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Department of Corrections hid evidence in use-of-force investigation, documents show

By DAMIEN FISHER, InDepthNH.org

There is no problem with the swift justice meted out by Department of Corrections Commissioner Helen Hanks, Deputy Commissioner Paul Raymond and Northern New Hampshire Correctional Facility Warden Corey Riendeau against Lt. Thomas Macholl for his alleged use of excessive force against a prisoner.

According to documents obtained by InDepthNH.org, there are several.

Most notably, Raymond allegedly instructed a witness to remain silent about evidence Macholl released, and records show the witness was not allowed to speak to investigators for at least a month.

Now the Department of Corrections is ignoring an order from the Personnel Appeals Board to reinstate Macholl and is instead appealing the decision. Macholl told InDepthNH.org that he is ready to fight the government that tried to end his career and put him in prison.

“I’ve never stood for bullies or anything like that,” Macholl said.

Macholl, a former Connecticut State Trooper and Corrections Officer of the Year in 2016, is also a leader in the corrections officers union.

DOC officials declined to directly answer questions about Macholl’s termination, but forwarded the department’s appeal to the New Hampshire Personnel Appeals Board, which denies the PAB’s findings, as well as the findings of investigators with the Office of the attorney general of New Hampshire.

On April 27 last year, Macholl used a pressure technique known as a mandibular pressure point on a prisoner who was behaving violently and disruptively in a transport van. Macholl managed to get the prisoner to comply and was safely removed from the van to a secure cell. Macholl wrote his report on the use of the printing technique six hours later.

He was fired on May 8, 2023, and the termination was quickly reported to the New Hampshire Police Standards and Training Council. Furthermore, DOC Commissioner Helen Hanks sent a letter to New Hampshire Attorney General John Formella asking the Public Integrity Unit to open a criminal investigation.

That all happened before the DOC completed its investigation into the use of force against Macholl on May 22, 2023.

“This isn’t just a labor issue, they were trying to get me prosecuted,” Macholl said. “It’s absurd what they did to me. I have no other discipline under my belt.”

According to Macholl, the department began its plan to get rid of him within hours of his report being completed. Riendeau told Macholl on April 28, 2023, before the DOC use-of-force investigation even began, that he intended to fire him for using an illegal chokehold on the inmate, Macholl said.

Riendeau did not witness the incident, but instead relied on security footage from the day before. Macholl explained to Riendeau that while a pressure point in the lower jaw may look like a chokehold to a civilian, no pressure is being placed on the neck or windpipe and the person is not in danger.

Pressure points are considered the lowest level of violence by law enforcement and are used to inflict pain on nerve centers without lasting damage or injury. Macholl said the only way pressure points are effective for officers is to relieve the pain once the subject complies, which means the pain kicks in for seconds.

“I’ve been doing this for 30 years,” Macholl said.

Riendeau waited until May 8, 2023 to fire Macholl, citing the excessive use of force. However, according to the New Hampshire Attorney General Public Integrity Unit report, on May 4, 2023, witnesses, including other inmates, told the DOC’s internal investigator that Macholl had not used a chokehold or any other excessive force on the inmate.

In fact, according to the reports of Public Integrity Unit investigators, on April 28, 2023, Raymond knew that what Macholl did was not a chokehold. It is not standard procedure for the deputy commissioner to become involved in a use of force investigation, Macholl said. Still, on April 28, 2023, Raymond called Captain Scott Towers into his office to look at the surveillance video. The DOC later tried to hide the fact that this meeting between Tower and Raymond ever took place.

From the Public Integrity Unit report: “PIU investigators find it troubling that within a day of the incident, Deputy DOC Commissioner Raymond specifically asked Captain Towers to review the video footage and provide a professional/expert opinion. Captain Towers, through his training and experience, is perhaps one of the most qualified NHDOC members to express such an opinion in a violent incident. Captain Towers believed that the video did not support the use of a chokehold, but when he asked Deputy Commissioner Raymond if he wanted this documented, he was told no. As a result, there is no record of this information anywhere in the file, which is undoubtedly exculpatory in nature. Captain Towers also believed that the use of force review should be completed by someone independent of the DOC, such as the Conduct Review Committee. “

During the PIU investigation, Towers was reportedly not allowed to speak to investigators.

“Captain Towers was required to approve such requests through the commissioner’s office, specifically Michael Todd, director of professional standards. During his interview with PIU investigators, Captain Towers expressed frustration that clearance for him to speak with PIU investigators took so long (nearly a month) and that he had to contact DOC command staff a number of times because he was unable to did. “I want to give the Public Prosecution Service the impression that he himself was waiting and/or not cooperating for some reason,” the report said.

Both the PIU investigators and later PAB members found this meeting between Towers and Raymond devastating. According to the report, during the April 28, 2023 meeting, Raymond did not show Towers the entire video of the incident. When the video was shown from two more angles, Towers told PIU investigators that his opinion of the force was stronger.

“Captain. Towers stated that after his review of the video footage with DOJ investigators, his opinion not only remained the same as when asked by AC Raymond, but was even more supported by the additional video footage he reviewed during this interview. His opinion was that Lt. Macholl did not apply a chokehold on this subject, but rather employed a pressure point technique (mandibular angle) that requires some degree of upper body/head stabilization,” the report said.

The PIU investigation ended in November and concluded that no criminal charges would be appropriate against Macholl. This spring, the PAB found the DOC’s attempt to silence Towers troubling, and that there is no evidence that Macholl used excessive force.

But Macholl’s dismissal is based on the alleged illegal violence, as well as his failure to properly place the inmate in the suicide prevention program. Macholl told InDepthNH.org that the inmate was not actually suicidal, but used the program to avoid being sent to another prison.

The inmate was due to be transferred to the prison in Concord after being accused of assault in the Berlin prison. The inmate had been causing problems for the staff and finding ways to stay in Berlin in the days before the April 27, 2023 incident. Macholl told InDepthNH.org that he had a good relationship with the inmate and spoke with him the night before about the upcoming transportation. Macholl said the prisoner should go to Concord, but the prisoner indicated he was going to game the system to stay in Berlin.

“I told him to go there, but he said, ‘I’m just going to be suicidal again,’” Macholl said.

Inside the transport van, the inmate began screaming “suicidal” and hitting his head against the wall of the vehicle at 5 a.m. The diver told Macholl that he could not take the prisoner to Concord and Macholl went in to get him out.

“You got your wish, we’re taking you back out,” Macholl told the prisoner.

But the inmate continued to act violently and now refused to get out of the van. At that point, Macholl used the pressure point to force the prisoner out of the vehicle. He then placed the prisoner in a cell and had him checked by staff every 15 minutes through a ‘behavior monitor’.

DOC used this as another reason to fire Macholl. The termination alleges that Macholl violated policy by not placing the inmate on formal suicide watch. Macholl’s answer is that the prisoner was not suicidal, but pretended to avoid leaving Berlin.

Even if the inmate was suicidal, the PAB ruled that Macholl’s inability to use the suicide prevention system is not grounds for a termination. According to the PAB, the DOC should at most have suspended him for the violation.

“The incident in question should have been handled differently, but the Board concluded that for someone with Lt. Macholl’s record and performance, it should have been viewed as a ‘teachable moment’, rather than a basis for immediate termination,” the spokesperson said. PAB ruled.

Rather than putting Macholl back to work with back pay, the DOC appeal seeks a full merits hearing. The appeal disputes large parts of the PIU’s report and even claims that Towers is not an expert on the use of force. The PAB has yet to decide on the appeal.