Former Police Chief Subject of a “Brady Letter”

Former Hardwick Police Chief Aaron Cochran

by Gazette Staff

HARDWICK – Caledonia State’s Attorney Jessica Zaleski recently issued a Brady-Giglio letter about the conduct of former Hardwick Police Chief Aaron Cochran. A so-called “Brady letter” is issued by prosecutors when they have reason to question an officer’s credibility.

Cochran was on paid administrative leave while under investigation for his handling of an internal investigation into the conduct of Hardwick Police Department’s (HPD) Sgt. Darin Barber. Zaleski issued a Brady letter about Barber in January 2022, stating that “the Caledonia County State’s Attorney’s Office will no longer be accepting cases from Sgt. Barber.” Barber left the Hardwick Police Department soon thereafter.

According to reporting by Vermont Public, Zaleski explained issuing a Brady letter for Cochran because she found that he “had been dishonest during the review of Barber’s actions and … subsequent inquiries.”

Cochran signed a separation agreement with the Town of Hardwick on October 7 and joined the Northfield Police Department as a sergeant less than two weeks later.

A Brady-Giglio letter is based on two court cases and generally highlights a senior prosecutor’s concerns regarding conduct that could call an officer’s credibility into question. According to a November 2015 report by the Prosecuting Attorneys Coordinating Council: “In Brady v. Maryland … the United States Supreme Court held that due process requires the prosecution to disclose evidence favorable to the accused, where such evidence is material to guilt or punishment.” The same report states that Giglio v. United States “extended the scope of Brady … to include evidence that could be used to impeach the credibility of a witness.”

If a police officer has engaged in inappropriate behavior, senior prosecutors may conclude that the officer can no longer be a credible prosecution witness. The defense could argue that that if an officer violated department guidelines or otherwise acted improperly while on duty, their sworn testimony would be suspect. In these situations, prosecutors may issue a Brady letter to avoid working with officers whose unrelated misbehavior could undermine their case in court.

While they can be a powerful tool to safeguard prosecutions, Brady letters have been challenged on the basis of consistency, transparency, and due process. A series of articles in VTDigger starting in December 2020 noted that there is no central database in Vermont where the letters are stored. In response, the state convened a Giglio Database Study Committee in July of this year. (The committee is named after the Giglio decision rather than the Brady decision because most letters issued about police officers deal with inappropriate behavior that undermines credibility (Giglio), not the failure to disclose evidence (Brady). Nonetheless, the term “Brady letter” persists in common usage.)

A November 16, 2022, memo from Department of Public Safety Commissioner Jennifer Morrison to the Giglio Database Study Committee highlighted these concerns: “the Department notes that Brady letters can have the effect of ending an officer’s career and there are no due process mechanisms to challenge the letters, let alone any statewide standards or criteria for issuing them.”