After husband's suicide, Veeder family case continues against State Police
NEW SCOTLAND — Following the 2008 suicide of forensic scientist Garry Veeder, his family brought a case against the State Police, alleging police violated the family’s constitutional rights during the investigation.
Following requests by both the family and the State Police to reconsider her original ruling in 2013, last Wednesday, March 26, Northern District Judge Mae D’Agostino, in the federal system, upheld her decision that the case should be decided by a jury, denying both sides’ petitions for summary judgment.
Summary judgment allows the court to make a decision based only on case materials presented; no jury is called for the decision.
The Veeder case centers on the police seizure of sealed envelopes containing suicide notes, as well as other items in the Veeders’ home while the state police were allegedly investigating the suicide.
Mr. Veeder had hanged himself in a garage not attached to his family’s Scotchpine Drive home. The Albany County Sheriff’s Office was at the scene first, summoned by a 9-1-1 call, according to court papers. After members of the Sheriff’s Office left the scene, State Police officers entered the home through the back door and were not wearing their uniforms, court papers said.
The State Police were in the midst of an inquiry into whether or not Mr. Veeder had falsified records and improperly performed evidence tests.
According to the Veeder family’s lawyer, Keith Schockmel, the contents of the letters were paraphrased in news reports after being photocopied and distributed by police, before the family got to read them. Also, the case states the letters were taken despite protests from Donna Veeder, Mr. Veeder’s widow.
Donna Veeder could not be reached for comment before press time.
According to the original case filed in 2012, the State Police used the “plain view” rule to seize the envelopes, saying the letters were a piece of evidence in their investigation. The rule requires that a police officer must be lawfully in the place where the evidence is found, and also that the officer must have probable cause to believe the item is evidence of a crime.
Schockmel noted the letters were sealed, saying there was “no way they could be considered criminal.” Additionally, it was unclear whether the officers were lawfully in the Veeders’ home, as the suicide had taken place in the garage — a structure completely separate from the house.
These assertions will be scrutinized by a jury to decide whether the Veeder family was stripped of its Fourth Amendment rights, which provide citizens with protection against “unreasonable searches and seizures.”
However, before that case continues, the State Police appealed, claiming “qualified immunity,” meaning the officers were unaware that they were breaking the law by seizing personal property without a warrant, because that law is not “clearly established.”
In the original 2012 decision, the court denied the defendants the protection of qualified immunity.
The state attorney general’s office said it had no comment on the proceedings of the case.
Commenting on the state’s hold-up of the unconstitutionality case brought by the Veeders, Schockmel said, “This is the state’s modus operandi… They’re trying to drag this out.” He also described the “qualified immunity” appeal as “absolutely groundless.”
Cases regarding constitutional rights can be automatically be brought to federal court, which Schockmel chose to do because federal courts have “more standardized rules,” and a faster turnaround, he said.