Drug charge hinges on whether police had right to search towed car (673)


LACONIA — The Attorney General's efforts to prosecute a city man on drug sales charges after his car was towed hinges on the outcome of a New Hampshire Supreme Court appeal.

Peter Dauphin, 43, could face a maximum sentence of up to life imprisonment if convicted, because he has a prior conviction for drug sales.

Defense attorney Mark Sisti earlier successfully argued that Dauphin, not city police, had control of the defendant's car when they ordered it towed, and as a result officers had no right to inventory its contents.

Judge Peter Fauver ruled the evidence found in the car and Dauphin's subsequent confession were unlawfully obtained and couldn't be used against him at trial. The ruling gutted the state's case but instead of deciding to drop the charges, Assistant Attorney General Jason Casey asked the state's highest court to review Fauver's ruling.

In his brief to the high court, Casey maintains city police acted lawfully when they inventoried the contents of the car that they ordered towed pursuant to the department's written policy, as the vehicle was unregistered.

At issue is the required control police must have over a vehicle in order for an inventory search to be justified under the New Hampshire Constitution.

Casey contends there is no support for Judge Fauver's conclusion that storage at a third-party facility is necessary to trigger a police officer's authority to inventory the contents of a car. As part of his efforts to convince the justices that Fauver's ruling is wrong, Casey hangs his hat on a case decided in neighboring
Massachusetts, that he claims has very similar facts.

In the 1996 case Commonwealth v. Daley, the Massachusetts Supreme Court determined that a police officer can inventory the contents of a car when it is towed at the officer's request because of an invalid
registration. In that case, as in the local case involving Dauphin, the officer agreed before conducting the inventory search to allow the defendant to have the vehicle towed to his home. The Bay State court affirmed
the trial court's denial of a defense motion to suppress. In support of their decision, they held that the interests protected by an inventory search are what give rise to an officers obligation to search an impounded vehicle, regardless of its ultimate destination where towed.

Because Laconia police had temporarily seized Dauphin's car, summoned a tow truck and directed that the car be towed against the defendant's wishes, the department was reasonably liable for injuries caused by dangerous items inside the car to the tow truck driver, Casey argues.

The prosecutor maintains as the inventory search was both lawful and reasonable under the state Constitution and that Dauphin's arrest was valid, his confession should be admissible at trial and the justices should overturn Fauver's ruling.

In arguing that the trial court made the right call, Sisti says the officer's agreement to have the car towed to Dauphin's house and the defendant's expressed ability to pay the ramp truck driver removed the officer's need to conduct an inventory search.

As police allowed Dauphin and his passenger to remain inside the car and then walk around outside it, and even gave him back his keys, Sisti asserts the state's claims that police had a duty to protect the tow truck driver from dangerous items inside the vehicle or to shield items from theft was a farce.

Dauphin was arrested at the scene of the traffic stop, and when he was searched police found $2,700 in cash.

When interrogated, Dauphin allegedly disclosed that he had more drugs and cash hidden in his home. After obtaining a search warrant, police found $9,940 in cash and nearly eight ounces of crystal meth hidden in a drop ceiling in the master bedroom of Dauphin's home. Earlier, the state obtained a forfeiture order to claim $12,000 in cash seized from the defendant as the alleged profits of drug sales.

Dauphin remains free on $65,000 cash bail. Oral arguments before the New Hampshire Supreme Court have not yet been scheduled.

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Psychiatrist deems Laconia stalker mentally unfit


LACONIA — An Oak Street man who is incarcerated at the local House of Correction for stalking has been deemed incompetent but restorable by a state doctor of forensic psychologist.

Answering a recent request for a competency evaluation for Daniel Tusi of Oak Street from the Belknap County Superior Court, Dr. Sharon Bader wrote that in late August another psychologist from her office performed on at the request of the 4th Circuit Court, Laconia Division, and in her opinion not enough time has passed for any kind of treatment or medication has passed.

