Police Chief Sends Officers Out To Arrest Man For Calling The Chief A 'Dirty' Cop
from the in-a-move-guaranteed-to-only-garner-more-respect-for-the-chief dept
If any state still has a criminal defamation law on the books (and there are more than you would think), it needs to get rid of it posthaste. Besides the obvious Constitutional implications, the laws act as lèse-majesté analogs wielded by powerful government officials to silence their critics.
Criminal defamation laws have been abused multiple times by law enforcement officers and their public official friends. Louisiana public officials (and the law enforcement that willingly serves them) seem especially fond of deploying a law already declared unconstitutional to harass citizens who just won’t stop complaining about the actions of their public officials.
For whatever reason, New Hampshire still has a criminal defamation law on the books. It’s only a misdemeanor but that’s still plenty of hassle for those who’ve been targeted by vindictive cops. [h/t Adam Steinbaugh]
On May 23, a police officer arrested Robert W. Frese in Exeter, New Hampshire and took him to the station for booking. Frese is no stranger to law enforcement; in the past, he has been convicted of fraud, criminal trespassing, and a hit-and-run. (His vehicle was easy to track because of its notable vanity plate: TRUMP1.) But this latest arrest, Frese learned, had nothing to do with those earlier mishaps. Instead, he had been apprehended for insulting a police officer on the internet.
The facts of the case, laid out by the Seacoast Online and the criminal complaint against Frese, are straightforward. On May 3, Frese wrote a comment on a Seacoast Online article about recently retiring police officer Dan D’Amato. He believed that D’Amato had treated him unfairly and harshly criticized his alleged misconduct. He then tore into Exeter Police Chief William Shupe, declaring that “Chief Shupe covered up for this dirty cop.”
Chief Shupe had plenty of options to respond to being called “dirty” by an Exeter resident. He could have said nothing. He could have responded by calling Frese’s character into question. He could have demanded proof. He could have taken his badge off and headed to the courthouse to file a civil defamation complaint just like the rest of the unwashed masses. But he did none of these things.
Instead, he arrested Frese and charged him. The arrest itself was unusual. Class B misdemeanors generally result in citations, not arrests, because no jail time is involved. But Chief Shupe had someone to punish for daring to insult a public official, so an arrest was carried out. Shupe got his man — and a planned arraignment — but that’s as far as this bogus criminal defamation case is going. (h/t Eugene Volokh)
Citing a review by the New Hampshire attorney general’s office, Exeter police dropped the criminal defamation charge against Robert Frese for online comments he made accusing the police chief of “covering up for a dirty cop.”
In a press release issued Thursday afternoon, Exeter police said “In further review by the attorney general’s office of the facts of this case and the law, it is their opinion that the state would not prevail at trial. After careful consideration of all the opinions involved, the Exeter Police Department has decided to nolle prosse the charge.”
This is what tends happens when someone other than an aggrieved party — in this case, the town’s police chief — gets involved. The stupidity of the arrest is exposed by the law being read in the context of the situation. If anything is definitively protected by the First Amendment, it’s political debate. An angry man venting about perceived police corruption is part of that debate. Whether or not Chief Shupe is actually corrupt remains to be seen. But this vindictive arrest certainly doesn’t make him appear any more trustworthy or honest.