Yesterday morning, I sat down with city attorney (or court jester to use the royal parlance) Thomas Mullins, who was responsible for signing the paperwork filing suit against the Merry (wo)Men allegedly associated with Robin Hood of Keene. I was trying to find out why I was named in a ‘harassment’ lawsuit along with five others. I came only to represent myself and was pleasantly surprised to learn that the city’s position is that the purpose of Robin Hood of Keene is to engage parking enforcement officers in psychological warfare. Mullins used the phrase “emotional violence” to describe Robin Hooding. “You want them to quit. Everybody wants them to quit,” Mullins asserted. “From our perspective, you’re trying to force the termination of these individuals by getting them to quit.”
It seems that city bureaucrats have some gross misconceptions about the goals of Robin Hood of Keene. Over the course of the meeting, there was no specific instance cited in which I had done anything to wrong parking enforcers. For this reason, I offered to agree continuing not to commit any crimes against parking enforcement and suggested others would likely do the same to bring about a mutually beneficial conclusion to the lawsuit. The city’s attorney wasn’t ready to put forward an agreement yet, but suggested that there will be discussion of such. Below is a transcript of the meeting constructed from memory and extensive written notes, as Mullins had refused to engage in dialogue if an objective record was to have been made.
Mullins: What do you want to chat about?
Ean: Specifically, why my name has been put on this lawsuit.
M: Quite frankly, because we were able to identify you from the statements of the PEOs and video people, as one of the people participating in this.
E: Alright, as a person participating?
E: So, participating in Robin Hooding automatically qualifies one…?
M: Well, now, I don’t want to have that kind of dialogue and didactic. If you’re gonna sit here and grill me about this stuff, I don’t want to have that kind of conversation with you.
M: Let me tell you from the city’s perspective. For good or for bad, you don’t have to accept it one way or the other. And you don’t even have to believe it, I don’t care. From the city’s perspective, what you guys are doing isn’t a peaceful event. You’re not being peaceful individuals. You’re basically committing emotional abuse with respect to our PEOs. You follow them around every day, all day…well, not all day. People don’t get up too early, you know, but you follow them around, sometimes in ones, sometimes in twos, sometimes in a bunch. You get close to them. It’s all in the petition. And the PEOs, if you’ve read the affidavits, you understand what they’re saying. It’s not appropriate to do that. We don’t care if you feed the meters. As a matter of fact, if you really wanted to be altruistic about it, you’d feed the meters where there aren’t any cars. You know, it’s not about meter feeding at this point. It really did pass the line, especially when they started, when they followed Mr. Givetz when he was downtown on his own time.
E: You said, “they followed”?
M: Well, an individual, who we think was one of the people named. I can’t remember if he is or not. But it’s the same activity. You know, it’s the same kind of activity. And I know it’s a loose group affiliation, whatever you want to call it. But we were able to identify you as one of the individuals who is regularly doing this activity. And the reality is that the city cannot be in a position where we allow our employees to be subjected to that.
M: Calling somebody a “brown baby killer” because of their service in the military, I mean, come on.
E: That’s nothing that I ever participated in, that’s nothing that I ever observed.
M: I get that, everybody has an individualized basis with respect to this. But your participation in this activity is not something that can be just sort of dismissed. Just because you’re following somebody around with a videocamera doesn’t mean that it makes it right when you’re being rude to people. The city has to take action with respect to that. What the court will want to do about it, we’ll see. It’s not about videotaping. If you want to stand on the corner, if you want to be around them within some sort of distance, do that. Petition doesn’t claim that you can’t do that. But following people up on the parking deck back here, where there are no parking meters, and you can’t use change…
E: I actually have made saves there, using the kiosk.
M: You guys follow them into the bathroom….
E: That’s another issue I took with the affidavit. The way it was worded, I get the impression that not much investigation has been done by the city to verify that each individual involved did anything at any point to wrong any of the parking enforcers.
