet with the chief, and a hearing before the police commission. Thus, there was no constitutional need for a more formalized hearing or additional process before an officer was placed on the “Laurie List,” as the plaintiff argued here.

The Court then addressed whether the plaintiff was entitled to have his name removed from the Laurie List after the PELRB determined that termination was too strong a punishment for the plaintiff’s conduct. As the Court held in the Duchesne case, “basic notions of fairness require that an officer must be removed from the list when it is clear that there are no valid grounds for his being on the list, and that, absent other available procedures, the courts can provide a remedy to an aggrieved officer.”

Here, the Court held that there was a proper basis for keeping the plaintiff on the Laurie List: It had been clearly established that the plaintiff provided answers on the LAP that he had no reason to believe were true, unlike in Duchesne, where the allegations that led to the officer’s name being placed on the List were later determined to be unfounded. Thus, the plaintiff’s false answers were sufficient to at least trigger an in camera review of the plaintiff’s police file, were he to subsequently appear as a witness for the prosecution.  

Learn More in Court's Decision.