Back in October 2012, I was arrested for recording video in the town hall of Palmer, MA. The arrest was clearly illegal, but that didn’t stop Palmer Police officer Raymond Tenczar from putting handcuffs on me, then putting me in a cage. After all, the legal council for the town had told them they could and they’d even posted hastily-printed signs on the building that morning that prohibited recording. They didn’t want a repeat of 2011, where CopBlock‘s Pete Eyre and I walked all around the building, recording and asking the bureaucrats tough questions. (We were there to view a tax sale and support our friend Jay Noone who was having his home stolen by the people calling themselves the “Town of Palmer”.)
Their plan would have worked if it weren’t for those pesky liberty activists and the ACLU of Massachusetts!
Not only did Palmer district court eventually dismiss the “disorderly conduct” charges “with prejudice” (meaning they can’t bring them back against me), but the town bureaucrats paid out $5,000 as a settlement.
Takeaways from the experience:
1. Just because bureaucrats print a sign saying you can’t do something, doesn’t mean you can’t do that thing. They are liars.
2. Don’t stop recording. Be polite about it, but stand your ground.
3. Good legal council is helpful – the MA ACLU kicked serious butt on this. (Here is their press release.) I was pleased to cut them a chunk of the $5,000 check – they earned it. Big thanks to attorneys William Newman and Shawn Allyn for their help. I am only comfortable with lawyers if they will work on contingency or pro-bono. If they don’t believe in the case on its merits and won’t work on speculation, I don’t want ‘em. I’ll go pro-se in that case. I’m grateful that I didn’t have to here.
4. Don’t take the plea deal. I could have made the case go away early on for $50 paid to the local food pantry (that was my original offer at arraignment that they refused, then later offered back to me) but I refused at the point they offered that, preferring to go all the way to prove the point.
5. Don’t live in Massachusetts. If you love liberty, move to New Hampshire where you can be around other activists who care about freedom. Had this been in New Hampshire we may have had more cameramen at the town hall, which would either have prevented them from arresting anyone in the first place, or hit them even harder when they would have lost several cases.
By the way, I will be giving some money to the food bank of Western Mass anyway.
Here’s coverage of the dismissal from MassLive.com’s Lori Stabile, who has been great and followed the case from beginning to end:
PALMER – Eight months after being arrested at the Palmer Town Building for attempting to videotape a public auction, the case against Ian Freeman of New Hampshire has been dropped.
Freeman, 32, was in Palmer District Court last month on the remaining charge connected to the case – a municipal ordinance violation for being disorderly before the October public auction. The case was dismissed with prejudice by Judge Michael Mulcahy, meaning it cannot be revisited, according to the court clerk’s office.
Mulcahy also agreed to change the complaint to a civil one, instead of criminal. That request came from the commonwealth and the town of Palmer’s lawyer, Charles F. Ksieniewicz.
William C. Newman, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union who represented Freeman, said Freeman “should never have been arrested, and the charges should never have been brought.”
“The importance of the dismissal is that Palmer has recognized the right of all of us to videotape public officials performing public duties in a public place. The ACLU is grateful that the town has recognized that posting signs in Town Hall prohibiting video recording violated the First Amendment,” Newman wrote in an email.
Newman said the ACLU of Massachusetts expects to release further information about the case before the end of the week.
“The ACLU did a tremendous job with defense,” said Freeman, who runs the “Free Talk Live” radio show in Keene, N.H., adding that the case served as a follow-up, and test, to the Glik decision. Simon Glik was arrested after videotaping police officers with his cell phone as they arrested a man in Boston. A judge ruled Glik was exercising his First Amendment rights in filming police in a public space, and that his Fourth Amendment rights were violated by his arrest without probable cause.
“It didn’t work in the moment, but ultimately the prosecution backed down,” Freeman said on Tuesday.
At the October auction, town officials posted signsthroughout the Town Building saying videotaping would not be allowed, a move the town manager had said was prompted by events the summer before, at another municipal auction, where Freeman was one of the men in attendance to support Joseph “Jay” Noone, who was being evicted from his Main Street property in Bondsville. They used video cameras to document the proceedings.
At the most recent auction, Noone’s property was on the auction block, which again attracted supporters like Freeman, who tried to document the events by videotaping. Before he was arrested, Freeman told police it was his right to record, invoking the Glik decision.
In the memorandum in support of Freeman’s motion to dismiss, Newman, along with lawyer Shawn P. Allyn, of Holyoke, note Freeman’s occupation as a journalist, stating he was arrested in the course of his vocation. It also stated that Freeman’s videotape showed that he was not disorderly.
“The town’s total ban on video recording of public officials performing public duties in Town Hall is a violation of clear and long established constitutional principles. There is an undoubted right to gather news from any source by means within the law,” the memorandum reads.
Freeman said he was asked to take a plea deal early on, which would have had him donate $50 to a charity. While Freeman said he will still donate to a charity, probably a local food bank, he felt it was important enough to take the case to the next level.
A criminal disorderly conduct charge against Freeman in connection with the auction was dropped back in December.