A retired NH state trooper was awarded $1.5 million, in May 2012, in Conrad vs. New Hampshire, for being wrongfully confined by his supervisors, driven to what his lawyer called a “nervous breakdown,” and committed to the state psychiatric hospital for a month. Medical witnesses testified that he still suffers post-traumatic issues.
It was a simple question of whose version of events the jury believed, Trooper James Conrad or his supervisors. The judge instructed the jury that the standard of proof in a civil trial is 51 percent more likely, not “beyond a reasonable doubt,” like a criminal case.
After 11 days of testimony, and three days of deliberation, the jury decided the trooper’s version was more likely. They awarded him twice what an economist said he could have earned in law enforcement if this incident had not made him unmarketable.
In 2007, Conrad’s estranged wife told his captain that he had been in her home in violation of a court protective order.
The head of internal affairs started an administrative review, an investigation that can lead to department sanctions, not criminal charges. Conrad asked for his union’s lawyer to be present during questioning, which was his right. The lawyer was not available till the next day
When they insisted on questioning him that day, Conrad resigned. His captain rejected the resignation and told him he was irrational, and to think about it. They dd not allow the trooper to leave, and began questioning him without a union representative, the jury was told.
Lawyers for the state said they had good reason to hold him because, when confronted about being in his wife’s home, he said “she can’t prove it.” They also said he was “highly agitated.” A few years before, his wife had told his superiors that he’d been talking about suicide, and shut himself in their bedroom with his service revolver.
“[Conrad] knew he’d blown it,” the assistant attorney general told the jury in her opening argument. “To experienced investigators, which he and his supervisors all were, the phrase ‘she can’t prove it’ is a tacit admission. Because he knew he’d blown it, he became more agitated, and made threats.”
That was the crux of the state’s defense, their lawyer told the jury.
So Trooper Conrad landed in the state psychiatric hospital. They also charged him with criminal threatening, and fired him. He was cleared of the criminal charge, and the state personnel department changed his “terminated” status to a voluntary retirement well before the civil damages trial.
Conrad’s lawyer said civil damages for Conrad’s ordeal would be the final step in clearing his name. The jury agreed. News reports quoted jurors who said they believed Conrad, and state’s case was weak.
Getting Well, Staying Well, Making Systems Well: A long-time journalist and advocate of recovery-oriented services, Ken Braiterman writes about overcoming adversity, and adverse systems of care.