LACONIA — Belknap County Commissioner Hunter Taylor has received 129 pages of documents from County Attorney Andrew Livernois in response to his public records request about a controversy that roiled the sheriff’s departments for most of this year.
The problem from Taylor’s perspective is that page after page of black rectangles cover words that might explain why David Perkins was the subject of three personnel investigations and placed on paid administrative leave for six months before retiring on June 19 from his job as chief sheriff’s deputy.
Taylor estimates that 90 percent of the documents are redacted.
“As you will no doubt note, the documents which I have provided to you are somewhat heavily redacted,” Livernois said in a letter to Taylor on Tuesday. “The excised information is being withheld for a number of reasons, which I will set forth.”
Livernois went on to say significant portions of the records were exempted from release under New Hampshire’s Right to Know Law because they pertained to “internal personnel practices.”
“More specifically, many of the records in question are part of an internal investigative report prepared for the Belknap County Sheriff regarding a claim of employee misconduct,” Livernois said.
Many of the records contained information related to a criminal investigation and would constitute an unwarranted invasion of privacy, he said.
Some of the records involved a criminal investigation that was referred to state or federal authorities and their release “could interfere with a pending or reasonably anticipated criminal case,” Livernois said.
For his part, Taylor, a retired attorney, questions Livernois’s legal justification for withholding the documents and plans to file a lawsuit to seek the information. He also said he might seek the documents by asking the attorney general to enforce a law requiring public servants to perform duties of their office.
The New Hampshire Supreme Court found recently that the “internal personnel practices exemption” should not be construed as categorical.
“Anything falling within that exemption is now subject to a balancing test,” Taylor said. “You weigh the importance of maintaining privacy against the importance of the public knowing.
“The public interest in knowing what is going on in the sheriff’s office clearly outweighs privacy interests. I’m not sure whose privacy is being protected. There's a cloud over the sheriff's office that needs to be resolved. If people have been tarnished by secrecy, they need to be vindicated.”
Perkins’s lawyer said his client was the target of harassment and retaliation by the Sheriff's Department, where he worked for 18 years. Perkins became the subject of three personnel investigations after raising questions about the integrity of the Sheriff's Department's Drug Task Force, which is led by Deputy Sgt. William Wright.
Wright is running unopposed to succeed Sheriff Mike Moyer, who is not seeking re-election. Perkins previously indicated an interest in running, but did not declare his candidacy during the election filing period.