Friday, January 20, 2012

Suit alleges Alton police sat on mountain of exculpatory evidence while 2 men went to prison for sexually assaulting children

Lawyers acting on behalf of a former local man and and his son have filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the town and seven former and current police officers alleging they withheld evidence from defense lawyers during the criminal investigation and subsequent prosecution of both men for sexual assault of minors.

Both men were convicted and spent time in prison before they were freed after the missing evidence came to light.

The cause of action or claim filed in the United States District Court, District of New Hampshire on Dec. 9, 2011 alleges current Police Chief Ryan Heath (an officer at the time of the investigation)  and former Alton Police Department employees Kevin Iwans, Glenna Heath-Roberts, Edward Correia, Tracy Shattuck, Tyler Hackett and Grant M. Nichols withheld 226 pages of material and exculpatory evidence during the separate investigations and subsequent prosecution of the two.

Only Heath remains with the Alton Police Department.

The details of the suit available electronically through the federal court Website are heavily redacted and supporting documents sealed for electronic accessing by an order of United States magistrate Judge Ladya McCafferty. The names of the two plaintiffs are not revealed. This story is based on the electronically available redacted complaint.

The elder of the two men was ultimately convicted of and sentenced to serve up to 40 years in state prison for three counts of sexual misconduct with a child.

According to the suit, the elder plaintiff was convicted on Feb. 25, 2009 of three counts of sexual misconduct against one child. In December of 2009, Judge Larry Smukler granted the man a new trial and all charges against him were dropped altogether on Oct. 25, 2010.

A spokesman for the N.H. Department of Corrections said he was incarcerated from April 9, 2008 until Feb. 12, 2010.

The younger man pleaded guilty on June 9, 2007 of two counts of aggravated felonious sexual assault against his stepdaughter. Judge James O'Neill vacated both his sentences on July 1, 2010.

Prison records indicate he was incarcerated in the N.H. State Prison from June 9, 2008 until July 2, 2010 when he was transferred to Belknap County. He was released on July 12, 2010.

The suit claims the exculpatory evidence was uncovered by Belknap County Attorney Office prosecutors in February of 2009 while they were preparing their second case against the elder man for allegedly assaulting a second child.

Count 16 of the suit says the prosecution found "exculpatory evidence, consisting of pages A1-199 inclusive and B1-B27, which had not previously been disclosed to either the plaintiff or his counsel, even though the documents had been in the possession of the Alton Police Department for approximately six, or more years."

The civil suit claims the withheld information included paperwork by Corriea in September of 2002 stating the alleged second victim "came to his office to complain about (a Rochester, NY man ) by stating (the man) had been angry at (initials) and had decided to make a false report of sexual assault against (initials) stepfather, with the sole purpose of making (initials) life miserable."

Alleged exculpatory materials also included statements made to Iwans that one victim was allegedly assaulted by a different man with the same first name and a similar statement made in 2005 to Nichols, and an undated report of a similar nature made by Heath-Roberts.

The civil rights suit has four components all citing the Civil Rights Act of 1871, last amended in 1983 and the rights secured by the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution and well as similar rights established under the New Hampshire Constitution.

There are four separate causes of action: a civil rights violation filed for the father, a civil rights violation filed for the son, a civil rights violation against the defendant the (town) of Alton and supplemental claims against all of the defendants individually including a claim of malicious prosecution.