M: You don’t get it. You really don’t get it. And that’s fine, I get that, because you’re coming at this with a sort of ideological perspective that doesn’t allow you to see what the global impact of the activity of the six individuals, either acting individually, or in concert with one another is having an impact on our parking enforcement officers. Which from my perspective, is the intended impact on the parking officers. You want them to quit.
E: I don’t…
M: You want them to quit. Everybody wants them to quit. That’s the underlying message, that’s what they’re being told. Whether you’re doing it individually or as part of a collective, doesn’t matter to me, doesn’t matter to the city. If you’re going to be engaged in that activity, then you are part of the problem from the city’s perspective.
E: Okay, well it was never my intention and I don’t think anyone will find a quote from myself ever having said that.
M: You have every right to say that to the court.
E: No, but it seems that every grievance that is brought up, as far as “this is a group activity, all of these people are involved”, and then, laying out particular behavior…
M: You’re not acting as individuals, I understand that you like to believe that your philosophy puts you down into an individualized basis. You’re not acting as individuals. As far as I can tell, from the research that I’ve done, you’re not even acting as voluntarists. Because a voluntarist is someone who has control over their own actions, and doesn’t try and control the actions of other people. That’s what you’re trying to do.
E: Well, I’m not trying to control…
M: I think Thoreau would be appalled with what’s going on with respect to this.
E: I happen to disagree there.
M: I hear that. I’m not asking you to agree with me. I’m just telling you that from the city’s perspective, acting in this group makes you a part of the problem. That’s the point. You’ll have every opportunity to discuss this with the court.
E: So does that mean that the city’s position, if I understand it, is that if people want to continue feeding meters, are they supposed to disassociate from Robin Hood of Keene?
E: Okay, so, all of the negative behaviors that have been associated with ‘the group’, there needs to be some sort of tie-in to individuals. The fact that I may be out with a camera every day doesn’t mean that I’m responsible for everyone that steps in front of my lens.
M: From the city’s perspective, that means that you are. When you’re acting as a collective or a group like that, either individually or with others, you’re implicitly agreeing with the activities of the group. That’s what you’re doing. You’re not acting as individuals. You’re not out there on your individual time doing this without people around you. You’re acting in concert with one another. That’s the problem from the city’s perspective. It isn’t enough to just say, “I’m just standing here as an individual”. You happen to be standing there as an individual while other individuals are engaged in an activity that by participating in it, you’re at least implicitly agreeing with. Explain that to the judge…
E: I think we take a different perspective on how individuals are responsible for their actions. I understand that if the police are doing something unlawful, that once the other police that are seeing that and observing that, that there is an obligation for them to, if not report it, then at least do something to bring about justice in that situation. But we know that that doesn’t happen, because there’s something called a thin blue line, so there’s like a protection among different groups.
M: Well, I’m not going to go into that conspiracy theory, but I understand your point.
E: Okay, but that protection, that doesn’t exist within the liberty community. And I mean that in that it’s broader than just Robin Hood of Keene. Everyone involved in this project, from what I understand, and you can ask them to verify, believe that individuals are responsible for their actions. And if you want to call out the actions of any particular individual that’s named in this lawsuit, I’d be happy to have a conversation about whether their actions are appropriate or not. However, I know that I have done nothing wrong, and that I have done nothing but try to foster a positive relationship with the parking enforcers, and I think that even some of the testimony of your parking enforcers would back that up. Other aspects of the case that are intentionally misleading, like you mentioned about the bathroom door. What impression do you get about where we stand in relation to a parking enforcer when they might go into a building?
M: I don’t know, I hear there’s video of you following them into the building, whether you’re standing outside the door or not is another question. But the reality is why are you following them into the building?
E: It says ‘door’ in the lawsuit. Is the city hall lobby not a very public place?
M: It’s not a place where the parking enforcement officers are conducting their activities or their job. At that point, it’s no different than following them around when they’re off duty. Back to your earlier point though, about acting as an individual, so based upon your theory, if you have a group of individuals who don’t ascribe to your theory, and they’re kicking somebody when they’re on the ground, you wouldn’t have any obligation to do anything about it, and you would say as the person standing around watching them get kicked on the ground that because you’re not doing it individually means that you have no responsibility for that. Isn’t that right?
