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September 02. 2012 1:09AM

A cop protected: Road Dawgs case an injustice

On Aug. 24, a chilling injustice was committed in New Hampshire. A judge let a Hill police sergeant get away with intimidating a private citizen and taking his personal property.

The property was a motorcycle jacket bearing the insignia of the Road Dawgs motorcycle club. That club consists of current and former police officers. Concord shop owner Brian Blackden had the jacket displayed on a mannequin in his store. On May 11, 2011, four Road Dawgs members, who were riding with three non-members, parked their motorcycles and entered Blackden’s shop.

They were there for one reason: to take the jacket. And they were not going to buy it, Blacken says. Evans disputes they confronted Blackden and demanded the jacket. They told Blackden that they would have him charged with receiving stolen property if he did not hand it over.

Two of the off-duty officers handled the jacket, according to one of them, Hill Sgt. Jonathan Evans. He said Bedford police Sgt. Gary Norton took the vest from the mannequin and handed it to him. They then left the store.

Asked by the prosecutor why they did not call the Concord police if they were simply trying to retreive stolen property, as they claimed, Hill said, “We were just trying to solve it without involving the legal part of the system.”

Instead, they “involved” threats. In addition to the threat to charge him with a crime, a witness told the court that one of the men shouted at Blackden as the group left, “Step out here and I’ll kick your a--.”

Blackden said Evans stole the jacket. Evans said Blackden gave them permission to take it, which Blackden vehemently denies. What is not disputed is that Evans left the store with the jacket, but without paying for it. Evans was charged with theft by unauthorized taking. It ought to have been a slam-dunk charge.

But Concord District Judge Gerard Boyle ruled that Evans was not guilty because, about an hour after leaving the store, he brought the vest to the Concord Police Department. “The state must prove the purpose to deprive, and that is defined as to withhold property permanently,” Boyle wrote. Evans, having turned the jacket in, must not have intended to deprive Blackden of the jacket permanently, by Boyle’s logic.

But the logic is faulty. Evans thought the jacket did not rightfully belong to Blackden (though it did, as Blackden legally bought it at a yard sale). Boyle assumes that by taking the jacket to the police station, Evans intended that it be be returned to Blackden. But it was a jacket that bore the colors of a police officers’ motorcycle club, and it was taken by off-duty officers who were offended that it was in the possession of a non-officer. It is at least equally likely, if not probable, that Evans believed his fellow officers would make sure the jacket never made its way back to Blackden.

The officer who Evans said lifted the jacket from the mannequin, Bedford Sgt. Gary Norton, never made it to court to stand trial.

On the day the complaint was filed against him and Evans, Norton committed suicide. Perhaps that was an awful coincidence. Or perhaps Sgt. Norton had more faith in the New Hampshire criminal justice system than is deserved.

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