Closure – and court costs: Goffstown woman prevails after taking police to court over husband’s suicide letters

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Screenshot 2024 04 01 at 3.04.30 PM
Goffstown Police HQ. File Photo

MANCHESTER, NH – A Goffstown woman, whose husband committed suicide last September, has won her lawsuit against Goffstown police who refused to give her husband’s suicide letters to her.  

“They said they were protecting his privacy,” Leslie Neff said.

Manchester Ink Link reached out to Goffstown Police Chief Eric Sereno and to Attorney Matthew Serge, who represented the police department in Hillsborough County Superior Court North, but got no response.

In court documents, Serge said the town acted correctly in “treating the subject documents as government records and denying access to those records pursuant to RSA 91-A:5.

Theodore “Ted” Neff, 55, died on Sept. 13, 2023. According to his obituary, he was born in New Orleans.  An endodontist, he earned his degree in dental science in 1998 and graduated from Louisiana State University’s three-year endodontic program. 

Once he was an endodontist, he and his wife Leslie moved to New Hampshire and opened Advanced Endodontics together.  They were married for 32 years and worked side-by-side for 20 years.

Neff said after an autopsy confirmed her husband’s death was a suicide, she requested a copy of the police report.    Neff only learned her husband had left suicide letters after she received the police report. 

She asked police for those letters and was denied.  Capt. Daniel Conley, the department’s police prosecutor, in a letter dated Jan. 18, 2024, cited RSA 91-A:5 as the reason for the denial.

Neff subsequently met with Police Chief Eric Sereno and asked him to reconsider the denial by Conley.

He refused, she said, and kept repeating that the department “was protecting my late husband’s privacy.”

Her family, she said, wanted her to just let go of the matter. Neff said she really did not want to read her husband’s final words.  But, she said, “It’s the principle.” 

And so, on Feb. 15, 2024, she filed a complaint in Superior Court requesting a judge order the police department to return the suicide letters to her.

 “It’s kind of ridiculous,” she said in a telephone interview with Manchester Ink Link about having to go to court.

The hearing was scheduled for March 19, 2024, in front of Judge N. William Delker.  Neff said as she sat in the back of the courtroom waiting for her case to be called, she was approached by Conley and Attorney Serge. 

They asked her to meet with them in an anteroom of the courtroom to talk about the case.  

They told her “they were really sorry,” about what happened and that the department would return the letters to her.

“Then I don’t get to say my peace?” she told them. “They did have the decency to look chagrined and a little ashamed of themselves, which made me feel a little better.”

When she was before the judge, she asked him to order the police department to cover her court costs:  $280 for the filing fee and another $38 “for the sheriff to walk across the street and serve them.”  The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office is directly across the street from the Goffstown Police Department.

She said the judge turned to Serge and asked him if that sounded reasonable to him and the attorney agreed.  

Later that day, Delker issued an order in which he wrote that the town agreed to provide Neff with the record.  

“The plaintiff requested to be reimbursed costs as the prevailing party.  The town did not object. Accordingly, the plaintiff is awarded costs and this matter is closed,” Delker wrote.

Neff asked for court costs, she said, because the police department forced her to go to court when they just should have returned her property. 

“I didn’t even get to stand up and say my peace,” she said.   

While the process was difficult, Neff said it did provide her closure.


 

About this Author

Pat Grossmith

Pat Grossmith is a freelance reporter.