E: If I observe violence, I would do my best to deescalate the situation.
M: This is violence. This is the point.
E: If it is violence, why isn’t it a crime?
M: It’s emotional violence. Not all emotional violence is a crime.
E: There is a harassment statute.
M: There is a harassment statute. Whether or not it applies, I guess it’s something that the court will tell us. But you’re still committing emotional violence. Do you think that ridicule isn’t a violent act? Taking flowers into my office? You guys take such a sweet gesture and turn it into a ridiculous political expression. What’s the point of that?
E: Well, flowers have long been used…
M: I understand, putting the jester hat on me, or putting something on somebody else, I mean…but on the other hand, when you do that with people, especially people who do care, what do you think that that does to them? Isn’t ridicule something that’s in the lexicon that voluntarists have? Is violence only related to the fact that you wind up and hit somebody or you put them in jail against their individual will? There’s whole other kinds of violence.
E: Yes, it also has to do with the threat of coercion, too.
M: No, there’s whole other kinds of violence. And you see this, people emotionally abused day in and day out. Is it necessarily a crime? Maybe not. Is it something that may be actionable? Maybe not. But is it something that has an impact on people negatively? Absolutely. What’s the difference with what you’re doing out here, month after month after month? Think about it, these are individual people we are talking about. They’re not agents of the government necessarily, they’re still human beings. And you’re not treating them like human beings. As far as I’m concerned, when you don’t treat another individual with a certain amount of respect and dignity, you’re committing violence on them. But you cannot see that. Because in your mind, as a voluntarist, having no individual intention to commit this act, it’s not violence. When you pull all of you together, and you do this in a group, where somebody is yelling these things, or somebody is close, and you do nothing about it, then you allow this individual to commit violence. That’s part of the problem I have with your philosophy, it’s not consistent. We have an individual contract with these individuals. Your whole philosophy is based upon contractual relationships, and that society should be organized around contracts.
E: Yes, and I respect their contract…
M: No you don’t, because you’re trying to break it. You’re trying to break their contract that they have with the city because the reality is you don’t think that it’s a valid contract between these individuals and the city, because you don’t recognize the authority of the city or its right to exist. So from your perspective, because it’s not a valid contract, you have every right and opportunity to go in and break it. I have an intellectual problem with that. Because if you and I enter into a contract, and Mr. Bernard or someone else out there doesn’t particularly like it, what gives him the right to come in and interrupt it? That’s the problem with your philosophy, there’s nobody there that would protect our individual contract, other than the group. Then if the group doesn’t particularly like the contract, what are we going to do?
E: Well, contracts have a lot to do with reputation, and people living up to them…
M: But it also depends upon someone recognizing and believing in it, and allowing it to happen. And because you don’t think that it should happen, doesn’t give you the right as an individual with someone else to come in and say, “I don’t like your contract, I’m going to break it.”
E: Well, I haven’t made any intention to violate anyone’s contract.
M: From our perspective, I understand that you don’t agree with the position, but because you are acting with this group, you are showing an intentionality to agree with the actions of the group. You can’t disassociate yourself from the people you’re surrounded by. Just like if you’re standing there watching three people kick somebody to death, you wouldn’t have the right to not do anything, if you were participating in that group. It’s the same thing.
E: I don’t think so, because taking the analogy of actual crime being committed, and this is all theoretical, for instance, there is no particular incident cited within this document. I mean, besides one incident with Graham and Alan, you may have been referring to that.
M: Which one?
E: Supposedly, Mr. Givetz was off duty, he was downtown during parking enforcement hours, and was wearing all black. Graham may have thought he was working, walked up to him and they had some sort of exchange. I don’t know what it was, I guess it was brief, but it was cited in here from what I understand.
