We would like to know a lot more about the dispute in the Belknap County Sheriff's Department that has resulted in the suspension of Chief Deputy David Perkins, who has been on paid administrative leave for more than four months.
Efforts by The Daily Sun bring to light more information about the matter through requests under the state's Right to Know Law have been blocked by an exemption in the law that local, county and state agencies have long used to keep secret “records pertaining to internal personnel practices.”
An earlier court ruling interpreted that phrase so broadly that public officials and agencies used it to turn away all but the most mundane requests for information.
Fortunately, the New Hampshire Supreme Court last week removed the blanket “internal personnel practices” exemption. The court said any interest public agencies might have in withholding information must be balanced against the public interest in disclosure.
For that reason, we have renewed our request for documents we believe would shed light on the case.
We believe the public interest in disclosure is strong.
Perkins' lawyer contends his client is the target of retaliation and harassment by Sheriff Mike Moyer, who favors another deputy to be his successor.
Moyer said those claims are “lies being spread by David Perkins and his friends.”
Coming from two men who have had long, distinguished careers in law enforcement, there's a staggering chasm between those two positions.
Fortunately, there are documents that would enlighten the public about who is telling the truth, and we believe they should be released.
A report from a detective's investigation into a Tilton drug case that kicked off this controversy would be helpful in assuring the public that that matter was handled properly.
Second, according to Perkins' attorney, a Tilton police officer gave a statement as part of that investigation that was central to the actions by Perkins in seeking to bring in an outside agency to look into the integrity of the Sheriff's Drug Task Force. The public has an interest in seeing that, since it could shed light on whether Perkins' desire for an internal probe of the Drug Task Force was based on good faith or, as his critics claim, mere politics.
Finally, there have been three internal investigations of Perkins conducted at public expense. Releasing those to the extent possible would help taxpayers, voters and interested observers determine whether they addressed legitimate public concerns or, as Perkins claims through his lawyer, they were politically motivated to damage Perkins and give his prospective opponent in the upcoming sheriff's race an advantage.
This is one of those instances where there is both a substantial public interest and a plentiful paper trail, and we believe those things should have a chance to meet.
Not only is it in the public interest to release as much information as possible, it may also be in Sheriff Moyer's interest, because releasing these documents would go a long way toward convincing the public that the Belknap County Sheriff's Department has nothing to hide.