Filed on October 5, 2022, this case concerns the Manchester Police Department’s investigation into Officer Christian Horn’s sustained misconduct where he, while on duty in February 2021, texted other officers a meme that made a “joke” out of the May 2020 murder of George Floyd and included the phrase “Black Love.” It appears from the redacted documents produced by the Department that Mr. Horn admitted to “conduct unbecoming of an officer,” and he was suspended for 10 days (7 of which were held in abeyance for one year) and ordered to undergo sensitivity training.
In this case, BLM-Manchester and the ACLU-NH are seeking unredacted information in these responsive records concerning the two supervisors who saw the racist meme and did not report it.
As explained in this lawsuit, redacted information in these records should be released concerning the two supervisors who saw the meme, as there is a compelling public interest in disclosing this information. As the Department's March 2021 report notes, one of the Manchester officers who received the text—and who was offended by its dissemination—expressed concern that, if he simply reported this issue up the chain of command, then it would not be taken seriously. As the Department’s report states, the person who complained about the racist text “went outside his chain-of-command to report the incident, because he felt the lack of response from [a supervisor] implied that he would get no support from his own chain-of-command.” In other words, as the report notes, the complaining officer “was not only offended by the meme itself, but by the apparent lack of outrage and condemnation by the other recipients in the text thread.” The report also opines on the supervisors’ failure to respond, stating in part: “[T]he remaining two supervisors … did see the meme, but as mentioned above, they simply viewed it as a bad joke. Given what has already been stated above, some would say that, because this meme was sent to someone whom Det. Horn should have known would take offense … AND supervisors were aware, those supervisors should be held accountable for neglecting their duties to address the inappropriateness of the meme.” The report then exonerates the two supervisors, in part, because they “simply viewed it as a bad joke.”
As this lawsuit explains, police officers have no privacy interest in records implicating the performance of their official duties—in this case, the apparent failure, whether justified or not, to report racist behavior.
On January 26, 2023, the Court ordered the disclosure of these two supervisors' names. The Court held:
"Balancing the public’s interest against the individual plaintiffs’ privacy interest, the facts of this case strongly favor disclosure of the supervisors’ names. At issue is an assessment of how the public perceives the Manchester Police Department as well as the public’s opinion of how the police themselves view this incident. The plaintiffs are public servants and have voluntarily submitted to greater public scrutiny; the supervisors even more so. The public has a strong interest in knowing the types of individuals that are in leadership roles within the police force. Whether the supervisors’ inaction in response to Detective Horn’s text constitutes acceptance or tacit support of racist or 'grossly inappropriate and racially insensitive' behavior, or is emblematic of systemic racism within the Manchester Police Department, is a matter fit for public discourse .... The plaintiffs are not entitled to unilaterally prevent the public from being able to reach its own conclusion on the matter."