EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

New Hampshire

July 12, 2014

Cop's early jail release puts focus on obscure law

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — The case of a former police officer who served a fraction of a one-year jail sentence for a hit-and-run accident that injured two teens has placed a spotlight on an obscure law.

Veteran Manchester officer Steve Coco was convicted of two felony counts of misconduct and sentenced in March to a year in jail.

David Dionne, superintendent of the Hillsborough County House of Corrections, released Coco after 72 days under a law that gives county jail superintendents the authority to free convicts to work or rehabilitation programs after they serve 14 days.

Superior Court Judge Gillian Abramson on Thursday ordered Coco back to jail, saying his release was inappropriate and noting Coco had been drinking the night of the crash. Coco, a 17-year police veteran, returned to jail Friday.

Coco was off-duty but driving his unmarked cruiser March 22, 2013, when he struck the teens from behind, injuring Dean Drukker, 18, and Noah Hickman, 17. Coco drove off and initially denied to police who questioned him that he’d been out that night, despite damage to his vehicle.

Drukker suffered a concussion, bleeding on the brain and a separated shoulder. Hickman broke his right elbow and suffered back injuries.

Coco’s lawyer, Mark Howard, said Friday he will appeal Abramson’s ruling to the state Supreme Court and seek Coco’s release pending the outcome of that appeal.

“I know the superintendents across the state have a very strong interest in what’s happening here,” Howard said.

“It’s a difficult issue because they commit so much by way of resources to qualifying inmates for programs such as this,” Howard said. “They need to know if their authority to do it is subject to summary reversal by judges. How much should they commit in resources if they have no control over it?”

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