Two police officers involved in arresting a suspect later charged with assaulting them should have disclosed that they were in a romantic relationship at the time of the incident, a judge has found.
A New Hampshire judge tossed a conviction for riot and resisting arrest and ordered a new trial.
The prosecutor said he believes it’s the first time such a ruling has come down in the United States, according to The Union Leader.
Chasrick Heredia, 24, was at GlowBar Cigars, a bar in Manchester, New Hampshire linked to fights and gang activity, during the early hours of Friday, May 11, 2018, when cops showed up because of a noise complaint.
— chuck gosson (@chuck_gosson) March 15, 2019
During an altercation amid an unruly crowd outside the bar, a female police officer, Canada Stewart, later said she was trying to arrest the suspect when he attacked her, causing a concussion. A male officer, Michael Roscoe, said he intervened after Heredia attacked Canada and used force to subdue him and arrest him.
But the suspect claimed the cops got it wrong, and that the male officer flipped out and attacked him with unlawful force, and in the process inadvertently injured the female officer.
At trial this past February, a jury found Heredia guilty of riot and resisting arrest, both felonies, and disorderly conduct, a misdemeanor. He was acquitted of attempted murder, first-degree assault, second-degree assault, and simple assault.
According to his lawyer, Heredia learned after the trial that the male officer and the female officer were boyfriend and girlfriend. A private investigator hired by Heredia’s public defender confirmed the relationship using the officers’ Facebook pages.
Heredia appealed, claiming he should have been informed of the couple’s relationship before the trial, because the information would have been favorable to his defense.
The judge said he’s right.
“Defendant argues the undisclosed information about the relationship between Officers Roscoe and Stewart was favorable because it establishes possible bias against defendant, underscores their motivation to lie or exaggerate the truth regarding the incident underlying the charges, and bolsters defendant’s assertion that Officer Roscoe ‘lost his cool’ in responding to the incident. The court agrees,” wrote Judge Amy B. Messer in a ruling dated March 27.
Since the cops were “primary witnesses” in the case, the judge said, the defendant had the right to know of their relationship since it might have helped the defendant’s lawyer undermine their credibility.
“Information pertaining to their credibility and potential motive to lie is therefore highly material because it could have bolstered defendant’s theory of the case,” the judge wrote, adding that “if defendant possessed the information regarding the officers’ relationship, he would have had a good faith basis to question whether their relationship provided a motive to lie or protect each other, and the jury could have observed their answers and demeanor to assess their credibility.”
Romantic relationships between cops are not rare, the stuff of TV dramas and real-life police stations alike. So prosecutors are worried the judge’s ruling might have far-reaching results.
But the judge said she tailored her decision narrowly to fit the case.
“The court is mindful of the State’s argument with respect to the potential consequences of this ruling, but notes that this decision is based on the specific facts of this case and is not intended to set a broad rule that prosecutors must always investigate the personal lives of investigating officers involved in a case or that in every instance the officers must disclose their personal relationships,” Judge Messer wrote. “Here, however, Officers Roscoe and Stewart were not only primary witnesses for the State, but also alleged victims: and their testimony provided significant evidence relating to the charges against defendant. The potentially exculpatory nature of their romantic relationship in this case should have been evident because it could clearly impact their perceived credibility to a jury and is therefore favorable to the preparation and presentation of defendant’s defense.”
“Under these unique circumstances,” the judge continued, “it is incumbent upon the State to disclose the relationship of the officers where they are both investigating officers and alleged victims. Moreover, this ruling does not impose any additional duty to disclose favorable information than is already expected of law enforcement officers collaborating with prosecutors on a case.”
The prosecutor has asked the state’s Attorney General to appeal the judge’s ruling to the New Hampshire Supreme Court.
If the judge’s ruling is upheld, a new trial for Heredia on the remaining charges is scheduled for June 2019, according to The Union Leader.