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Exeter man charged with defaming police chief with 'dirty cop' comment

Sunday News Correspondent

June 02. 2018 10:05PM
Robert Frese of Exeter has been charged with defaming Exeter Police Chief William Shupe. (JASON SCHREIBER/Sunday News correspondent)

EXETER — Robert Frese isn’t afraid to speak his mind, but his public attack on Exeter Police Chief William Shupe in an online comment has landed him in handcuffs for alleged criminal defamation.

The 62-year-old Exeter man claims he’s been targeted by Exeter police for years and that they are now trying to silence him after his online comment claimed “Chief Shupe covered up for a dirty cop.”

His May 23 arrest on a charge of criminal defamation of character has outraged the New Hampshire chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, which has called on police to drop the charge.

“There are serious free speech concerns with the enforcement of this criminal statute against the speech of this individual. Indeed, it appears that the police may be using this statute to suppress speech that is critical of police. This is deeply troubling,” the ACLU said in a statement provided by legal director Gilles Bissonnette.

The charge was brought under New Hampshire’s criminal defamation law, which states: “A person is guilty of a class B misdemeanor if he purposely communicates to any person, orally or in writing, any information which he knows to be false and knows will tend to expose any other living person to public hatred, contempt or ridicule.”

The law states that “puleges Frblic” includes “any professional or social group of which the victim of the defamation is a member.”

The complaint alese “purposely communicated on a public website, in writing, information which he knows to be false and knows will tend to expose another person to public contempt, by posting that Chief Shupe covered up for a dirty cop.”

Frese, who resides at 43 Hayes Park, was released on $1,000 personal recognizance bail and ordered to stay 300 feet away from the chief. He is scheduled to be arraigned July 10 in the New Hampshire 10th Circuit Court in Brentwood.

Shupe could not be reached for comment.

Exeter police Capt. Stephan Poulin said he couldn’t comment further on the charge, saying only that it is a class B misdemeanor.

This is Frese’s latest run-in with Exeter police. He claims his trouble began when he was stopped by an Exeter police officer in 2013 and ticketed for failure to yield and failure to stop, which he claims wasn’t true.

“I’m definitely a target, there’s no question about it. I speak out about what I believe is wrong,” he said, adding that he’s posted about his problems with Exeter police on Facebook and has mentioned the “dirty cop” comment many times before.

Frese was charged with receiving stolen property in 2013, but the county attorney’s office later tossed it, saying there was insufficient evidence for a felony charge.

Frese was convicted of stalking in 2014 and criminal trespassing in 2017.

In March, Frese pleaded guilty to conduct after an accident, which followed a crash in Portsmouth on Aug. 8, 2017 in which he injured a construction flagger and left the scene. First-degree assault and reckless conduct charges were dropped as part of a plea deal.

Rockingham County Superior Court Judge N. William Delker gave Frese a two- to four-year prison sentence that was suspended for two years. He was also given 67 days of credit for time served.

Frese was placed in the Rockingham County pretrial release program on Sept. 28, 2017 while the Portsmouth case was still pending, but Rockingham County Sheriff’s Deputy Dean Winter wrote to the court in February that Frese was in violation and requested a hearing to address removing him from the program.

“The program spends an inordinate amount of time and resources supervising the defendant, and much more than anyone else that has been on or currently assigned to (the program). The defendant has demonstrated an unwillingness to abide by the conditions established by the court and the agreement he signed on numerous instances, and there are better uses of the program’s time and resources than to constantly monitor the defendant to ensure his compliance with what he originally agreed to,” Winter wrote.

Frese disagrees that he was in violation, but was eventually removed from the program.

With the suspended sentence hanging over his head, Frese alleges police brought the defamation charge knowing that if he’s convicted of a crime while he’s supposed to be on good behavior the prison sentence could be imposed.

“They’re creating a crime. I’ve never violated any suspended sentence ever because I’m not out committing crime, per se, but if I get a violation on this, a misdemeanor, they could revoke that and I’d do the two to four (years),” he said.

In its statement, the ACLU criticized the decision to bring the charge and voiced concerns about a chilling effect on free speech.

“The public interest in preventing defamation is not sufficient to justify the repressive effect that criminal libel prosecutions may have on public expression. That is especially true where, as here, criminal charges are used to punish people for criticizing public officials and government agencies,” the group said.

The ACLU pointed to the U.S. Supreme Court case New York Times vs. Sullivan in which the court found that “debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide-open,” and “may well include vehement, caustic, and sometimes unpleasantly sharp attacks on government and public officials.”

“Even in civil cases, public officials must meet a stringent standard in order to recover damages for defamatory statements. Allowing criminal prosecutions for such statements would give the government too much power to censor its critics, and would inevitably chill political speech lying at the heart of the First Amendment,” the ACLU said.

Frese said he can’t understand how his comment could be viewed as defamation when “we see Kathy Griffin, the comedian, walking around with the severed head of Donald Trump with blood dripping out ... and that’s free speech.”

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