M: Yes it is, and he went down to the district court and tried to get a restraining order. But the court said, I don’t think there’s enough here to be able to do that. Because the court is used to seeing people coming in bloodied. This was before the court issued the no-contact order, they didn’t know that this was lasting weeks and months at a time. You know, I understand that we have a different philosophical position. From what I’ve told you already, I at least have some knowledge of your philosophical position, I think that there’s some inconsistencies with respect to how it’s applied. While I don’t believe that it isn’t a violent act, I think it is a violent act, if I followed you home, all day long…
E: I’m not following parking enforcers home, nobody that I know is following parking enforcers home…
M: Well, prior to this, it’s not alleged in this complaint, but we’ve had experience with that happening, with police officers, with a district court judge. So, it’s not like we don’t have some experience with it.
E: Just because I’ve been out filming, the bailiffs thought that I might have been following a bailiff around while they was doing a bank run. And I think just the fact that one is out with a camera means that one is running into more instances of being associated with things that they’re not involved with.
M: I understand, but from our perspective, there has to be some kind of boundary.
E: Okay, and I think everyone named in the lawsuit is willing to talk about that.
M: Well, that’s a potential, and I’ll have to have some further discussion in respect to that. What we’re asking the court is, we’re not saying you can’t film, or you can’t talk or speak to these people necessarily. But we have to have some kind of space around these folks, and there has to be some understanding with respect to how that all happens. And then there are safety issues associated with it. You’re advertising for people to come to your Keene Fest in November, so what are you gonna have, one hundred, two hundred, three hundred people, who knows?
E: That would be an incredible turnout!
M: But if you’re gonna have a whole lot of people doing it, that wouldn’t be appropriate. There’s gotta be some kind of numbers limitation or something.
E: (laughs) Like we’d have to get a permit over a certain number?
M: Yeah, you know, parade permit. In any event, that’s the point of the lawsuit. I think one of the things that’s important for people to be able to do, as individuals and in a group, is be able to step back and look at it from another’s perspective. And I understand that at least from a philosophical and an ideological point of view, you don’t particularly see a problem with this. That if you were to put yourself in these individual’s shoes, and think about it from their perspective, setting aside the ideological and philosophical points of view, and try and conduct your day like that. How might you feel about it? I wouldn’t like it.
E: I understand that. And that’s why I’ve always tried to foster a positive relationship with the parking enforcers.
M: And at the beginning, they tried to do the same thing.
E: Linda never talked to us at any point, and that’s fine, I never talked to her either. Many other people didn’t, maybe some did.
M: I think, as the city attorney, my perspective is this has nothing to do with parking meters. Unfortunately, despite the media’s tendency to glob on to anything financial, this has nothing to do with the parking meters. And I think that the overall view that the judge is going to be looking at this is, from my perspective, is clearly a pursuit aspect. That’s what I want the judge to understand.
E: So, you think that following public officials, you said “clearly a pursuit aspect”, you think that following public officials who wear a Keene police department patch and badge while they drive a Keene police department vehicle, and during the hours of employment, you think that there’s something inherently illegal about that?
M: No, I didn’t say that. This is a question of a civil action we are involved in. From our perspective, you’re trying to force the termination of these individuals by getting them to quit.
E: And you think that all six people are involved in that activity?
M: Yes, exactly.
E: Okay, and do you have more affidavits, will this be available in discovery?
M: I’ll provide you with all of the, as we get ready for the lawsuit, one of the things we have to talk about is a structuring conference and expanded documents and everything else, including your videos and my videos.
E: I can give you a hard drive full.
M: I bet, I already have a hard drive full. All of that will happen at that point, at this point, we’ve commenced the lawsuit, we’re relying on the information that we had provided to us and provided to you. The answer to your question is now, do you have the right to film people? Yes. Do you have the right to surround people, from our perspective? No. Do you have the right to conduct your activities in a way that makes them want to quit? No, I don’t think you do. That’s the point. If you want to stand and film people, film people. That’s the point. Nothing in the lawsuit alleges otherwise.
E: Okay, interesting. Well, obviously I have been involved in this activity for a long time. Not everybody named in the lawsuit has, in fact, one person I know explicitly has never participated in this activity, he’s never filled meters. The only thing he’s done is been in the proximity of a parking enforcer with a camera.
