No charges arising out of missing knives case

The Citizen of Laconia, citizen.com
BYLINE: BEA LEWIS,

New Hampton / Belknap County, NH

Belknap County Attorney Jim Carroll, in reviewing an investigative report filed by the Belknap County Sheriff's Department regarding missing evidence at the New Hampton Police Department, has decided to close the case without filing any charges.

The Sheriff's Department completed its investigation last week into the disappearance of some valuable knives originally held by New Hampton police as part of a criminal case.

In June, New Hampton Chief of Police Merritt "Doug" Salmon asked for an internal investigation to be conducted after some of the switchblades seized from Abe's Awesome Armaments had allegedly gone missing.

"The report presents some concerns in regards to procedures and protocols involving the handling of evidence. However, I note that the present Chief is addressing those concerns," Carroll wrote Sheriff Craig Wiggin.

Chief Salmon filed a motion in Laconia District Court on June 7 telling defense Attorney Evan Nappen of Concord that he has notified both the Belknap County Attorney and Sheriff Wiggin of the need for an investigation in reference to the switchblades, brass knuckles and "saps" that were seized from the gun shop in New Hampton in June 2002, well before Salmon was named to head the department.

Sheriff Wiggin said last week his department had finished the investigation and turned a report over to Carroll, the county prosecutor. Carroll said he sent a letter to Sheriff Wiggin on Aug. 31 and copied it to former New Hampton Chief of Police Nathaniel "Chip" Sawyer.

"I reviewed the state of the law at the time. I recognize that the former Chief Sawyer had an understanding of the statute, which obviated the need of a further filing with the District Court for the destruction of the knives," Sawyer's letter reads.

"Although I don't hold the same breadth of his analysis as to confiscation in the statute as previously constituted, I do understand his prospective.

His analysis changed his view for filing a response to the court's denial of his previous motion," the letter continues.

"Understanding his interpretation of the statute, I see no basis for culpability on the former Chief's part for any wrongdoing."

"I further find that the officers who acquired the knives did so, unwittingly in regards to culpability. The officers basically assumed the same prospective as the Chief and relied on his direction and, therefore, legally acquired the knives."

Nappen represents Abram W. Foote, 50, of Tilton who is a federally licensed firearms dealer and who owns the Route 104 shop. Police seized the collection of weapons after Laconia Police notified New Hampton Police that Foote sold a switchblade knife to one of its officers. Nappen said his client believed that law enforcement was among those exempted from the ban that then made such knives illegal to possess or carry. That law has since been repealed.

Foote was initially charged with three misdemeanor counts of "possession with intent to sell," the illegal knives. He ultimately pleaded guilty to one count, and the other two were placed on file.

Five days before Christmas in 2002, New Hampton Police then headed by Chief Sawyer, filed a motion with the court seeking to dispose of the knives.

Nappen objected arguing that his client had not been convicted of carrying a switchblade but rather selling it. The law in effect at the time specified that only weapons "so carried," were subject to confiscation and disposal by the state. The state's motion was denied "without prejudice" on Jan. 2, 2003. New Hampton Police did not file another motion seeking disposal of the knives. Salmon became Chief in April 2009.

On May 18, 2010 Governor John Lynch signed HB 1665 repealing "stiletto, switchblade…dagger and dirk-knife" from inclusion in the law.

"In order to be accurate about the inventory of the evidence I feel it necessary to conduct an internal investigation," Chief Merritt wrote in his motion.

"The state is prepared to hand over those items that are clearly identified from the inventory. The state would request to continue holding those items which are not clearly identified," the motion that sought a 60-day stay to complete an investigation reads.

On June 8 Senior Active Judge David O. Huot ordered the return of the knives that were "identifiable."

"The state may retain items not identifiable as related to the search warrant for not more than 60 days, after which the defendant shall have the right to a hearing at which all such items shall be produced in court for inspection by defendant and his counsel," Huot's ruling reads.

Attorney Nappen said following court action New Hampton police returned about two-thirds of the approximately 30 to 50 knives initially seized.

According to an inventory list, police seized more than 100 items from Foote's store including switchblades, brass knuckles, and "saps."

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