- Associated Press - Thursday, July 10, 2014

MANCHESTER, N.H. (AP) - A county jail superintendent acted inappropriately when he released a police officer who served less than three months of a yearlong sentence for a hit-and-run accident that injured two teens, a judge ruled Thursday.

Hillsborough County Corrections Superintendent David Dionne released former Manchester police Sgt. Stephen Coco in June. Coco pleaded guilty in March to two felony counts of conduct after an accident stemming from the March 2013 hit and run in Bedford that injured Dean Drukker, 18, and Noah Hickman, 17, as they walked toward Hickman’s home.

Drukker suffered a concussion with bleeding on the brain, cuts and bruises and a separated shoulder. Hickman suffered a broken right elbow, cuts and bruises and injuries to his back.

Dionne and Coco’s lawyer, Mark Howard, argued at a hearing earlier this week that Dionne has the discretion to release convicts in his custody to work and rehabilitative release programs after they serve 14 days of their sentences.

But Superior Court Judge Gillian Abramson ruled Thursday that rehabilitation was not the goal of her sentence, nor is Coco in need of it.

“This is a defendant who requires punishment and deterrence, goals of sentencing not served or met by release after just 72 days in jail,” Abramson wrote. “His conduct merits nothing less than the original sentence imposed.”

Abramson ordered Coco back to jail to serve the balance of his sentence.

“Obviously we’re disappointed she has overruled the superintendent’s decision,” Howard said.

Coco was off-duty but driving his unmarked sport utility cruiser when he struck the teens from behind and drove to his home about a mile away. Abramson noted he had been drinking and initially denied to Bedford police that he had been out that night, despite visible damage to the front of his vehicle.

Coco was fired from the police department days later, after more than 17 years on the force.

A bill signed into law last year permits superintendents to release convicts sentenced to a year or less after they have served 14 days, without having to seek permission from the sentencing judge. The law allows the prosecutor to object and request a hearing, which Sullivan County Attorney Marc Hathaway did after he was notified that Coco had been released June 5. Hathaway was brought in to prosecute Coco to avoid any appearance of conflict of interest by the local county attorney.

Hathaway said Thursday the ruling is consistent with his and the judge’s intentions at the time of sentencing.

He said the order makes it “pretty clear” that Coco should be returned to jail immediately. Howard said he is still researching that.

Dionne said he had no comment on the ruling or on when Coco would return to the jail.

“He’s never been out of my custody,” Dionne maintained, because he could order Coco back behind bars if he violated any conditions of his work release program.

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