'Significant problems' meant no charges in 2017
BRATTLEBORO — Ever since two people were discovered murdered in a Hinsdale, N.H., home just over a week ago, questions have been circulating about why the suspected murderer was not already in jail for a previous drug-related arrest.
On Oct. 5, 2017, Derrick Shippee, then 26, was found in possession of suspected crack cocaine during a motor vehicle stop on Green Street.
In the vehicle Shippee was riding, officers found 50 bags of heroin and more than seven grams of crack cocaine, according to an affidavit filed with Windham Superior Court, Criminal Division. During a search, officers removed a small plastic bag from Shippee's pocket. The officer noted that it appeared to be crack cocaine, but Shippee snatched the bag from the officer "and bit the white rock out of the bag and swallowed it." Shippee later admitted it was crack cocaine.
Shippee was taken into custody for violation of his conditions of release and faced a number of charges, including possession of the heroin found in the vehicle.
Following the traffic stop, police requested and received a search warrant for a Moore Court residence where they found three safes, which contained 111 grams of crack cocaine, 76 grams of powder cocaine, 17.5 ounces of heroin, 165 steroid pills, a loaded 9mm handgun, several boxes of ammunition and $3,353 in cash.
While the Brattleboro Police Department forwarded its investigation to the Windham County State's Attorney's Office for prosecution, State's Attorney Tracy Shriver declined to take Shippee to court for arraignment. He was released and for nearly 18 months, he remained off the radar of law enforcement.
But on Thursday, April 11, officers from the Hinsdale, N.H., Police Department conducted a welfare check at 240 Plain Road, the residence of Neal Bolster, 29, where they found Bolster and 19-year-old Aaliyah Jacobs, of Brattleboro, dead from gunshot wounds.
On Friday, April 12, the New Hampshire Attorney General's Office issued an arrest warrant for Shippee, citing him with two counts of second-degree murder in the deaths of Bolster and Jacobs. Later that same day, Shippee was found dead by investigators on property owned by his family in Vernon.
The cause of his death has not yet been disclosed by the Office of The Chief Medical Examiner for Vermont.
"The Shippee case from October 2017 was submitted to my office," said Shriver. "Unfortunately, I knew instantly that there were significant problems with it."
Shriver and attorneys in her office reviewed the investigation for four months.
"Ultimately, I decided that the errors in the case meant that it should not be filed in court," she said. "In my oath of office, I swear to uphold the constitution. The constitutional violations in that investigation were significant enough that I could not file the case."
"State's Attorney Shriver informed the police department of concerns she had about how the case had been investigated," said Capt. Mark Carignan, with the Brattleboro Police Department. "I reviewed the case and discovered several deficiencies in the way the case had been investigated. I did not find anything that we could consider misconduct, but mistakes were made. It was not consistent with the standards we use to do investigations."
Shippee was riding in his girlfriend's vehicle at 5:45 p.m. when Officer Sean Wilson conducted the stop, which was predicated on the fact that the front windshield was tinted. In the affidavit filed with the court, Wilson noted the tinted windshield was a violation of 23 V.S.A. 1125, which states "a person shall not operate a motor vehicle on which material or items have been painted or adhered on or over, or hung in back of, any transparent part of a motor vehicle windshield, vent windows, or side windows ..."
Wilson also wrote that he stopped the vehicle "to investigate a possible wrongdoing because the vehicle did not meet the requirements of the Vermont Periodic Inspection Manual." However, Wilson's affidavit does not state exactly what that "wrongdoing" related to inspection was.
"The legality of the car stop was another matter that we looked into," said Carignan. "There were some procedural issues with reasonable suspicion. Officers do not need probable cause to conduct a motor vehicle stop, they only need reasonable suspicion. However, there were issues with that as well in this case."
While the reason Wilson presented to the driver of the vehicle was the window tint, what followed after is what tainted the case for prosecution.
Wilson wrote that he recognized the names of the driver and Shippee "from a recent report made by residents of Moore Court. The residents stated that they believed the two to be involved in drug activity ..."
"The specific concerns related to investigative techniques that had been used to obtain consent searches," said Carignan.
Carignan noted that while obtaining consent can be considered an exception to the Fourth Amendment warrant requirements that protect against unlawful search and seizure, there are "fairly strict rules" about how officers can go about obtaining consent.
