NHCLU takes case

by Michael Ross | 11/4/94 6:00am

The New Hampshire branch of the American Civil Liberties Union decided yesterday to challenge the Hanover Police Department's "internal possession" policy.

"A decision was made that the ACLU should become involved on behalf of the people who have been harmed by the policy. A co-operating attorney has accepted the case and he will conduct a review of the facts [over the next few days]" NHCLU Executive Director Claire Ebel said yesterday.

The attorney will make all decisions regarding the lawsuit, including when a lawsuit would be filed and what type of case it will be, Ebel said.

Ebel characterized yesterday's meeting of the NHCLU's legal panel as a "healthy debate" but said "by the time the discussion wound down it was a unanimous decision."

"We felt we had to make it clear that society will not accept police officers making up their own laws for whatever good reason, and this is what has happened in Hanover" Ebel said.

Hanover Police Chief Nick Giaccone, when informed by The Dartmouth of the NHCLU's decision, said "If we're going to have a court case I don't want to make any comment."

The NHCLU has not yet decided what particular course of legal action to pursue. Ebel said one popular option discussed at yesterday's meeting was a class action lawsuit in which the cooperating attorney would sue on behalf of a small number of named plaintiffs, as well as for any others affected by the policy.

As an alternative, she said the NHCLU could just file a lawsuit on behalf of the plaintiffs willing to be named in the case.

Ebel said the NHCLU could also try to obtain an injunction to prevent the police from implementing the internal possession policy during the duration of the case.

Ebel declined to divulge the name of the attorney who volunteered his services for the case, saying only that he is a member of the NHCLU legal panel. She stressed that all legal aspects of the case are in his hands.

"He asked for a few days to review the complaints, to determine what the facts are as we have been informed [of them] and to consider appropriate legal strategy for the problem. Once he decides on the appropriate legal strategy, he will let me know and then we will move," she said.

At yesterday's meeting Ebel said she presented the NHCLU legal panel with 8 to 10 letters from individuals under the age of 21 who claimed they were charged with "unlawful possession" of alcohol based on having alcohol in their systems.

She said the other letters the NHCLU received, which were from individuals who had not been arrested, were also turned over to the attorney.

Ebel said she plans to release more information, including the attorney's name, within the next few days.

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