When cops go bad - Former Lakes Region officer’s name added to Registry of Problem Police (764)


LACONIA — A former Lakes Region officer turned rapist has been added to a national registry designed to prevent other law enforcement agencies from hiring officers ousted from jobs elsewhere.
The New Hampshire Police Standards and Training Council charged with licensing and training law enforcement as well as correctional officers in the state, voted unanimously to indefinitely revoke the certification of Ernest Justin Blanchette, and to enter his name in the National Decertification Index.

Ernest Blanchette at sentencing in April. (Bea Lewis/File photo)

Ernest Blanchette at sentencing in April. (Bea Lewis/File photo)

Forty-four states and the District of Columbia have a process for removing the licenses of police officers for misconduct, a process commonly known as decertification. The index aims to collect those records, but participation is limited to 39 states, including New Hampshire.
Federal money helped launch the index in 2000 after state police standards officials came together through their national association to create a bare-bones system for sharing decertification records, but the Justice Department no longer funds it.
Criminal justice advocates have long called for the creation of a clearinghouse of information on bad cops similar to the National Practitioner Data Bank, which tracks malpractice lawsuits and complaints against doctors. Those calls have been rejected by Congress and opposed by some law-enforcement groups, particularly police unions worried about creating a blacklist.
The database now contains the names of about 20,000 former officers who were pushed out of law enforcement. The index has been used inconsistently, however, and many officers who are stripped of their badges in one jurisdiction are free to move to another.
Some police representatives would have you believe that “gypsy cops,” as such officers are sometimes referred to, represent an overstated and barely existent threat at best. But others eye decertification and adding the names of bad cops to the national registry as a powerful mechanism for ensuring integrity in law enforcement.
Last year, following a yearlong investigation, the Associated Press reported that the index was missing thousands of names because the voluntary, privately run effort does not include every state, and vast variations exist in how local municipalities and states track and handle police misconduct.
During their September meeting the New Hampshire Police Council voted to add the names of two disgraced officers to the registry, including Blanchette.
In support of their unanimous action, the council reviewed Blanchette’s law enforcement background that began when he was hired by the Laconia Police Department on Nov. 18, 2002. In March 2003, after successfully completing the New Hampshire Police Academy, Blanchette received his certification to work as a full-time officer.
In October 2011, Blanchette resigned from Laconia Police Department, and the same day was hired by the Belknap County Sheriff’s Department. In September 2014, he was promoted to sergeant. He resigned in lieu of dismissal on Aug. 28, 2015.
On Sept. 9, 2015, the Police Standards and Training Council sent a letter to Belknap County Sheriff Craig Wiggin inquiring if the resignation in lieu of firing was due to a violation of the Council’s administrative rules, for reasons of lack of moral character as defined by their policies; or for acts or omissions of conduct which would cause a reasonable person to have doubts about the individual’s honesty, fairness, and respect for the rights of others and for the laws of the state or nation.
In a response dated Sept. 11, 2015, addressed to Police Standards and Training Council Director Donald Vittum, Sheriff Wiggin included copies of the investigative report which led to Blanchette being indicted on Oct. 15, 2015, on a charge of aggravated felonious sexual assault against an inmate whom he was transporting on July 2, 2015, from Belknap County Superior Court to the New Hampshire Prison for Women.
Blanchette is currently serving a 10-to-20-year prison sentence in an out-of-state correctional facility. He is eligible to have two years of his minimum sentence suspended if he completes a sexual offender treatment program.
According to the minutes of the Police Standards and Training Council Sept. 28 meeting, New Hampshire Attorney General Joseph Foster commented that he believed the public would be impressed by how tough law enforcement is on rogue officers and that if there was more awareness of how seriously the council handles misconduct among its ranks, that it would increase respect for the profession.
In 2015, the council decertified two officers and suspended the certifications of six others. In 2014, the council decertified two officers, accepted the surrender of one officer’s certification and suspended the certifications of seven others. In 2013, there were two decertifications, acceptance of the surrender of two certifications and 16 suspensions.
The council actions involved a mix of municipal police officers, state troopers, corrections officers, probation/parole officers and deputy sheriffs.


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Handcuffs hang from the bars of a door in a holding cell at Laconia District Court. (Bea Lewis/for The Laconia Daily Sun)

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Defense claims jury got it wrong in burglary conviction


LACONIA — A judge is deciding whether a jury's verdict convicting a city man of burglary should be overturned and a new trial held.

