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Navy veteran trooper sues over landing on cop blacklist, seeks monetary damages

New Hampshire State Police (Jason Lawrence/WikiCommons)

A former trooper is suing the New Hampshire State Police and demanding damages for being placed on the Laurie list after losing his job over at least one admitted lie.

Barrington resident Nathan Buell, a decorated Navy combat veteran who fought in Afghanistan, brought the lawsuit last year after losing his job in June 2019. He had held the job for almost a year.

He said his superiors forced him to resign, accusing him of lying over minor issues such as polishing his brass belt buckle, cleaning his gun and trying on a bulletproof vest, according to his lawsuit, which was filed in Merrimack County Superior Court.

The real reason, he alleges, is his application for disability benefits from the Veterans Administration for PTSD and anxiety stemming from his combat service.

The lawsuit portrays his inclusion on the Laurie list — a blacklist of officers with credibility issues — as a final boot out the door. The lawsuit also shows the lengths officers will go to have their names removed from the list.

Buell’s is the first known case where an officer is seeking monetary damages for being placed on the list.

His lawyer, Lindsay E. Nadeau of Orr and Reno, said she could not discuss the case without permission from her client.

State Police Col. Nathan Noyes and the assistant attorney general handling the case, Christina M. Wilson, would not comment, citing the pending status of the case.

According to the lawsuit, Buell’s supervisor urged him to resign rather than be fired because it would protect his future job prospects, the suit reads. But after Buell resigned, Lt. Brendan Davey told Buell he would still go on the list, formally called the Exculpatory Evidence Schedule.

“He and his family have suffered and will suffer harm and damages due to the severity of his being placed on the EES list,” the suit reads.

The Ossipee Police Department would not hire him if his name was on the list, the lawsuit said. New Hampshire Fish and Game considered him but never offered him a job for what he believes is the EES placement.

The lawsuit makes claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act, state anti-discrimination laws and constitutional rights of due process. A Merrimack County Superior Court judge is currently considering a state motion to dismiss the suit.

The lawsuit was filed shortly before a law went into effect that allows police officers to sue to challenge their placement on the Laurie list. The list includes the names of more than 250 people, many of whom are no longer in police work.

Attorney General John Formella released a portion of the list two weeks ago, and more names are likely to be released in the coming months.

The list is being disclosed under terms of a 2021 law that mandated its disclosure but spelled out procedures to prevent the release of some names.

According to the lawsuit, Buell earned a Navy combat distinguished service medal for service in Afghanistan in 2014 as a hospital corpsman.

His time involved some horrible events — the smell of burning flesh, exposed bone, treating a soldier who lost a leg and some fingers in an explosion — and Buell suffered some mental scars.

During his interview with State Police, Buell disclosed anxiety problems, according to the lawsuit, and after he was hired, he was diagnosed with PTSD.

He receives VA disability payments for the condition, and the lawsuit claims his supervisors moved to get rid of him after learning about the condition.

They turned routine inspections into rigorous affairs, the suit says: His cruiser and gun were not cleaned properly. He had not polished his brass belt buckle.

At one point, he admitted lying. He said he was flustered during an inspection and said he had tried on his safety vest, though he had not. He was caught in the lie, and by day’s end he apologized.

In a subsequent meeting, Noyes later told Buell that he was terminated for a “series of lies” involving the poorly cleaned firearm, the vest and the brass.

Noyes rejected arguments by Buell’s union lawyer, John Krupski, that one can only be placed on the Laurie list for lying during official proceedings or reports, according to a post-termination letter included in the suit.

“If I cannot trust you to be truthful when questioned about such mundane matters, I do not see how I can have faith in your integrity when confronted with more serious questions/events,” Noyes wrote.

Truthfulness is the issue cited in the cases of 29 of the 80 officers whose names appear in the portion of the list made public so far.

In their filings, the state said the Laurie list is not an employment decision but rather is maintained to make sure criminal defendants know whether police officers involved in their case have credibility problems.

In a wrinkle to Buell’s case, Sununu contacted Noyes at the behest of Buell’s father, Allan, who is vice president of construction for the New Hampshire-based Planet Fitness.

According to Allan Buell, after speaking to Noyes, Sununu relayed a different reason for the action.

Sununu said that Noyes recognized Buell’s service to the country and said the cadet did well during the Police Academy and in field training.

But when he went out on his own, “some concern about mental stability probably stemming from the military began to concern the state police and ultimately was what led to the termination,” reads the senior Buell’s account of the conversation, which is included in the lawsuit.

The lawsuit said Sununu’s conversation is evidence that the disability, and not the lies, was the reason for the forced resignation.

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(c) 2022 The New Hampshire Union Leader

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