Former Brattleboro police officer's personnel file sought in court case

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BRATTLEBORO — A trial will be delayed a little longer to give Judge Katherine Hayes time to review confidential employment files on the case's investigating police officer.

Former Brattleboro Police Officer Matthew Petlock arrested Jacob Banis, 43, of Brattleboro, in November 2014. Banis pleaded not guilty to first-degree aggravated domestic assault and two misdemeanor counts of domestic assault.

On Friday, the town of Brattleboro's motion to quash Public Defender Richard Ammons's subpoena seeking personal employment files on Petlock was denied by Hayes in Windham Superior Court Criminal Division.

Generally, Hayes said, the Supreme Court strongly urges judges to at least look at the records themselves.

"They want us to take a look at the records and find out, is there something to this?" Hayes said, with a court room full of students from Brattleboro Union High School. "It puts a significant burden on us. We have to review stacks and stacks of medical and other records."

The students were in court as part of their study of how the judicial system operates.

Ammons said he has taken depositions from Brattleboro Police Capt. Mark Carignan and Petlock.

Petlock "wasn't especially compliant in terms of his deposition," said Ammons. "He seemed to be quite angry and quite hostile. He left without answering many of my questions ... He did indicate to me in that deposition that there was something pending but he wasn't going to tell me what it was. He was very adamant that he was not guilty of what he was accused of and he was furious."

Ammons told Hayes that Petlock's employment files would be helpful in determining Petlock's investigative competence and credibility. If Petlock had a history of untruthfulness, Ammons said, that could have an impact on the Banis case.

Ammons said Carignan was "very professional" but would not share any details on issues with Petlock on the advice of legal counsel.

Hayes pointed to communication between Ammons and State's Attorney Tracy Shriver as a strong argument to conduct a closed-door review of the files. Hayes will receive a copy of Petlock's records that she can view in her office.

"I'll take a look at them and see if there's anything that needs to be disclosed," Hayes said before making a second motion, which would hold off on jury selection for the Banis trial.

Ammons said Shriver reached out to him in September about information that could be relevant to the Banis case and others.

"I received information from his chief and his captain that would lead me to have concerns about his credibility," Ammons said, reading an email from Shriver.

Ammons had sent the Brattleboro Police Department a subpoena asking the town of Brattleboro to produce files on Petlock. Included in the request were files on disciplinary actions and counseling. Petlock was employed by the town from July 21, 2013, to Sept. 20, 2016, according to Town Manager Peter Elwell.

On the motion to quash the subpoena, Town Attorney Bob Fisher said, "The town was taking the view that these are confidential records that cannot be produced and the defense is simply on a fishing expedition for these documents."

Deputy State's Attorney Jesse Tremaine said he was not planning on calling Petlock to the witness stand for Banis' trial.

"He's the case officer," Ammons said. "I'm surprised he would not be called on trial. Maybe there's something I don't know that maybe if I know it, I wouldn't be so surprised."

Regarding the email on Petlock, Tremaine said Shriver erred on the side of ethical obligation to disclosure. Tremaine said he was not prepared to discuss the merits of Petlock's credibility or any related issues.

Petlock is "a potentially material witness but he's not a necessary witness," Tremaine said. "There were other officers present at every stage of investigation and officers there for physical evidence."

"The one thing he [Petlock] did when he was not accompanied or supervised was interview" the victim, added Tremaine.

Reach staff writer Chris Mays at 802-254-2311, ext. 273, or @CMaysBR.

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