U.S. Justice Department to review Belknap County Sheriff's Department procedures


LACONIA — The U.S. Justice Department has agreed to a request from Belknap County Commissioners to undertake a review of the practices and procedures of Belknap County Sheriff's Department.
Belknap County Commission Chairman David DeVoy said the review will be undertaken by the DOJ's Office of Justice Programs Diagnostic Center and one of the main areas of  focus will be prisoner transport.
That became an issue for the department due to the trial earlier this year of former Belknap County Deputy Sheriff Justin Blanchette, 36, of Franklin, who was convicted in Merrimack County Superior Court in May of this year of aggravated felonious sexual assault of a female prisoner while transporting her between court and the Belknap County jail.
He is awaiting trial on 10 charges in Belknap County, three of which allegedly happened in 2013 and two allegedly in 2014. Nine of the counts are for aggravated felonious sexual assault and one count is for felonious sexual assault in Belknap County. The charges in Belknap County involve five inmates.
Belknap County has been sued for failure to properly supervise Blanchette and allowing him to violate an inmate's civil rights and intentionally inflict emotional distress.
The case was filed in June by a plaintiff, referred to as Jane Doe to shield her identity, in which she alleges that in 2013, Blanchette allowed her and her fiancée to have sex while he was transporting at least one of them to court as an inmate, if he could watch them do so.
The woman also makes claims for intentional infliction of emotional distress against Blanchette and alleges that the former deputy who has since been stripped of certification to serve as a police officer, both individually and in his official capacity violated her due process rights by victimizing her while acting under "the color of law."
The case is being heard in Merrimack County Superior Court in Concord.
DeVoy said that the commissioners have tried several approaches to having the policies and procedures of the Sheriff's Department reviewed, including hiring a consulting firm, but decided to approach federal officials after they found out that there is no cost to the county for the review.
He said that commissioners had several lengthy phone interviews with a panel from the federal agency before their request was accepted and are expecting at least one more session before the review begins.
"We think this will be a good thing for the county and the Sheriff's Department and will provide us with some sound guidance on how to do a better job," said DeVoy.

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Deputy Belknap County prosecutor takes job with Merrimack


LACONIA — Deputy Belknap County Attorney Carley Ahern argued her last criminal case in Laconia on Tuesday.

Following nine years as one of Belknap County's top prosecutors, she is leaving to join the staff of Merrimack County Attorney Scott Murray.

Leaving is bittersweet for Ahern. While as a resident of Merrimack County she won't pine for the daily
commute to Laconia, she will miss presiding Judge James O'Neill.

After winning her first jury verdict on a felony drug possession charge, Ahern asked O'Neill to impose a state prison sentence, arguing that it was warranted given the facts of the case. But after seeing both the defendant's children and other family members in tears, Ahern said, she couldn't help but feel empathy.

Judge O'Neill imposed a state prison sentence and in a private sidebar at the bench counseled Ahern to "keep her shield up," advice she took to heart to distance herself from the raw emotion of criminal cases.

The job is not for the weak of heart or the thin-skinned.

"You feel it when you hear their stories and you try and do the best you can," she said.

One case that sticks in her memory is that of Michael Carpenter Noucas, a Meredith man who was convicted of being an accomplice to armed robbery during which his partner was killed. At trial, in October 2011, jurors heard that Noucas and Robert Hart had tried to rob David Rivera of Brockton, Massachusetts, of cocaine and cash while
he was staying at the Meredith duplex rented by Noucas' girlfriend.

According to testimony, Noucas, then 27, and Hart ended up fighting for their lives. Hart, 47, was killed, stabbed a dozen times and bludgeoned with a metal softball bat. Noucas suffered life-threatening injuries, including being stabbed through the neck, front to back, a wound that pierced his esophagus.

The jury returned a guilty verdict and Noucas was sentenced to 7 1/2 to 15 years in state prison.

"There was a lot of evidence in that case and it made me realize that I was really capable," Ahern said.

With her new position in Merrimack County, Ahern said, she'll have to learn how to work with three different judges instead of one, plus get used to different procedures that come with a larger case load and a much bigger staff.

While used to collaborating with three assistant prosecutors plus County Attorney Melissa Guldbrandsen in Belknap County, her new position will see her working with 13 assistant prosecutors and one deputy county attorney.

"I almost feel like I'm growing up," Ahern said of her new position, which she expects will help her continue to develop as a criminal attorney.

"Getting to know the community here in Belknap County, law enforcement and the other groups and people we work with like the Greater Lakes Region Child Advocacy Center and the Sexual Assault Resource Team. They've just been wonderful," she said.

12-13 Carley Ahern

Deputy Belknap County Attorney Carley Ahern, seen here in historic courtroom one at the Belknap County Superior Courthouse, has tendered her resignation to become a prosecutor in Merrimack County. (Bea Lewis/for The Laconia Daily Sun)

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State wants Laconia to hand over emails regarding electronic poll books


LACONIA — City Clerk Mary Reynolds, together with her counterpart Matt Norman in Manchester, has been served with a Right-to-Know request by the New Hampshire Secretary of State arising from her part in a squabble over a proposal to use electronic poll books in Manchester, Hooksett and Durham in the primary and general elections.

In June, then state Sen. David Boutin, a Republican from Hooksett filed legislation to use the electronic poll books in the three precincts and immediately met with opposition from Secretary of State Bill Gardner, who said there was too little time to test the system and align it with the state's election laws. Although the bill carried the Senate, it failed in the House of Representatives.

Reynolds said Tuesday that the issue concerns her role as an officer of the New Hampshire City & Town Clerks Association, who openly supported the proposal, and does not bear on either her position as city clerk or the performance of her office. "It has nothing to do with Laconia," she said, "but I was one of those who contacted senators and representatives in support of the proposal." She explained that electronic poll books enable voters to swipe their driver's licenses at the polling station and if their name, address and age matches the information on the checklist they are given a ballot. She said the system has nothing to do with the ballots themselves.

The Right-to-Know request applies to all internal and external communications between the the city clerks and their staffs relaying to electronic poll books, including communications with vendors, particularly LHS Associates of Salem, New Hampshire and KNWINK of St. Louis, Missouri, lobbying groups, like the New Hampshire Municipal Association, League of Women Voters and America Votes, and state legislators during the 18 months between June 2015 and November 2016.

Tom Clark, the city solicitor in Manchester, asked the Secretary of State to narrow the scope of the request, but received no response. "We will comply with the request," Reynolds said, "but, it will take some time, maybe as long as six months. She said that emails sent between July 1, 2015, and January 31, 2016, have been archived, which could make them more difficult to search.

The New Hampshire Sunday News reported Normand describing the Secretary of State's request as "a provocative maneuver" and Clark saying that Manchester taxpayers should be spared the cost of "a petty disagreement over alternative methods to modernize the election process in New Hampshire or chill future attempts to do so."

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