"It has to be voluntarily and freely given, it can't be coercive and no promises can be made," he said. "The conversations and interviews of the subjects and how the consent was obtained were where our concerns were. I don't want to get into the details about what wasn't consistent, but it didn't meet the standards that we hold our officers to."
Carignan noted that the standards the department adheres to are not arbitrary or determined internally, but instead are a result of interpretations rendered by the U.S. Supreme Court and the Vermont Supreme Court.
'We make mistakes'
"The Brattleboro Police Department is made up of human beings who are intelligent, brave, educated and hard-working, but they are human beings," he said. "We make mistakes. It happens. When we make mistakes, we identify them and hold ourselves accountable for making those mistakes and do our best not to repeat them."
Carignan said Wilson and the two supervising officers who reviewed Wilson's work were "counseled and retrained" on the specific deficiencies of the investigation. Other minor procedural issues that were reviewed included internal paperwork flow, the number of officers needed for certain types of incidents and officer safety, said Carignan.
Shriver noted that rejecting any case presented to her office for prosecution, especially one as serious as the Shippee case, is not something her office does lightly.
"Law enforcement officers in our county work hard every single day, and they do their best to keep us safe as they put themselves into dangerous situations which require quick thinking," she said. "It is frustrating for prosecutors to receive a case fraught with constitutional violations of such a magnitude that mean the criminal charge should not be filed. However, only a very, very small fraction of the cases put together by our fine Windham County law enforcement officers are cases that get rejected for that reason."
Carignan said failing to send a rock-solid case to the State's Attorney's Office was frustrating "Because we caught a guy with a tremendous amount of heroin, a ton of crack, a loaded handgun and a bunch of cash. But our No. 1 job is to protect the Constitutional rights of defendants. Holding people accountable, arresting them and sending them to prison is secondary. We can't be taking shortcuts around the Fourth Amendment. There is no daylight between the State's Attorney's Office and us on that position. We agree with her 100 percent in this case."
Shriver said her office is actively involved in working with law enforcement personnel to try to help them understand search and seizure requirements, using direct training and feedback on cases presented to her office.
"Our relationship with the State's Attorney's Office is fantastic," said Carignan. "We place a very high value on their opinion and we appreciate their input in all of our investigations, not just this one."
Wilson, who left the Brattleboro Police Department in November 2018, said he had been investigating allegations of possible narcotics trafficking at the Moore Court residence when he observed a vehicle leaving that area. Through his attorney, Craig S. Nolan, of Sheehey Furlong & Behm out of Burlington, Wilson told the Reformer he stopped the vehicle because its window tinting violated the Vermont Periodic Vehicle Inspection Manual.
"I made contact with the operator, Crystal Willard, and her passenger who identified himself as Derrick Shippee," wrote Wilson, in an email forwarded by Nolan. "I immediately recognized the names of both Willard and Shippee from tips that BPD had received as suspected of being engaged in narcotics trafficking."
Wilson said he submitted the case to Shriver. Upon receipt of the case, Shriver informed him and BPD Chief Michael "Gunny" Fitzgerald that she was not going to prosecute based on an earlier ruling by former Windham Superior Court Judge David Suntag.
"In that case, the court suppressed evidence based on a view that a tinted windows violation cannot be the basis for a traffic stop," wrote Wilson. "I learned also that State's Attorney Shriver had concerns about comments made by another officer to Willard related to the consent search of the vehicle. I was informed that the cash seized was to be immediately returned and that the narcotics would be destroyed."
Wilson also maintained that the traffic stop "was reviewed by law enforcement and determined to be constitutional."
Shippee had three prior convictions from 2012 for violation of an abuse prevention order, domestic assault and lewd and lascivious behavior. He also had a prior conviction from 2014 for misdemeanor heroin possession.
On Nov. 18, 2009, Shippee, then 19, allegedly accidentally shot a friend in the leg during a car ride on Route 101 in Milford. Shippee, who was in the front passenger seat at the time, reached into the glove box and removed a handgun, turned toward the backseat and shot his friend in the right thigh, according to police reports. His friend was treated at a nearby hospital and recovered from the wound.
Shippee was initially cited with two counts of felony reckless conduct and could have been sentenced to seven years in prison. A phone message left with the Hillsborough, N.H., County Attorney's Office requesting information on the resolution of those charges was not returned.
Bob Audette can be contacted at 802-254-2311, ext. 151, or email@example.com.
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