City landlords back police officer at disciplinary hearing

LACONIA — When city police officer Brandi Enis was dispatched to what she thought was a fairly routine civil stand-by one afternoon in April, she probably never would have guessed she would be sitting in front of a disciplinary board two months later, with many of the city's landlords there to support her.

Typically, disciplinary boards, comprised of the Board of Commissioners, are held out of the public eye, however Enis and her lawyer Brad Davis asked for this one to be held in public, which is her right.

Along with the landlords, a number of rank-and-fiile police officers, including Laconia Police Association President Jeff Wholley, attended.

According to the agreed to facts, the landlord, John Daigneault, owns a two-family home on Elm Street and had called police on April 17 to help him because he needed to change a filter in one of the furnaces. Police routinely send "civil standbys" to homes or businesses to protect people and property from harm from another.

Civil stand-byes includes a police escort for someone to remove his or her belongings safely from a property, in cases where an employee has been terminated and may act out, or to assist landlords with evictions that may turn on them. Daily police logs show at least one or two are performed daily by all police departments.

When Enis arrived, Daigneault told her the way to get to the basement was through the tenant's apartment but that he was in the process of evicting him and the two had had ugly words the day before regarding an unrelated issue. He told her he had sent notice to the tenant more than 24 hours before he wanted to change the filter.

Enis said she knocked on the tenant's door, announced herself repeatedly as a police officer and after getting no answer, stood by while Daigneault used the key to let himself in. She said she made sure no one was in the apartment; she checked the bedroom again by announcing her presence; the landlord went into the basement and changed the filter; and the two were gone in less than five minutes.

She said she left her business card there for the tenant who apparently later called her supervisor, Sgt. Mike Finogle to complain about her being in the apartment without his permission.

Where the story splits into two sides is what happened after Finogle's investigation.

Finogle investigated and determined that she accidentally violated the tenant's Fourth Amendments rights and issued a letter of reprimand for unsatisfactory performance that Enis signed. He emphasized that her actions were not malicious but it is his contention that she should have called him to see if she could enter the home if the tenant wasn't there.

"She blindly followed the landlord," Finogle said.

He also said she should have ascertained that there were other ways for the landlord to get into the basement without going through the tenant's apartment.

Speaking of behalf of management, Prosecutor Jim Sawyer said that if anything illegal had been found it would have been suppressed by a criminal court.

"Did you think you could do this legally?" he asked Enis while the landlords watching the procedure were nodding that it was legal after the 24 hour notice had been given.

When the letter went upstairs to management, they determined it was the officer's third letter of reprimand in four months and launched an internal investigation — also assigned to Finogle.

Ultimately, management decided she should get two days of suspension without pay because the other letters of reprimand were also for "unsatisfactory performance." Three three violations in the same category of offense constitutes a two-day suspension according to the LPD police manual.

In her defense, Enis said she had never been trained on landlord-tenant civil law and that she was obligated to go where the dispatcher sent her. She has been a police officer in Laconia for five years and worked in law enforcement in Tampa, Florida and the Strafford County Sheriff's office before coming to Laconia.

She said Daigneault had the key to the apartment and was in the building for less than five minutes. Enis said she asked Daigneault if he had given the tenant 24-hour notice and he said he had.

"It's like you're damned if you do and damned it you don't," said Davis telling the commissioners Enis was in a "no-win situation."

He said the general practice is for officer to go in to ensure there is no harm to people and property and that an officer must go where he or she is sent by dispatchers.

Daigneault testified on Enis's behalf. He said the other two ways into the basement were unavailable — on was through a door that was dead-bolted from the inside by the tenants and the other was through the upstairs tenants apartment who has an illness and doesn't like to be disturbed.

"I have the authority to be there according to the lease agreement," Daigneault said, who said he called the Laconia Police after he had been referred to them by the Belknap County Sheriff's office, which was assisting with the eviction.

"(Enis) is being persecuted for no reason at all," Daigneault said. "She was there to do her job."

He also accused police management of attacking his credibility as well as Enis's for accusing both of them of violating someone's Fourth Amendment rights (protection from unreasonable search and seizure).

In closing, Davis questioned not only Enis's actions that day but why all of her infractions were categorized as "unsatisfactory performance."

"In my view they are not of the same type," he said noting that one of the other letters was for not writing out a sworn affidavit in time for an arraignment for a man who was incarcerated and one was for not creating a difference offense number for what Enis said was an ongoing investigation being done by an officer who was on vacation.

Davis said all three letter of reprimand were from Finogle, however Sawyer said two were from Finogle and one was issued by Lt. Rich Simmons.

Davis said the three have nothing to do with each other and that since the tenant withdrew his complaint and the landlord was there to defend her, no one is complaining about it except police management.

Sawyer rebutted by saying that Enis relied on a person "she didn't know from Adam" and that she can't go into someone's house without their permission.

Many of the landlords who attended yesterday's hearing wanted to speak on Enis's behalf, but since it wasn't a public hearing they were not allowed to. Police Commission Chair Warren Clements said the time for public comment was at the next commissioner's meeting and all were welcome to address the commission and management at that time.

A few landlords said after that they depend on the police to help them with civic stand-byes and felt that Enis was being unfairly targeted.

One landlord, who had never met Enis and did not wish to be identified, said Enis didn't make a mistake. She was sent there to do a job and now they're saying she did it wrong.

She said the landlord did the right thing by getting a civil standby and since he gave 24 hour notice, he had every right to be there and to bring a police officer with him because of the prior issues he had had with the tenant.

"She did nothing wrong," said this landlord.

Commissioners said they would issue a ruling on Enis's suspension within three to five days.