, Salem, MA

January 16, 2014

Barricaded couple have lengthy criminal record

By Dave Rogers
Staff Writer

---- — HAMPTON FALLS, N.H. — A local couple who fled Amesbury police Tuesday morning and barricaded themselves inside their Route 1 home for eight hours, causing a major traffic jam, are well known to area police. One of them had been arrested previously for impersonating a police officer in order to steal drugs from medical centers.

Darren Gragg, 36, of 24 Lafayette Road, No. 7, in Hampton Falls, and Melissa Amato, age 32, same address, are being held on $110,000 cash bail and are due back in court Jan. 29 for probable cause hearings. They were arraigned on burglary charges yesterday at Hampton Circuit Court in Seabrook. Conditions of their release include staying at least 300 feet away from each other, remaining in New Hampshire, refraining from drugs or excessive use of alcohol and not possessing firearms. They were also charged with resisting arrest.

Amesbury police, assisted by Hampton Falls police and a New Hampshire State Police SWAT team, surrounded the house, close to Hampton Falls Inn near the Seabrook border, around 10:30 a.m. Tuesday. As a precaution, police blocked off Route 1 from Route 84 to the Seabrook town line, snarling traffic for miles.

According to Amesbury police, the suspects were first spotted early Tuesday at the Irving Gas Station on Rocky Hill Road near Route 110 asleep at one of the pumps. When police responded to the scene, they determined that items inside the car looked suspicious and could be connected to a series of area house breaks.

Gragg and Amato fled the scene and ditched their car nearby, police said. It appears they visited the home of someone who had hired at least one of them to do work on the house. One of the suspects was able to convince the unsuspecting homeowner to give them a ride back to New Hampshire under the pretense that they were too tired to drive.

After sending a BOLO blast to area departments regarding the incident, Amesbury police located the abandoned vehicle and tracked down the person who gave the suspects a ride to Hampton Falls.

According to court documents, Hampton Falls detectives attempted to contact the suspects at the house, but no one responded. A perimeter was set up around the house, which is connected to another unit. While the perimeter was being established, Amesbury Detective Sean Leary saw Gragg try to exit through a window inside the adjoining unit. Gragg was ordered to stop, which he did. It is believed the couple broke into the next unit, owned by Amanda Rich.

During the afternoon, police obtained arrest warrants and were able to convince them to end their standoff shortly after 7 p.m. Tuesday. Because the suspects entered Rich’s apartment without permission, police charged them with burglary. Police are continuing their investigation into the items found in their car, and more charges may be filed. Other than a loaded crossbow found outside the building, no weapons were discovered.

Gragg has had many run-ins with law enforcement, with a criminal background stretching back more than 12 years. In December 2011, Gragg was arrested at a Hudson, N.H., medical center after he tried to obtain a controlled drug while pretending to be a police officer.

Police were called there for the report of a suspicious person trying to get a controlled drug. Health-care employees believed Gragg matched the description of a man suspected of impersonating a police officer in several other locations, police said. Gragg gave employees of the clinic a false name and led them to believe he was a police officer, police said. When police arrived and arrested Gragg, they found he had a false New Hampshire license in his possession.

In 1996, he was jailed after beating a teenager and forcing him into a refrigerator. He also faced a felony assault charge early in 1997 for allegedly firing a shotgun at another teenager in Manchester. Gragg was mentioned in an Associated Press story in March 1997 about a Derry street gang, Impact. Gragg was the reputed gang leader at the time, according to the story.

In 2008, Gragg was arrested in Vermont as a fugitive from justice. When arrested, he was on parole for the Manchester shooting when he left the state. Then, in 2010, Gragg was arrested in Milford on multiple charges. Those charges included eight counts of forgery, six counts of tampering with public or private records, one count of identity fraud and one count of driver’s license prohibitions. That last charge stemmed from Gragg’s possession of a fake N.H. driver’s license.

Amato also has a criminal record with an arrest for having more than one false license in her possession and another after admitting to police that she had stolen a 2000 Dodge Durango RT from Route 111 Auto Sales.

Material from the Eagle Tribune was used in this story.