Records Show Keene Police’s Famed Ex-Detective Caught in Lies


See the EES Laurie List of December 29, 2021 here: https://indepthenh.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/12/partialEES.pdf

See latest list and July 5th compliance report by Attorney General John Formella: https://indepthenh.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/09/ees-list-3.pdf

By DAMIEN FISHER, InDepthNH.org

James McLaughlin retired from the Keene Police Department as a respected detective known for his dogged pursuit of some of society’s worst criminals: child molesters.

But questions about McLaughlin’s records as a police officer surfaced when the state released its first partially redacted public copy of the Laurie List, or Exculpatory Evidence Schedule, in late December, as required by a new law.

The list of cops with credibility issues was partially released after decades of secrecy and several years of litigation led by the New Hampshire Center for Public Interest Journalism, and a new law that gave police the ability to file a lawsuit in Superior Court and argue that they have removed their name from the list.

The first list released by the prosecution contained McLaughlin’s name. Then suddenly no more.

McLaughlin was listed on the original, partially redacted EES, released December 29, 2021. The reason given for McLaughlin being on the list of law enforcement officers with credibility issues was a 1985 incident in which he reportedly falsified records. However, hours after the release of that first EES, the New Hampshire Attorney’s Office attempted to reverse the release of the information.

The Attorney General’s office had inadvertently released the list, which included McLaughlin and the names of several other officers fighting their placement in the EES in court.

“The list has since been amended because we were subsequently informed of lawsuits that we were not previously aware of,” Assistant Attorney General Jeffery Strelzin said at the time of the snafu.

The court filed all lawsuits under John Doe or Jane Doe, and their names will not be released until a judge rules they should be. The judge could also order that the name should be removed from the list and not released in a previously confidential trial and the sealed cases.

McLaughlin continues to work in law enforcement after retiring from the Keene Police Department. He is currently a part-time investigator for Cheshire County Attorney’s Office in Keene.

After his name was blacked out from the public EES list, InDepthNH.org filed a request for information with the City of Keene and the Keene Police Department, which was ignored for months until the InDepthNH.org reporter received legal representation from attorney Tony Soltani . The city released documents last week responding to the right-to-know request.

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InDepthNH.org solicited all reports of internal affairs related to McLaughlin, and the city provided reports of two incidents: one in which McLaughlin was suspended for lying about firing his gun and another in which he “accidentally” destroyed an audio recording that could have cast him in a bad light.

Records obtained by InDepthNH.org indicate that there are other internal reports about McLaughlin that the city has not yet released. The city has also not provided a reason for the absence of the other reports.

According to records released by the city, McLaughlin was suspended for firing his gun during the first reported incident. McLaughlin and another officer went to an area off Drummer Road in November 1986 to break up a teenage drinking party.

After the teens fled the approaching officers, McLaughlin and his partner Edwin Bourassa put out the fire. McLaughlin then decided to destroy the beer, pulled out his service revolver and fired two shots at the beer kegs, according to the disciplinary letter from then Keene Police Chief Harold Becotte.

“Officer Bourassa was not involved in this decision and was actually quite shocked by Officer McLaughlin’s actions,” the letter said. “Officer McLaughlin felt that the barrels were far too heavy and unwieldy to carry the long distance out of the woods and that no one would be in danger if they poked holes in them.”

However, none of the bullets penetrated the beer kegs, and officers instead rolled them into some nearby bushes, according to the letter. Unfortunately for McLaughlin, Sgt. Edward Gross responded to the party’s report and heard the gunshots. Two drunk teenagers that Gross encountered told him that one of the officers at the campground fired his gun. According to the letter, when Gross questioned McLaughlin and Bourassa, McLaughlin lied about firing his gun.

“Officer McLaughlin informed (Gross) that firecrackers had just been thrown into the campfire,” the letter said.

Meanwhile, another officer, Lt. Thomas Cunningham, responded to the scene, and McLaughlin went on to tell the false story about the fireworks.

When the story broke, McLaughlin was disciplined for showing poor judgment when firing his gun, the letter said. Becotte recommended McLaughlin a four-day suspension without pay.