M: From our perspective, once you’re part of the group, you’re part of the group. And the judge will make a decision as to whether or not, one or more individuals; I’m not going to tell you otherwise. It’s up to the judge to make this decision at this point. But from our perspective, we could not allow the activity to continue with respect to these employees, we just couldn’t. So, we’re going to let the judge make a decision with respect to that, unless for some reason we can work out some kind of an acceptable agreement.
E: Okay, well, what sort of agreement would that be then?
M: I’m not prepared to talk about that just yet, or you individually, but you have raised the possibility of doing that. And, if there is going to be some kind of agreement, believe it or not, it would have to be with everybody. Everybody who is named in the lawsuit, at least at this point.
E: Do you think you would offer it on an individual basis at first, or it would only be if everyone…?
M: No, everybody would have to do it, all or nothing. Because, from our perspective, you aren’t individuals, you’re acting as a group. That’s the point. Now, to the extent that you have control, and you’re going to be bringing in denial, because I understand the philosophy. You’re going to have all of these people show up here in November, and then you’re going to come to me and say, “Well, I didn’t have any authority or control over them, we’re acting as individuals”.
E: Well, if that’s the case, I’d say put out a police officer that day to follow us around, too. And if you see anything inappropriate, there you go. You guys did that already, and if there was anything criminal going on…
M: He wasn’t a police officer at that point, but yeah, we had somebody go around and collect information…
E: (laughs) Sturdy’s a cop all the time.
M: I’m not necessarily going to disagree with that, but I understand what you’re saying. The point is, the activity at this point has to stop. And that’s what we’re going to be asking the judge to do. But whatever happens has to happen as a group.
E: Okay. So you’re not, at this point, interested in taking any names individually off of this list? Even if a case would be presented that they’re not very much involved at all?
M: I’m not going to do that. If you’re going to have the courts remove somebody from this activity, because they can establish for the court to a good satisfaction that they’re not involved in the activity sufficient to be able to issue an injunction, that’s up to the judge. But at least from my perspective, I don’t care if you’re just standing there with a camera, filming everybody else in this. That’s the point, you know? Let the judge make that decision at this point. That’s my perspective on it. Anybody that we’ve been able to identify that we named in the lawsuit, as far as I’m concerned they’re involved in these activities, and they can’t stand there and tell me; they can tell the judge. “I was just there, you know”, if the judge wants to buy that, let the judge buy that.
E: I guess from this point on I would start moving into discovery.
M: What’s going to happen is, again, I don’t give legal advice, but after the answers are filed, we do have to put the other structuring conference order before the court, so we can find out what the discovery deadlines and that are going to be, so we’ll have further conversation about that.
E: Okay, is it more likely there will be an exchange of documents and information first, or do you think we can just move right in to disposition of the witnesses?
M: Generally, the court will require that we at least have some kind of agreement, we’ll have a hearing on it with respect to the disclosure of any of that kind of stuff. But generally, I would want to see whatever it is that you’re going to present before putting it; documents, videos, whatever you’re going to use, before there’s further witness activity. I’m hoping, quite frankly, to get a hearing fairly quickly before the court, but we’re not going to know before the deadline, June 16. So, you’ll have to file your answers at this point, and then they’ll put together the structuring conference.
E: Okay, I have a little experience, not civil court, but Manchester police took me to criminal court for being at a protest before. I have experience with the government doing the group thing in the past, “You’re in a group, you’re all under arrest”. Pete was caught up in those arrests, too. I successfully defeated both of those disorderly conduct charges.
M: Another reason we didn’t go after you guys criminally.
E: New ground for us, you’re giving us experience.
M: Yeah, keep in mind the idea of individual contracts. Anyway, it’s been a pleasure.
E: For sure, I assume others may wish to speak to you about their standing. Thanks for at least being this open, it would be more accountable if I was able to record, but I appreciate that I can at least take notes.
M: No, I like to be an adult, and treat people like adults.
E: On the record is un-adult?