Michael Regan, 32, was found guilty in August, of being one of two men who broke into an Emerald Drive home in Laconia, awakening and terrifying the widowed property owner.

At trial, Regan testified he was duped into going to the house after an acquaintance told him the property belonged to his aunt and that they could watch television there and enjoy the air conditioning. Regan said he went there with his friend Kevin Gobiel. With them was Gobiel's friend, "Markus," who Regan said was either Dominican or black. Regan told the jury Markus told them to follow him out back to find the key.

When he heard a window shatter, Regan said, he panicked and ran, losing a sneaker in the process. He tumbled down an embankment in the dark and told the jury he hit his head on a rock and was knocked unconscious. Police found him, mud-covered, face down in ditch, in a wooded area about 200 feet from the home.

During a Monday hearing in Belknap County Superior Court, attorney Mark Sisti, who is now representing Regan argued that in order to return a guilty verdict, a jury must exclude all rational conclusions that point to innocence.

In this instance, the state's case was based entirely on circumstantial evidence. There were no fingerprints, discarded gloves or other forensic evidence showing that Regan had ever been in the house, Sisti said.

In reviewing the transcript of the trial, Sisti claimed there was no testimony presented to show that Regan's story wasn't either plausible or rational.

The victim testified that she was awakened about 1 a.m. and saw two men in the office across the hall from her bedroom, and that one was wearing shorts, had skinny legs and was darker-skinned.

The defense attorney said Kevin Gobiel who is white, pleaded guilty to the burglary.

The victim also testified that a broken gold bracelet with a lobster-claw-style clasp was the only thing she believed was stolen during the burglary.

Sisti argued that the fact the bracelet was never found is compelling.

Regan, whether he was hiding or, as he claimed, knocked unconscious, was found close to the house, as was Gobiel, the defense attorney stressed.

A rational conclusion is that the darker-skinned man the victim reported seeing inside her home absconded with the bracelet, Sisti said.

Assistant Belknap County Attorney Adam Woods conceded the evidence he presented at trial was circumstantial, but argued it was sufficient to support a guilty verdict.

Regan's footprint was found just outside the broken window used to gain access to the house.

"Each step in (Regan's) story was as unreasonable as the next and the jury was able to see that," Woods asserted.

Rockywold-Deephaven workers help contain Holderness brush fire


HOLDERNESS — A brush fire, which brought dozens of firefighters to the Rattlesnake Mountain area before it was extinguished Wednesday afternoon, was most likely caused by a tree branch which fell onto a power line, where it started to burn and then dropped to the ground, catching fallen leaves on fire.
That's the explanation for the how the fire, which was reported at 2:15 p.m., started, according to Holderness Fire Chief Eleanor Mardin, who said that said the fire on Pinehurst Road, which runs beside the mountain, was first reported by workers from the nearby Rockywold-Deephaven camps.
"They knocked most of it down before we arrived," said Mardin, who praised the efforts of the camp's staff in locating and helping to control the fire.
The workers were closing up the camp, which is famous nationwide for using old-fashioned ice boxes rather than refrigerators in its rustic cabins, and had just finished a staff meeting at 2 p.m., when they became aware of the fire.
"We got outside after the meeting and someone said they smelled smoke. That's not unusual for this time of year, but it was pretty strong. And then we saw some ashes in the air," sad John Jurczynski, camp director.
He said that workers drove onto Pinehurst Road and discovered the fire about 150 feet down the road in a wooded area. "We used Indian pumps and rakes and shovels to try and put it out. We have a pump which we can draw water from the lake with, but it was a long way from the lake and would have taken us too long to lay down the water line. It wasn't long before the forest fire crews arrived and were able to use their equipment to reach the fire," said Jurczynski.
Mardin said that firefighters from Ashland, Plymouth, Sandwich, Center Harbor, Meredith, Campton, New Hampton and Moultonborough responded to the scene and were able to contain the fire to an area a little over two acres in size.
She said that firefighters were able to leave the scene by around 6 p.m.

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Workers from the Rockywold-Deephaven camps discovered a brush fire off from Pinehurst Road in Holderness Wednesday afternoon and used back carried water pumps to help control it until firefighting crews arrived. (John Jurczynski photo)

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