ACLU reaches compromise with Salem over ICenter coach arrest caught on video
By RYAN LESSARD Union Leader Correspondent
Salem police are under scrutiny for officers' action in this scuffle at a local arena in December in which a youth hockey coach from Massachusetts was arrested. Salem Police say they cannot comment on the case because of a judge-issued gag order. (YouTube.com )
SALEM — The American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire has reached a compromise with the town of Salem over a lawsuit seeking information related to ongoing criminal cases. The ACLU filed its response Wednesday, agreeing to drop its Right-to-Know lawsuit and “resolve the permissibility” of a court-ordered gag order, including the question of whether it’s necessary.
In June, the ACLU sued Salem for information related to the arrests of three Massachusetts men involved in a dispute and subsequent tussle with police after a youth hockey game at Salem’s ICenter arena on Dec. 2.
At the initial incident, Salem police arrested Robert Andersen, an assistant coach from Wilmington, Mass. He was charged with assaulting a police officer and criminal threatening.
Months after the incident, several parents present during the arrest told media outlets that Andersen was falsely singled out by police and unnecessarily tasered. They said Andersen was in fact trying to mediate a dispute between parents.
Two of the parents who were present, John Chesna of Revere, Mass., and Christopher Albano of Reading, Mass., were arrested in May for alleged crimes during the December incident. They were both charged with disorderly conduct. Albano was charged with simple assault, Chesna with criminal trespass.
Police previously said they arrested the two men months later because they obtained new video evidence. But the ACLU expressed concerns in its suit that the arrests could be inappropriately motivated by a desire to intimidate potential witnesses, and it requested police reports to aid in its investigation.
Albano was one of the parents who spoke to the media in defense of Andersen.
Town officials and police have declined to comment on the cases since a superior court judge issued a gag order on May 23 on any information learned from pertinent police reports.
Salem filed its response through its law firm Upton & Hatfield on July 26, saying that since the ACLU has made no steps to modify the gag order, its Right-to-Know suit is demanding the town violate the court order and therefore the ACLU “has filed this frivolous lawsuit for its own purposes.”
The response from Salem also states that the ACLU suit gratuitously defames Salem police officers.
It goes on to state that in February or March, the state Attorney General’s office reviewed all documents supplied by Andersen and the police department reports and found no criminal conduct by the police officers involved.
The town is already conducting an independent review, but Town Manager Chris Dillon said that is not specifically related to the ICenter arrests.
The ACLU also filed a motion to intervene in the criminal case, vacate the gag order and schedule a hearing on Aug. 22.
Andersen and Chesna both have court hearings on Aug. 22. Albano’s first court hearing is scheduled for Aug. 30.