9 more rape charges - Belknap County sheriff’s deputy Blanchette is accused of coercing inmates to have sex


LACONIA — A former Belknap County Sheriff's deputy was arraigned yesterday afternoon for multiple sexual offenses allegedly committed against inmates who were in his custody when they were being transported by him from various jails and courtrooms in Belknap and Merrimack County.
Ernest Justin Blanchette, 36, is being held on $100,000 cash-only bail or $400,000 corporate-surety bail in a undisclosed corrections facility. Following his bail hearing, he left the Belknap County Court House around 3:50 p.m. yesterday in the custody of two Grafton County Sheriff's Department deputies wearing full arm and leg chains and shackles.
Blanchette had previously been indicted in October of 2015 by a Hillsborough County North grand jury for allegedly raping a woman in an abandoned house in Bedford while he was transporting her between the Belknap County House of Corrections and the New Hampshire Correctional Facility for Women in Goffstown in early July.
Blanchette faces eight additional aggravated felonious sexual assault charges and one felonious sexual assault charge in five separate indictments, including three involving the alleged female victim in the Bedford case. He faces one charge of coercing a second woman into having intercourse in an unnamed cemetery in Laconia.
The three other indictments include five separate charges of allegedly coercing other inmates into having sexual contact with each other while he watched. In two instances, the state alleges he gave the handcuff keys to one inmate so he or she could perform sexual acts on the other.
In court yesterday, Belknap County Attorney Melissa Guldbrandsen asked for a total of $500,000 cash-only bail, or $100,000 for each of the five cases.
She noted that state law specifically states that consent is not a defense in the case of custodial rape, although she understands it has been raised as a defense in the Bedford case.
N.H. RSA 632-A:2(n)(1) states that a rape is aggravated "when the actor has direct supervisory or disciplinary authority over the victim by virtue of the victim being incarcerated in a correctional institution, the secure psychiatric unit, or juvenile detention facility where the actor is employed..."
She said she believes Blanchette to be a danger to his community and a flight risk. She noted that each alleged crime occurred while he was on duty as a sheriff deputy and involved inmates who are vulnerable to coercion by their captor.
"He breached that trust," she told the court.
Guldbrandsen also asked the court for a source of funds hearing should he post bail. She said he is in the middle of a contentious divorce and is the subject of a domestic violence order that alleges he drove his car recklessly near his wife and two children.
When Judge James O'Neill asked her why she felt there was a need for a source of funds investigation when there are no drug charges, Guldbrandsen said that some of the alleged victims said he gave them cigarettes and marijuana in exchange for sexual favors and that some drug paraphernalia was found in his cruiser when it was taken from him at the onset of the first investigation.
The judge also wanted to know if he violated any of the domestic violence order prohibitions and Guldbrandsen said he had not.
During her bail argument, Blanchette at times turned beet red and often shook his head from side to side as if to say no. For the most part, he stared straight ahead or down at his hands during the bail arguments.
Blanchette's attorney, Brad Davis, said he and his client were taken by "complete surprise" by the new indictments.
Davis argued Blanchette should be released on the same $5,000 cash posted by his parents for his release on the Bedford charge. He agreed with Guldbrandsen's requests that Blanchette would not possess any guns or firearms, would consume no alcohol or non-prescribed drugs, would stay away from all his alleged victims and his wife, would submit to bail supervision by the Belknap County Restorative Justice Department and would willingly undergo random drug testing. He also agreed to sign a waiver of extradition.
Davis said that because of the divorce proceedings, Blanchette has no assets that he could readily access. He said Guldbrandsen's request for "a half a million dollars" was punitive, or meant to punish, and that his client is not a flight risk or a danger to anyone.
Davis said Blanchette is completely aware of the first investigation and did not flee during that time. He said he has committed no violations of the protective order against his wife and was actually in the 6th Circuit Court, Franklin Division to request additional access to his two children when he was taken into custody.
He said Blanchette was seeing a licensed alcohol drug abuse counselor voluntarily because he feared he would turn to alcohol or drugs because of all of the stress in his life, not because he had an existing problem. Davis noted that Blanchette is living in a different part of the state and is also seeking assistance and guidance from a pastor in his church.
Davis said that Blanchette is fully employed and would likely lose his job if he were to be held in jail pending trial, making him unable to pay his child support.
After a 10-minute recess in which there wasn't a sound in the courtroom, O'Neill returned and ordered $25,000 cash only or $100,000 corporate surety on each of the counts involving new victims. He said on the charges involving the alleged Bedford victim, the $5,000 cash bail already posted would suffice.
O'Neill ordered the standard conditions requested and agreed to by Davis but declined to order a source-of-funds hearing should the cash be posted. He added the condition that under no circumstances was Blanchette to leave the state and asked for an additional waiver of extradition.
The maximum penalty for nine of the total of 10 charges where aggravation is listed is a maximum of 20 years in jail with the minimum to be no more than half of the maximum.

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Kettle curling - Adaptation of curling has won Gilford an excellence award


GILFORD — It was very cold the night photographer Karen Bobotas went to the ice rink to photograph people who participate in the weekly kettle curling club.
Nevertheless, she said it wasn't cold enough to stop her from trying the sport and said she actually slid two kettles filled with cement down the nearly 45-yard ice court.

"It was so much fun, I'm going back to play," said Bobotas.

According to Herb Greene, the director of Gilford's Parks and Recreation Department, "kettle curling" has been an annual department offering for four years at the ice rink on Varney Point.

