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Former Claremont Officer Pleads Guilty to 2 Charges

  • Former Claremont Police Officer Ian Kibbe, right, leaves a Sullivan Superior court room in Newport, N.H., on Monday, Dec. 3, 2018 with his lawyer, Eric Wilson, after pleading guilty to misdemeanor charges of unsworn falsification and obstructing government administration in connection to an illegal search and a falsified report in February. The Attorney General's Office is reviewing an unrelated case in which Kibbe's 2016 shooting and killing of Cody LaFont inside LaFont's home was previously ruled legally justified. Watching Kibbe's exit are from left, Melissa LaFont, Cody's stepmother, Ken LaFont, his father and Aaron Fitzherbert, his stepfather. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Former Claremont Police Officer Ian Kibbe listens from the defense table in Sullivan Superior Court as Assistant Attorney General Geoff Ward reviews his case during a change of plea hearing in Newport, N.H., on Monday, Dec. 3, 2018. Kibbe pleaded guilty to two misdemeanors relating to an illegal search and a falsified report in February. Kibbe's lawyer Eric Wilson is at right. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Assistant Attorney General Geoff Ward highlighted the importance of prosecuting cases like the one against former Claremont Police Officer Ian Kibbe for his role in an illegal search and a falsified report last February because he said actions like Kibbe's undermine the public trust in law enforcement, and that police need to be held to a higher standard of conduct given the nature of their work. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Staff Writer
Monday, December 03, 2018

Newport — Former police officer Ian Kibbe pleaded guilty on Monday to two misdemeanors for performing an illegal search of a Claremont man’s bedroom in February and falsifying his report about how that search occurred.

The 31-year-old former police sergeant accepted a plea agreement in Sullivan Superior Court, entering guilty pleas to one count of unsworn falsification and one count of obstructing government administration.

Sentencing will occur at a later date, and the deal calls for Kibbe to serve no more than 90 days in jail. He also will never again be allowed to serve as a police officer, Assistant Attorney General Geoff Ward said.

Ward said Kibbe’s misconduct was particularly serious because of its potential impact on the public’s faith in law enforcement.

“To have law enforcement officers not only lie in their police reports but then lie in the documentation that is submitted to the court is incredibly egregious,” Ward said after the brief hearing. “It undermines all of the good, law-abiding, hard-working law enforcement officers that are out there every day and night to keep us safe. It undermines trust in those officers and it undermines trust in the entire system.”

He characterized Kibbe’s punishment — being stripped of his police certification and facing the possibility of time in jail — “significant.” Ward said he hopes the sanctions send a message that this type of behavior won’t be tolerated.

“No one is above the law, especially law enforcement officers,” he said.

Attempts to speak with Kibbe’s attorney, Eric Wilson, after the hearing were unsuccessful. A message left for Wilson at his office wasn’t immediately returned.

Judge Brian Tucker ultimately will decide if Kibbe goes to jail and for how long. More formally, the plea agreement calls for Kibbe to serve two 12-month sentences, all suspended, with the potential to serve up to 90 days.

Kibbe pleaded not guilty in May to a total of six charges, including felony counts of conspiracy to commit perjury and attempted perjury, and two counts each of misdemeanor unsworn falsification and obstructing government administration.

The case started on Feb. 24 when Kibbe, former Claremont officer Mark Burch and state Trooper Eric Fosterling went to Claremont resident Christopher Ratcliffe’s house to arrest him on charges he violated a protective order.

The officers took Ratcliffe into custody and then Kibbe and Burch returned to Ratcliffe’s bedroom and began looking for weapons; as a convicted felon, Ratcliffe is prohibited from possessing firearms.

Kibbe opened a suitcase and a bag to uncover a baton and a firearm — a search that was unlawful because he hadn’t obtained a search warrant. He and Burch then went back to the station and lied in their reports, including an affidavit, by asserting they had observed the prohibited weapons in plain sight, according to prosecutors.

Kibbe then submitted that affidavit, which he signed, to the court. The document had been stamped by Charlestown-based Justice of the Peace Elaine Tobias, though it is in dispute which officer — Kibbe or Burch — swore to the affidavit in front of her. A judge then found probable cause to charge Ratcliffe with possessing weapons.

The case came to light after Fosterling, the state trooper, told a superior that he thought Kibbe and Burch performed an illegal search.

Burch, who was a new officer and subordinate to Kibbe at the time, spoke to investigators under a proffer agreement.

He hasn’t been charged with a crime, although his case remains open, Ward said.

Early on, the state had to downgrade the perjury-related charges to the “incomplete offenses” of conspiracy to commit perjury and attempted perjury because of “issues with the justice of the peace” in the case, Ward said.

Police in March interviewed Tobias, a dispatcher in Charlestown, during the investigation into Kibbe, and she said that she never gave an official oath or affirmation to the officer — whether it be to Burch or Kibbe — as she should have, according to the affidavit in Kibbe’s case.

“She explained that the officers merely present the affidavit to her. Sometimes, as they are handing it to her, they raise their right hand and say something to the effect of ‘I swear’ as they hand it to her. She said she then reads the affidavit and signs and dates it as well as affixes her stamp to it. Ms. Tobias was unable, therefore, in this specific instance, to recall if Sgt. Kibbe raised his hand or otherwise affirmed under oath that the facts as recounted in the affidavit were true and correct,” the affidavit said.

Because of that, the state Attorney General’s Office could only charge Kibbe with the less serious crimes of conspiracy to commit perjury and attempted perjury, charges that eventually were dropped, Ward said.

It’s unclear if that factored into the prosecution’s decision to agree to a plea deal. Ward on Monday declined to comment on questions related to Tobias.

An individual at the Secretary of State’s Office said on Monday that Tobias “surrendered her commission” on Oct. 1. She became a justice of the peace in 2009.

Kibbe, who along with Burch left the Claremont force amid the allegations, was the officer who shot and killed Cody LaFont in 2016, a shooting that the Attorney General’s Office ruled legally justified.

Kibbe arrived at LaFont’s house on Sept. 25, in response to a request from LaFont to speak with an officer, something he had done before, according to the attorney general’s report. LaFont said at the time he was suffering from depression and had been drinking.

Kibbe arrived at 4:49 a.m. LaFont died one minute later. Kibbe told authorities he was forced to shoot LaFont after LaFont advanced toward him near the entryway of the home with a revolver drawn, the report said.

That case has since been reopened, and that investigation is ongoing, Ward said. Messages left for Peter Hinckley and John Kennedy, assistant attorneys general who are handling that case, weren’t returned.

Several of LaFont’s family members attended Kibbe’s plea hearing on Monday, including LaFont’s father, Ken, and stepmother Melissa.

Ken and Melissa LaFont said they take solace in the fact that Kibbe won’t ever be an officer again.

“It was bittersweet, I guess,” Ken LaFont said of the outcome of Kibbe’s case. “He can’t be a police officer anymore and he is going to serve some time hopefully — not as much as we would have liked, but it is something.”

The LaFonts said they hope officials learn new information in Cody’s case. They questioned whether the Attorney General’s Office would alter its judgment of the justifiability of the shooting, however, because there was no third-party witness to the incident. At the time, Claremont police officers didn’t wear body cameras.

“(Kibbe) is not a truthful man. I mean, the evidence is there that he does not tell the truth, and our son is dead and there are no witnesses,” Melissa LaFont said. “Cody’s case is supposedly open again, but what is that going to do?”

“It is not going to bring our son back,” the LaFonts said.

The date for Kibbe’s sentencing hasn’t yet been set.

Jordan Cuddemi can be reached at jcuddemi@vnews.com or 603-727-3248.