By ROGER AMSDEN, LACONIA DAILY SUN
LACONIA — Belknap County Commissioners have agreed to move forward with a request from Belknap County Sheriff Craig Wiggin for an organizational review of the sheriff's department by an independent organization in the wake of the indictment of a former deputy with the department for multiple sex offenses.
The deputy, Ernest Justin Blanchette, 36, is being held on $100,000 cash-only bail or $400,000 corporate-surety bail for sex 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.
Commissioner Hunter Taylor (R-ALton) said it was important that the department have policies and procedures in place "to prevent this from ever happening again, it is serious enough to have it looked at by an outside agency."
Commissioners agreed Wednesday morning to have County Administrator Debra Shackett talk with two consulting firms specializing in municipal affairs, Municipal Resources Inc. of Meredith and Matrix Consulting Group, a national consulting group with an office in Waltham, Massachusetts, about the process for conducting a review. They said the firm which is hired will report directly to them.
But Wiggin, who was not at the Wednesday morning meeting at which his request was discussed, said he has not discussed details with commissioners regarding his request and thinks it is premature at this point to undertake any review as there are ongoing court proceedings at which many of the people who would be interviewed as part of the review will be testifying.
He said that the review should be conducted "as soon as is practical."
Blanchette was 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.
He now 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.
The most recent charges were brought by Belknap County Attorney Melissa Guldbrandsen in Belknap County Superior Court.
Blanchette resigned from his position with the Sheriff's Department in August after having been placed on paid administrative leave on July 20. He joined the Sheriff's Department in October of 2011 and was a police officer in Laconia prior to joining the county force. Blanchette had received a meritorious service award in 2008 while an officer in Laconia and had served as treasurer of the Belknap County Sheriff's Relief Association until his resignation.
A Raymond High School graduate Blanchette served in the U.S. Marine Corps before joining the Laconia police force.
Blanchette is being held in a state correctional unit in the southern part of New Hampshire. His trial for the single Hillsborough count is scheduled for late April.
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