According to the New Hampshire Attorney General's Office, the criminal justice division prosecutes, among other things, “cases of crimes committed by state, county, and local government officials, including law enforcement officers. The cases involve a variety of criminal conduct, including misuse of one's official position...”
Yet, when Alton resident Hunter Taylor asked the AG's office to look into whether Belknap County Sheriff Mike Moyer misused his position to drive out former Chief Deputy David Perkins – who was the subject of three internal investigations after he told the sheriff he intended to run for sheriff this fall – Taylor was told that the public integrity unit of the AG's office doesn't investigate wrongdoing at the county level.
Taylor was advised to take it up with the Belknap County attorney's office. The AG's letter even anticipated – probably correctly – that the county attorney might have a conflict and the case would need to be referred to another jurisdiction.
It's important that voters of Belknap County get answers before they elect their next sheriff. With county officials refusing to make the results of three investigations public, we expected the AG's public integrity unit to show some integrity and do its job. Instead, all they offer is a lame excuse, which smacks of cheap politics in an office that ought to be above that sort of thing.
It's hard to know whether Perkins was treated fairly, since none of the internal investigations have been disclosed to the public. Moyer insists he has done nothing wrong, but there are enough unanswered questions to warrant an examination by an independent third party.
Among them: Was Perkins justified in raising questions about the Sheriff's Drug Task Force, which seems to have tipped over the first domino? It was his questioning, after all, that led to the first internal investigation and Perkins' first suspension last December.
Was Perkins targeted, as his lawyer claimed in a letter to the county, to give Deputy Sgt. Bill Wright an edge in the race to succeed Moyer as sheriff?
Was Moyer justified in placing Perkins on paid administrative leave for six months while he investigated his deputy?
Did Moyer suspend Perkins because of text messages Perkins sent to his wife that were unflattering to the sheriff, or was there misconduct serious enough to warrant suspension and possible termination?
Was the third investigation of Perkins truly independent, or was it merely an attempt by the county to build a defense that could be used in the event Perkins sued the county, as he has threatened to do? The fact that it was paid for by the sheriff's office makes that a reasonable question.
Perkins ultimately resigned and opted not to run for sheriff, but residents of Belknap County are still entitled to answers, and we would have thought the attorney general's office independent enough to take on the challenge.
The agency's unwillingness to look into the matter leaves a cloud hanging over the sheriff's department and does a disservice to the people of Belknap County, but it undermines the integrity of the AG's office, too.