May 20, 2018
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NH police gave woman’s cellphone info to estranged husband, lawsuit claims

Deb Cram | Portsmouth Herald
Deb Cram | Portsmouth Herald
A Portsmouth, New Hampshire, Police Department shoulder patch and badge.
By Elizabeth Dinan, Portsmouth Herald

PORTSMOUTH, New Hampshire — The city and two police detectives are asking a federal judge to dismiss three of four counts against them in a federal lawsuit filed by Oneta Bobbett of Rye.

In her civil suit, Bobbett claims she reported a credit card dispute to city police, which led to her own arrest on charges that were dismissed in August 2015, then annulled in March 2016. During the course of her pending criminal case, she alleges, she “was engaged in a contentious divorce” from her husband who had “close personal ties” to Portsmouth police officers, including going to a strip bar with one of them.

During divorce proceedings, Bobbett alleges, private information from her police-seized phone, that was supposed to be off-limits beyond the credit card investigation, was “funneled to” her husband to be used against her during her divorce.

Named as defendants are the city of Portsmouth, former police detective Michael Leclair and current police detective Kristyn Bernier. The counts in Bobbett’s lawsuit allege malicious prosecution, abuse of process, intrusion of seclusion and public disclosure of private facts.

In a motion filed Thursday with the U.S. District Court of New Hampshire, the city and detectives seek dismissal of Bobbett’s allegation that she was subject to malicious prosecution. Filed by lawyers from the city’s liability insurance provider, the motion states, “The law does not, and should not, allow recovery in tort by all persons accused of crimes and not convicted.”

“There is no guarantee in our society that only guilty persons will be accused and arrested,” the motion states.

To succeed on her claim, Bobbett would have to prove she was arrested without probable cause and with malice” the defendants argue.

The city and detectives also ask the court to dismiss Bobbett’s count alleging intrusion on seclusion. To find that occurred, they argue, Bobbett would have to prove an invasion of something secret or private that “has gone beyond the limits of decency.” Bobbett alleges a text from someone she had dated, asking her to move to Atlanta, was made known to her estranged husband during divorce proceedings.

“Such conduct cannot be said to be offensive to persons of ordinary sensibilities,” the city and officers argue, while calling for the claim to be dismissed.

Lastly, the municipal defendants ask that a count alleging public disclosure of private facts be dismissed. They argue that public disclosure requires publicity to the public and the only person Bobbett claims obtained private information was her estranged husband.

“This is insufficient to establish that the information was communicated to the public at large, or even to so many people that it must be regarded as certain to become public knowledge,” the city and detectives argue.

Bobbett is being represented by attorney Benjamin King, who has not yet filed an answer to the motion.

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