"It started in 2011 in its current form," Greene said, saying that there are about 16 regulars participants in this year's Thursday night town-sponsored event.

Last winter, which to many seemed like one of the coldest and longest in recent years, the program had about 24 regular attendees and was awarded with the New Hampshire Parks and Recreation Association Clarence B. "Willy" Shellnut Program award for excellence.

Curling at the Olympic level is a sport played with teams of four people who slide 44-pound granite stones down a sheet of ice to try to land them closest to the center of a concentric circle about 45 yards away. While two teams of four people each take turns sliding their stones, their teammates use brooms to create friction to try and direct the stone without touching it, or "curl" its path.

It is similar to shuffleboard, and one point is earned for the team who has the closest stone to the center. That team can garner an additional point for each stone closest to the center provided no opponent stones are closer. Each team member throws two stones per round or "end" and there are 10 "ends" to a match.

In Gilford, Greene said the basic rules are the same, but instead of granite stones, they use 2-quart tea kettles filled with cement that weigh about 16 to 17 pounds. Brooms come from the cheapest available site and the footwear – most in Gilford use crampons to keep from falling – is self-provided.

Greene said using tea kettles was his version of experiments he had seen from other parks and recreation departments. He said in Gilford, they originally started with gallon milk jugs filled with frozen water, but switched to tea kettles in 2011.
He said he shopped online for a particular type of tea kettle.

"For example, it couldn't have a flat bottom with a ridge," he said.

Once he found the perfect kettle, he ordered enough for two teams in two different colors. He said he didn't want to fill them with sand for fear the sand could spill and spoil the ice, so he filled them with cement. He said for a few years they had some problems with the handles breaking, but said the DPW was able to fix them to make them stronger.

The ice markings have evolved over the past few years as well. Greene said they started with ice paint but it often bled into other areas of the ice during warmer days. He said last year, they started using nylon mesh and flooding over it. He said it's worked better, but this year the ice conditions in general haven't been great.

Last year, the program was so successful, said Greene, that many of the regular participants donated some money so the department could buy two more sets of kettles and run two games at a time. He said the newer kettles are a little different from the older ones because the older model of kettle was no longer available.

Greene said the kettle curling program is an adult program. He guessed the age demographic to be from age 45 to early retirement, however the department has demonstration days for youths during school vacation week.

The cost to play is $2 per person per night and he said about half of his regulars are Gilford residents and half come from neighboring communities. Greene said the curling season usually ends at the end of February, but he's is willing to continue as long as the ice remains viable.


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City Council to weigh Davis Place offers


LACONIA — City Manager Scott Myers has advised the City Council that the sale of a patch of untended woodland on Davis Place would not affect future extension of the downtown riverwalk or restrict public access to the Winnipesaukee River while suggesting that the sale of adjacent land should be contingent on securing an easement to provide public access to the river.

The council will consider whether to declare any or all of the property under offer as surplus, which is the first step in selling city property, when it meets on Monday, Feb. 22, beginning at 7 p.m.
Harry Bean has offered to purchase 9,810 square feet of woodland straddling Jewett Brook, which adjoins the house lot he owns at 32 Davis Place. Most of this land lies within a sprawling 1.67-acre lot owned by the city that fronts on Davis Place, stretches along the north bank of the Jewett Brook to the Winnipesaukee River, and includes a sliver of land reaching from the south bank of the brook to Howard Street. Bean also seeks to acquire a strip of land, approximately 10 feet by 131 feet, along the east side of a 0.15-acre lot, also owned by the city, that lies within the larger lot, which he would attach to the other parcel then the whole parcel add to his abutting lot at 32 Davis Place.

Meanwhile, Lloyd Wylie, who owns the lot at the far end of Davis Place that houses an apartment building, has made two offers to purchase portions of the 1.67-acre lot, which abuts his property to the east and south. One offer would include the portion of the lot abutting his lot to the south and fronting the Winnipesaukee River and Jewett Brook, an area of 0.40 acres.. Alternatively, he has offered to acquire the entire lot except for the portion Bean has requested and the stretch on the south bank of Jewett Brook leading to Howard Street, an area of 1.43 acres.

Neither Bean nor Wylie intend to develop the property, but instead seek only to police what has become a dumping ground, gathering place and scene of less than desirable activity.

The Planning Board and Downtown Tax Increment Financing (TIF) Advisory Board has urged the council to reject both offers and retain municipal ownership of the land. The Conservation Commission has said that no land should be sold without first placing protective easements on the properties to ensure that the natural environment is not impaired and public access to the river is not impeded.

In a memorandum, Myers told the council that Bean's proposal "will not impact any potential use future use City use for the Riverwalk or other access to the Winnipesaukee River." Nor, he continued, would the parcel qualify as a buildable lot. Myers recommended that if Bean's offer is accepted, the remainder of the 0.15-acre lot within the larger lot should be merged with it rather than left as a separate lot.

Myers reported that Bean has offered $6,500, which includes the cost surveying and conveying the property, which he estimated would net the city $1,500. He declined to comment whether this represents a fair market value, but noted that the property would be difficult to appraise. Adding the parcel to Bean's abutting lot would increase the assessed value of the property by $10,800.

Wylie, Myers explained, made a similar offer in 2014, which the council rejected. He seeks to purchase all or part of a 1.5-acre lot with approximately 200 feet of frontage on the Winnipesaukee River. Wylie does not intend to build on the property at this time, but he has not precluded the prospect of developing it in the future. Myers advised the council that the sale of any portion of the lot be accompanied by an easement ensuring public access to the river.

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