SALEM, N.H. — After being denied records from the Police Department that delve into how suspended Sgt. Michael Verrocchi came to be criminally charged, the ACLU has filed a petition in Rockingham Superior Court.
In the petition, ACLU attorney Gilles Bissonette accuses the Police Department of taking an unconstitutional position of secrecy concerning one of its members.
Court paperwork dated Jan. 10 says the ACLU wants all reports, investigatory files, disciplinary documents and other records related to Verrocchi’s actions on Nov. 10, 2012.
Verrocchi is accused that day of evading fellow Salem officers who tried to pull him over while he driving and off duty. He allegedly ran a red light and avoided spike strips put in the road. Verrocchi eventually stopped his vehicle and is said to have laughed, thinking the incident to be a joke.
Acting Salem police Chief Joel Dolan denied the ACLU's request for information Dec. 30, arguing that disclosure could reasonably be expected to interfere with Verrocchi’s right to a fair trial and an impartial jury. The ACLU objected to the chief's decision and pointed to press releases, media coverage and public hearings concerning the case that have already occurred.
“Where the Salem Police Department likely would have charged a private person for evading police, the Department in this case – with the support of union officials – elected to not charge one of their own officers who evaded the police," the petition reads.
Within days of the incident taking place in 2012, the head of the patrolman’s union and top police officials agreed to suspend Verrocchi for a day without pay.
The issue did not emerge again until an audit of the Police Department made partially public in 2018 described an incident like the one involving Verrocchi.
According to the audit, the situation was properly investigated at the time within the Police Department. But after hearing about he situation, the Attorney General’s Office began its own investigation, which resulted in Verrocchi’s arrest in 2020.
Verrocchi is charged with reckless conduct with a deadly weapon (a car) and disobeying police. While criminal proceedings continue, he has maintained his innocence and still has his policing certification, which is controlled by the Police Standards and Training Council.
At a hearing in September, Verrocchi's attorney joined six current and former Police Department members in acknowledging that Verrocchi’s actions the night of the incident went too far, but were similar to a “prank” often played on rookies.
“The Salem Police Department’s records concerning its investigation of this incident and the apparent history of this 'prank' would help the public evaluate the integrity of that investigation and learn why the Department chose to not criminally prosecute one of its own officers,” the ACLU petition reads.
The ACLU argues “There is no legal justification for secrecy in this case” and said it believes the department must produce the information requested under the right-to-know law and the New Hampshire Constitution.
A hearing in the case has been scheduled for later this month.