In the spring of 1988, McLaughlin received a letter of reprimand from then-Chief Thomas Powers after McLaughlin was involved in a heated verbal confrontation with a civilian over the phone in December 1987 and later at the station. According to Powers, during this incident, the audio recording of the phone conversation was destroyed under suspicious circumstances.

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“In subsequent interviews regarding the incident, no reasonable cause for the blank tape was found, and electronic examination of the tape revealed unintelligible voices,” Powers wrote. “You have given statements that you ‘spoke’ to the complainant and rewound the tape to learn his name, but did not intentionally delete any part of it. They could not explain the incorrect placement of the belt nor why the log did not indicate cleaning or changing the belt at 12:00 a.m.

Powers points out that McLaughlin had a record for misconduct as a police officer as early as 1988.

“I have reviewed your personnel files and several internal affairs investigations. While your career has garnered a string of plaudits, a disproportionate number of serious allegations and violations have significantly impacted your record, including a one-week suspension,” Powers wrote.

Powers called McLaughlin’s explanation for the tape deletion “unacceptable,” although he did not issue a suspension on the matter. Powers encouraged McLaughlin to use the reprimand as motivation to change his mind.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, McLaughlin became a celebrated investigator and gained notoriety for his then-innovative use of the internet to catch child molesters. He would also tour the country teaching his methods to other police officers. McLaughlin pressed charges against the suspects by posing as teenagers on online forums and engaging in sexually charged conversations with adult men. At his peak, McLaughlin made 400 arrests alone, according to a 2003 Boston Globe profile.

McLaughlin was also the lead investigator in the case of former Catholic priest Gordon MacRae. MacRae was found guilty of five counts of sexually assaulting a teenager in 1994. He has claimed McLaughlin offered to pay one of his accusers cash during the investigation. MacRae has maintained his innocence despite having failed in all his appeals in the case so far.

There were warning signs during the celebrated part of McLaughlin’s career. During a 1997 investigation into Vermont resident Lee Allaben, McLaughlin sent child molestation images to the suspect, whom he would later apprehend, in an attempt to get Allaben to delve into McLaughlin’s online personality. The case would end up in the United States Federal District Court in Concord. When McLaughlin’s actions became known during the trial, US District Court Judge Steven McAuliffe reprimanded the officer in court.

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In 1998, a federal appeals court threw out the conviction of a Massachusetts man, Paul George Gamache, who originally traveled to Keene to have sex with what he believed to be an adult woman, but turned out to be McLaughlin. During online conversations with McLaughlin, Gamache was offered and agreed to have sex with a minor. The First Circuit Appeals Court in Boston ruled that McLaughlin had ensnared Gamache.

“It was the government that first mentioned children as sex objects… It was the government that escalated the issue of sex with children,” the appeals court ruled.

In 2016, Adelbert Warner II and three other men, all prosecuted and jailed after being investigated by McLaughlin, filed a lawsuit alleging that McLaughlin altered the text conversations used to prosecute them. That lawsuit was ultimately dismissed in part on technical grounds because it was filed after the relevant statute of limitations had expired.

McLaughlin did not respond to a request for comment, nor did Cheshire County Administrator Christopher Coates.

According to Attorney General John Formella’s most recent compliance report, of the 265 names on the EES’ Laurie List, 254 officers have been notified of their right to file a lawsuit to have their name removed under new RSA 105:13d law; 183 names have been released to the public; 70 officers have filed sealed lawsuits to have their names removed.

The numbers do not include another 30 names that were removed through a confidential process at the Attorney General’s Office.

The names are compiled to alert prosecutors when an officer serving a continuing disciplinary sentence for dishonesty or excessive force in his or her confidential personnel file must be disclosed to a criminal suspect, as required by the constitution if it contains evidence favorable to the suspect . Even years later, if it is found that the favorable evidence known as exculpatory evidence was not presented before the trial, the defendant can request a new trial.

Disclaimer: The NH Center for Public Interest Journalism publishes InDepthNH.org online. Attorney Andru Volinsky is representing the center in his lawsuit against the attorney general, who is seeking the names of all police officers on the Laurie list.



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