SALEM, N.H. — Suspended Salem police Sgt. Michael Verrocchi will remain a certified police officer as he awaits trial for reckless conduct with a deadly weapon and disobeying a police officer.
The Police Standards and Training Council, tasked with accrediting members of New Hampshire’s police force, considered his case at their latest monthly meeting.
The council unanimously decided Verrocchi is not a threat to the public, and pending criminal proceedings will not be adversely affected by allowing him to keep his policing powers.
However, acting Salem police Chief Joel Dolan said the ruling does not mean Verrocchi can return to work.
The 43-year-old has been on unpaid leave from the department since his arrest in January, and before that, was put on paid leave in February 2019, Dolan said.
Verrocchi’s attorney Marc Beaudoin maintained at the hearing, “this case is really about politics.”
He said his client’s alleged criminal wrongdoing derived from a longstanding Salem police prank, in which off-duty senior officers would speed past rookies working the midnight shift on Route 28 in an attempt to get them to initiate a stop.
“This was an issue that was dealt with; it was done, it was over,” Beaudoin said. “It was dredged up six years later, presumably by the Attorney General's office looking to put a law enforcement pelt on their wall.”
The criminal allegations Verrocchi faces date back to Nov. 10, 2012 — a fact that ultimately ruled the council’s decision to maintain his accreditation. He has been a member of the department in good-standing since, according to testimony.
Nearly eight years ago while off duty, Verrocchi is said to have led his Salem police colleagues on a high-speed chase for 2 miles on Route. 28. Investigators say he ignored lights and sirens and avoided stop sticks before surrendering and laughing about the interaction.
Another police officer — cleared of any wrongdoing — was in the passengers’ seat of Verrocchi's Jeep at the time, according to investigators.
Several of the six witnesses called by Beaudoin at the council hearing testified that the incident was properly investigated immediately after it happened.
They said Verrocchi was reprimanded with an unpaid-day suspension and agreed to take responsibility for his reckless actions on the night in question.
The agreement, reached between the head of the patrolman union and top police officials at the time, stipulated that criminal charges would not be brought, Beaudoin said.
The matter was not brought up again until a recent investigation by the Attorney General, prompted by a 2018 audit of the Police Department ordered by Town Manager Chris Dillon.
The AG probe began with a general focus on the Police Department and honed in months later on four top-ranking officers.
Verrocchi was the first of two to be arrested within the first 18 months of the announcement. The AG has refused to comment on the status of the remaining two cases.
The audit, critical of Police Department practices, uses the internal investigation into Verrocchi’s 2012 chase as an example of one that was conducted correctly.
Beaudoin questioned Town Manager Dillon about why that particular investigation was included in the audit.
“We asked for from the chief of police all IA’s five years or less, and then it was the Police Department themselves that reviewed the IA’s and determined which ones would or would not be included,” Dillon said.
There was no further clarification as to why Verrocchi’s investigation was “cherry-picked” for the audit, Beaudoin said, despite it falling outside the five-year window.
Retired deputy chiefs James Chase and Sean Patten, along with retired Sgt. Steven Woidyla and acting Chief Dolan, all testified to either hearing about the tradition of the prank or participating themselves.
“The guys at the top ... we had done it. It was done to us, we didn’t look at it as criminal behavior,” Patten said.
He explained the incentive was typically to get a patrolman on Route 28 to pull out, and off-duty officers driving their personal cars would pull over right away.
Patten estimates it happened to him “a dozen times” over 10 years, and he “probably engaged in it a couple times” as well.
“In 2020 there’s things you can’t do in law enforcement that you could do back then that wasn’t considered that big of a deal,” he said. “This was just one of those things that came from the '80s, '90s.”
Most who testified agreed that Verrocchi put the public in danger during his alleged stunt, but praised his work as a police officer during the eight years since.
Longtime Salem Prosecutor Jason Grosky described Verrocchi as “outstanding, conscientious, bright, good-natured, an officer who had a good, realistic understanding of the court system.”
Dolan pointed out, “Mike was a great sergeant. He wrote good reports and followed cases through.”
Also, “he came to logical conclusions,” working his way up the ranks as a result, he said.
Beaudoin said of his client, “he wants his day in court.”
“He wants to be vindicated and carry on with his employment at the Salem Police Department," he said.
Verrocchi's attorney in the criminal case, Andrew Cotrupi, was present at the council hearing. He noted that due to a backup of cases caused by the ongoing pandemic, Verrocchi is not likely to face a jury earlier than mid-2021.