Tilton police detective allowed to 'take the 5th'

LACONIA — A Tilton police corporal has invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and will not testify in a rape case he investigated for fear of criminally implicating himself in a different matter.

Belknap County Superior Court Judge James O'Neill ruled Wednesday that Det. Cpl. Matthew Dawson cannot be compelled to testify or be deposed regarding the case against Thomas Gardner that the Tilton Police Department investigated two years ago and is now scheduled for trial.

Dawson is on the payroll of the Tilton Police but hasn't worked since early November, said Selectman Pat Consentino. He earns $30.68 per hour.

At the Tuesday hearing, both Gardner's attorney Wade Harwood and Dawson's attorney Peter Peter Perroni indicated that Dawson is also the subject of an internal investigation being conducted by the Tilton Police Department.

Perroni, who is an attorney for the New England Police Benevolent Association, said Dawson is invoking his right against self-incrimination because he may be connected to an ongoing criminal investigation of an unknown nature.

O'Neill's ruling came after the hearing, where it was disclosed the Dawson was the subject of a "Laurie order" or a determination by a judge that a police officer has committed one of several actions that could call his or her credibility as a witness into question.

A "Laurie order" means that if a police department and/or a county attorney has information in an otherwise private personnel file that could call his or her ability to tell the truth into question, it must be disclosed to the defense if the defense intends to put that officer on the stand.

A review of Gardner's file shows both Harwood and Assistant Belknap County Attorney Carley Ahern have included Dawson as a potential witness against Gardner.

Perroni said in his opinion Harwood was trying to impugn the veracity of the entire Tilton Police Department by putting Dawson on the stand when the primary investigation into the rape allegedly committed by Gardner was conducted by Tilton Police Detective Nate Buffington.

Harwood argued that there may be some things he would ask Dawson in either a trial or a deposition that could present Fifth Amendment problems for him but that Dawson was part of the investigation against his client and his client has a constitutional right to confront his accuser and ask him questions.

Harwood said the questions he would ask could be reviewed by a judge in a "in camera" review or one that takes place out of the ear of the public and he would likely appeal O'Neill's ruling to allow Dawson to stay off the stand.

Jury selection for Gardner's rape trial is scheduled for June 2, 2014. As of yesterday, Harwood has not filed an appeal of O'Neill's ruling.