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February 23. 2012 11:50PM

Ward Bird II: No felony in Farmington

Here we go again.

One year after the governor and Executive Council commuted the three-to-six-year prison sentence of Ward Bird, the Moultonborough farmer convicted of felony criminal threatening for displaying a handgun to a trespasser, a Farmington man reportedly stopped a burglary in progress by yelling “Freeze!” at the alleged burglar and firing a pistol into the ground. For that, he was arrested and charged with reckless conduct.

When is this nonsense going to end?

Dennis Fleming, 61, of Ten Rod Road, Farmington, came home last Saturday to find that his house had been burgled. Thankfully, his .38 caliber handgun was not taken. Fleming said he had seen a stranger with a backpack walking down his street, so he picked up the gun and walked in that direction. He said he saw the same man crawling out of the window of a neighbor's house. He fired his pistol into the ground, he said, because “I just wanted him to take me serious. He did.”

Police identified the man with the backpack as Joseph Hebert, 27, of 70 Bunker Street, Farmington. “We have tied him to 10 other burglaries,” Farmington Police Chief Scott Roberge told this newspaper. If the police account holds up in court, then with a single, completely harmless shot into the earth, Flemming stopped a highly active burglar who had been preying on the local community for quite a while. And for this public service, Fleming was arrested and charged with a felony.

Strafford County Attorney Tom Velardi dropped the charge on Thursday. He said that the facts on the scene supported the reckless conduct charge, but that subsequent facts showed it was not justified. According to state statute, “A person is guilty of reckless conduct if he recklessly engages in conduct which places or may place another in danger of serious bodily injury.” Whom did Fleming supposedly endanger by firing into the lawn? A garden gnome?

It is hard to see how this charge was ever justified. Law enforcement officials need to stop treating every display or discharge of a firearm by someone not in law enforcement as a criminally dangerous act.


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