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Judge to consider whether man's rights were violated during vehicle stop

Union Leader Correspondent

July 14. 2014 10:07PM
Ryan Mackenzie speaks to his public defender, Anthony Naro, during a hearing on Monday in Rockingham County Superior Court. (JAMES A. KIMBLE/Union Leader Correspondent)

BRENTWOOD — A judge is considering whether a 29-year-old man accused of breaking into a state police barracks garage so he could remove drugs from his impounded car had his constitutional rights violated when he was pulled over in Portsmouth.

The decision may curb the amount of evidence a jury can hear against Ryan Mackenzie, of Northwood when he goes on trial later this year for felony burglary and falsifying physical evidence.

Prosecutors say that Mackenzie broke into the Troop A barracks garage in Epping on Dec. 30, 2011, hours after his car was seized. He allegedly removed a cigarette box containing a white rock wrapped in plastic before his car could be searched.

State Trooper Tamara Hester testified on Monday about what led her to pull over Mackenzie about 9 p.m. on Dec. 29 as he was driving along Woodbury Avenue in Portsmouth with his girlfriend in the passenger’s seat.

Public defender Anthony Naro suggested to Judge Marguerite Wageling on Monday that police went beyond the scope of a typical vehicle stop even though his client only committed a typical traffic violation.

But Hester testified that Mackenzie was evasive with both his driving and his answers to her questions. His constricted pupils also suggested he could have been under the influence of a narcotic drug, according to Hester. Mackenzie allegedly made a left turn into parking lot and stopped after Hester activated her emergency lights three times.

“Based on the totality of the circumstances at that point, I felt there might be something in the car that shouldn’t be in there,” Hester said.

Mackenzie would not consent to a search of his car when asked. He also objected to Hester calling in a state police K-9 to walk around his car, according to court testimony.

Mackenzie reacted when the K-9 jumped up toward a car window, indicating there were drugs inside the vehicle, Hester testified.

“As the dog made this action, Mr. Mackenzie dropped his head,” she said.

Hester had the car impounded and applied for a search warrant.

When the car was in the police garage, she went looking for the electronic window switch to roll up the windows. Hester said she found the switch in the center console. That’s when she spotted a cigarette box near the passenger’s seat.

“The lid to the box was partially open,” she said. “There was a white rock that was tied up in a plastic baggie. From my training and experience, it looked like some kind of narcotic.”

She exited the vehicle and sealed the car door with police evidence tape. She obtained a search warrant, and planned to seize the cigarette box from the car. But when she returned to the garage the next day, Hester said, she noticed the evidence tape on the door had been broken.

“I looked for that item that I saw the night before and it was no longer there,” she said. “I thought it might have fallen down in the crack (between the car seat).”

Prosecutors said that the case ultimately got solved when a confidential informant tipped state police that Mackenzie had claimed he broke into the barracks to retrieve drugs from his car. The defense is hoping to limit some of testimony about the drugs by challenging the legality of the vehicle stop. Wageling said she will take the matter under advisement.

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