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.

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Comments on “Police Chief Sends Officers Out To Arrest Man For Calling The Chief A 'Dirty' Cop”

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That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Dirty cop proves how low he is willing to go by abusing the law against a critic. I do hope he has to pay part of the eventual settlement himself, because until it hurts them those in power will keep abusing their power.

Of course now that it is proven beyond one loudmouth on the internet making claims, someone might want to make sure that their aren’t a large number of potential settlements waiting to be paid in the wings as the cop seems to think his position means the law is what he wants it to be.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

“because until it hurts them those in power will keep abusing their power.”

Nail on the head.

The first sign of someone building a corrupt government is when officials do not have to “personally” suffer for abuses they create.

But this could be resolved if we could get voters to care enough about the problem, but they don’t unless it happens to them.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Don't want to Shupe with him

The problem here is that the charges are NOT bogus. He said something bad about the cop meaning defamation… you do not actually have to be guilty to be arrested you only have to be charged… “bogus” or not!, and since no one cares about the Constitution when it suits their politics he got arrested. Now we get to see the Courts work in favor of the cops because they can get away with it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Don't want to Shupe with him

I don’t think the bar should be any higher or lower regardless of the person doing or receiving the supposed “defamation”. I will always disagree with the creation of two different classes of people having the law apply to them differently.

In this case, the problem is the law itself and the Police being more than willing to abuse them for purposes that these laws were not intended to address but were “shockingly” written to well… address them. This is literally the slippery slope a lot of people refuse to admit exists. And while many people are more than willing to “never attribute to malice what is sufficiently explained by stupidity”, I believe the opposite. I never attribute to stupidity when when government is involved because their entire con game is to get people to believe it is “stupidity” rather than “malice” when they write laws this way.

This law is clearly intended to be used this way because it is written to be used this way.

Anonymous Coward says:

The actual letter of the law... bah

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."

Their refusal to proceed with a trial doesn’t appear motivated by the correctness of it (ie the law) but by the fact they won’t win. Screw legality, it’s all about if you can win your bullsH@t claims. <sigh>

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Whether or not it's a winnable case...

…is the staple determining factor for prosecutors, typically. They’ll even try two separate people for the same crime using conflicting evidence, if they think they can win.

It’s a problem with the US legal system (and perhaps most legal systems in the industrialized world, that enforcement and prosecution are rewarded by convictions, not by fair and thorough adjudication. As a result, they often will prosecute suspects known to be innocent, or suspects who clearly had no malicious intent.

Wendy Cockcroft (user link) says:

Re: Re: Whether or not it's a winnable case...

Confirmed correct. We’ve had several high-profile cases over here: the Birmingham Six and the Guildford Four, to name but two, which were predicated on the need to arrest somebody — anybody — in order to show that Something Was Being Done. It’s wrong. When you tie funding to “results,” i.e. arrest figures, cops will naturally go after low-hanging fruit. I’d rather have a low arrest rate in a peaceful neighbourhood.

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