Appeal of police sting verdict possible
MANCHESTER — The county's top prosecutor said she will consider whether an appeal should be filed in the case of a young man who was cleared of a theft charge that arose from a police sting operation during the 2012 Christmas shopping season.
Hillsborough County Attorney Patricia LaFrance said she will look at the judge's order and consult with the New Hampshire Attorney General's Office, which would file the appeal.
On Thursday, Alexander Ramasci was found innocent of a misdemeanor charge of theft of lost or mislaid property. Manchester police arrested him in a sting operation, after he removed a purse and merchandise from a shopping cart that police had placed in the T.J. Maxx parking lot on South Willow Street.
Ramasci has said he never intended to steal the items. He put them in his trunk and planned to go home, identify the owner, contact her and return the items.
In his order, District Court Judge William Lyons said Ramasci could not be convicted because the purse and merchandise were not actually lost or mislaid.
"We're disappointed in the ruling," said Assistant Police Chief Nick Willard. "It will give us the opportunity to reevaluate the use of this tactic and reassess whether the proper charge was brought."
Meanwhile, the New Hamsphire Liquor Commission did not return a telephone call about Ramasci's employment. He worked as a sales clerk for the Liquor Commission, but was told not to come into work after his arrest.
The New Hampshire Union Leader spoke to Liquor Commission Chairman Joe Mollica's secretary, who took information about Ramasci and the reason for the newspaper's interest. No return call was made.
Police actions in the case have drawn criticism on-line, with many questioning the tactic or its need.
"I certainly applaud Manchester Police Department's efforts to prevent these crimes, especially around the holiday season," LaFrance said. "I don't see anything wrong with that."
Willard described the sting operation as victim-oriented policing.
"(Detectives) were thinking of protecting victims at a time when thefts increase exponentially," he said.
And he said shopping-cart thefts are a problem. Two months ago, an 84-year-old woman had her purse with $400 stolen from the produce section of a supermarket, he noted. Police made an arrest after publicizing a surveillance photo of the theft.
Willard said he was shocked to read comments from Ramasci's lawyer, Alderman Joe Kelly Levasseur, who called the sting ridiculous and bad public policy. He said it amounted to another slap to Police Chief David Mara's head.
"I have dealt with defense attorneys in every case imaginable in my 24 years as a police officer and detective, and I have never witnessed a more inappropriate and unprofessional comment than the one attributed to attorney Levasseur in his reference to the chief of police." Willard said.
But Levasseur said his comments just him speaking directly. He said that, as an alderman, he's called for Mara's resignation at least 10 times.
"Sorry, but being direct sometimes is necessary, and I'm not the only one who feels that way," he said.