By ROGER AMSDEN, for THE LACONIA DAILY SUN
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.
- Category: Local News
- Hits: 460