Filed on January 10, 2021, this public records lawsuit seeks all reports, investigatory files, disciplinary records, and other records concerning the actions of Salem Police Department Sergeant Michael Verrocchi on November 10, 2012 that led to a sustained finding of misconduct with a one-day suspension without pay issued as discipline, and that ultimately led to his criminal prosecution.
On November 10, 2012, Mr. Verrocchi was off duty and operating a Jeep Cherokee on Route 28 in Salem along with another off-duty Salem officer. Mr. Verrocchi exceeded the speed limit (62 MPH in a 30 MPH zone) and failed to stop when signaled to stop by Officer Sean York of the Salem Police Department. Mr. Verrocchi fled from Officer York and proceeded to engage in a high-speed motor vehicle pursuit over a distance of approximately two miles. During the chase, Mr. Verrocchi ran a red light and avoided spike strips placed in the roadway by Officer Kevin Swanson of the Salem Police Department. Mr. Verrocchi continuously failed to stop for Officer York. When the Salem Police Department officer(s) ultimately caught up with Mr. Verrocchi, Mr. Verrocchi was laughing after exiting the vehicle, thinking the whole incident to be a joke. Neither Officer York, Officer Swanson (who still works for the Department), nor any other Department officer arrested Mr. Verrocchi. Mr. Verrocchi and other Department officers have argued that the high-speed chase was a mere prank “gone too far” that veteran Salem police officers often played on rookies.
The Salem Police Department’s conduct here is concerning. After this incident occurred, the Department, rather than charge Mr. Verrocchi for this obvious criminal violation, chose to—in collaboration with the Salem Police Relief Union—treat this issue as a private personnel matter where only minor discipline was imposed. After concluding that sustained misconduct occurred in violation of the Salem Police Code of Conduct, the Salem Police Department, in lieu of criminal prosecution, suspended Mr. Verrocchi for one day without pay. In sum, where the Salem Police Department likely would have charged a private person for evading the police, the Department in this case—with the support of union officials—elected to not charge one of their own officers who evaded the police. In other words, the Salem Police Department and union officials elected to, in secret, protect one of their own rather than do their job and enforce criminal laws. This incident only became public six years later when the Town of Salem, on November 21, 2018, released a heavily redacted version of an internal audit report.
This lawsuit is necessary because the Salem Police Department is resisting disclosure of this important information concerning one of its officers who engaged in sustained—and potentially criminal—misconduct.
Separately, on February 5, 2021, the ACLU-NH and Union Leader Corporation filed a brief in the criminal case State v. Verrocchi seeking the unsealing of the arrest warrant and supporting affidavit describing the criminal allegations against Mr. Verrocchi. On April 9, 2021, the court allowed paragraphs 12 to 15 of this incident to remain sealed. On April 14, 2021, we filed a motion for reconsideration.