"An order for an additional review would serve to place additional stress on this office's limited resources and not provide any new, relevant information to the court," wrote Bader.

Tusi was convicted in 2015 of stalking a teenaged girl he didn't know for a misdemeanor stalking conviction in the 4th Circuit Court. He appealed his conviction to the state Supreme Court and was been free on bail during his appeal.

In July of 2016, the victim made a complaint to the Laconia Police that Tusi came within 50 yards of her, violating a provision of his bail agreement. He was charged with one new felony count of stalking and his attorney had asked for a second competency evaluation.

In November of 2016, a three-judge panel of the Supreme Court upheld the conviction and he was sentence to serve 12 months in the Belknap County House of Corrections.

Tusi remains in jail as he is serving his original 12-month sentence. It is not know what, if any treatment, he is getting.

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Census data confirms stalled population growth and shrinking workforce here


LACONIA — After four decades of steady growth, the population of Belknap County has come to a standstill. Between 2010 and 2015 the population of Belknap County grew by just 311 people, from 60,088 to 60,399, as numbers in two of its 11 municipalities shrank and in only one increased by more than double digits, according to the most recent estimates released by the U.S. Census Bureau.

The county population grew at its fastest pace between 1970 and 1980 when it added 10,500 residents, an increase of 32.5 percent, as numbers in eight of the 10 towns in the county jumped by more than 50 percent. The county population increased by more than 6,000 in each the next two decades then rose by 4,763 between 2000 and 2010 before grinding to halt.

Among the 10 towns, the estimated population during the past five years increased the most in New Hampton, which added 101 people, followed by increases of 62 in Meredith, 20 in Alton, 16 in Gilford, 12 in Barnstead, 11 in Sanbornton, 6 in Tilton, and 1 in Gilmanton while the population fell by 37 in Belmont and 84 in Center Harbor. In Laconia the population rose by 56.

For more than half a century the city of Laconia has been an outlier. The population of the city has grown by a mere 719 people, from 15,288 in 1960 to 16,007 in 2015. Between 1970 and 1980, when the population of the county grew by a third, the city's population increased just 5 percent.

As population growth has stalled, the population of the county has aged. The median age of 46.1 years — 45.3 for men and 46.8 for women — is the third highest among the 10 counties in the state, trailing Carroll County at 50.3 years and Coos County at 48.1 years.

During the past decade the workforce in Belknap County has also shrunk slightly, from an estimated 31,920 in 2005 to 31,480 in 2015. In the city of Laconia, where the work force has decreased by nearly 4 percent, from 8,267 to 7,946, and in six of the 10 towns there are fewer people working or seeking work than there were 10 years ago.

In the same period, annual average covered employment, that is jobs covered by unemployment insurance, in goods producing industries in Belknap County has decreased by 1,870, or 34 percent, while average weekly wages have risen 30 percent, from $819 to $1,066. Employment in service industries has grown less than three percent, from 17,424 to 17,859, while average weekly wages have risen from $576 to $774, or by 24 percent. Altogether employment in the private sector has fallen from 22,891 to 21,457, or six percent, and average weekly wages have risen 24 percent from $624 to $774. Meanwhile, government (federal, state and local) employment in the county grew from 4,049 to 4,128 and average weekly wages increased from $636 to $777. or by 22 percent.

In Laconia, between 2004 and 2014 annual average covered employment in the private sector has shrunk by 12 percent, from 9,162 to 8,056 , as employment in goods producing industries decreased from 2,515 to 1,776 and in service industries from 6,647 to 6,280, At the same time, average weekly wages in goods producing industries rose 21 percent, from $786 to $957, and in service industries 38 percent, from $599 to $830. Government employment in the city also decreased, from 1,532 to 1,271, a drop of 17 percent, while average weekly wages rose about 9 percent, from $763 to $830.

The update of demographic and economic data from the Census Bureau confirms the slow growth and rapid aging of the population that while common throughout most of the state has been especially marked in the northernmost counties and Lakes Region.

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