Manchester man says Weare police violated his civil rights
Facing at least two pending lawsuits, the town of Weare and several police officers were slapped with another complaint - this time by a Manchester man who says police violated his civil rights when they arrested him for video-taping a motor vehicle stop three years ago.
William Rodriguez claims in the nine-count suit filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Concord that police wrongly arrested even though he was video-recording from a school parking lot a "significant distance away."
The traffic stop resulted in the arrests of Rodriguez's two acquaintances, Tyler Hanslin and Carla Gericke, on March 24, 2010. Gericke is president of the Free State Project and Rodriguez is a member of the group, which promotes itself as "pro-liberty activists" who favor limited government and individual liberties.
Rodriguez, who is in his 40s, claims his rights were further violated when he went to post bail for Gericke at the Weare Safety Center. According to his complaint, police accused him of recording on his camera and ordered him to leave.
As he walked out the door, Rodriguez "muttered some mild profanities under his breath" and was pursued by Police Lt. James Carney, who pointed a weapon at him, told him he was under arrest and ordered him to lie on the ground, the suit alleges.
Police seized Rodriguez's video camera, held him several hours overnight while lecturing him "about the sacrifices some of the Weare police officers made in Iraq," the suit claims.
Rodriguez was charged the next day with felony wiretapping for video-recording the traffic stop, disorderly conduct and breach of bail conditions. The town's prosecutor dropped the charges before trial, the suit says.
Still, the state kept Rodriguez's camera, indicating felony wiretapping charges would be referred to the Hillsborough County Attorney's Office for possible indictment. The camera still has not been returned despite a state court order to do so, the suit says.
"The Weare police department, I think, needs to get its house in order," Rodriguez's attorney Brandon D. Ross of Manchester said Thursday.
"As a pattern of practice, this use of wiretapping charges to stop people from recording things...is a very bad thing and they should not be doing these things," the attorney added.
Weare Police Chief Gregory C. Begin referred media inquiries to the town's attorney, Charles P. Bauer, of Concord.
"I'm not going to be able to comment. I would love to," the chief said.
Bauer did not return calls for comment Thursday.
Asked why Rodriguez waited nearly three years to file suit, Ross said "it was largely a strategic defense of my client."
Sgt. Joseph Kelley pulled over Tyler Hanslin for speeding about 11:30 p.m., according to court papers. Hanslin was "verbally abusive" and had a Glock 9 mm semi-automatic tucked in his waistband, the town's attorney, Bauer, wrote in his appeal to the First Circuit Court in Boston of the U.S. District Court's partial summary judgment in Gerick's federal suit against the town.
Gericke pulled up behind the cruiser, questioned the validity of the stop, then moved her car to a nearby parking lot and claimed to be video-recording the officer even though she knew her camera wasn't working, Bauer continued. The case is pending appeal.
Hanslin and Gericke were arrested. Gericke was charged with disobeying a police officer, obstructing a government official, and violating the state's wiretapping law. The charges against her were dismissed prior to a probable cause hearing set for May 25, 2010.
Another suit filed by former Weare Police Sgt. Louis R. Chatel Jr. against the town, its police department and several police officers and selectmen is still pending in Hillsborough County Superior Court. The former officer alleges he was harassed and intimated for exercising his free speech rights.