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Pembroke man who threatened to shoot town's plow truck drivers over snow in yard loses appeal

New Hampshire Union Leader

July 19. 2018 8:08AM

CONCORD — Threatening to shoot town plow truck drivers — even if they repeatedly bury your dooryard in feet of snow — amounted to a felony-level attempt to improperly influence town officials, the New Hampshire Supreme Court ruled Wednesday in the appeal of a criminal case.

Michael Hanes of Pembroke was unsuccessful in his appeal of a felony conviction that followed a fiery voice mail left for a town official after repeated issues with how his street was being plowed.

Hanes, according to court records, lived in an older part of Pembroke on a narrow street. His home is close to the road, and snow piles right up to his sidewalk and door when the town plow truck comes through.

He complained in the winter of 2015, and Town Administrator David Jodoin explained that public works employees were just following the plan approved by selectmen, according to court records. A year later, on the morning of Feb. 16, 2016, Hanes left a profanity-laced message for Jodoin.

“I got two feet of snow in my ******* front yard! I want Jimmy fired! I want to see somebody fired down there! I want you to ******* fire some ******* plow drivers! You come and look in front of my goddamn house! I am ******* just mad as hell! I want a plow driver fired for this and I want Jimmy’s ******* head on a ******* stick! I’m gonna start shooting these bastards if they keep this up! I will kill every ******* plow driver in this ******* ******* ******* city if they do this one more ******* time! Thank you!,” Hanes said, according to court records.

Rather than charge Hanes with criminal threatening, authorities brought a felony charge of improper influence.

At trial, Jodoin testified Hanes’ message “started out pretty calm, reasonable, and then it just went from like zero to 60 and accelerated within like three seconds. It was loud, yelling, screaming, threatening, wanted somebody fired, and then the threats came in.”

Hanes argued on appeal that the statement was hyperbole, but Jodoin wasted little time getting police involved.

The town administrator testified “anytime anybody ... threatens another individual, that ... becomes a police issue” and that he was concerned about the safety of town employees. Hanes left the message at 9:17 a.m.; he was in handcuffs by 11:45 a.m., court records show.

He was subsequently indicted on a class B felony charge of improper influence, which is the chapter of state law that prohibits corruption. In this case, the guilty verdict meant the threat was an effort to improperly influence town officials in their implementation of the snow removal policy.

Hanes was convicted after a one-day jury trial and sentenced to a year in jail, with all but a week suspended.

Hanes appealed the conviction on several grounds — that the state had failed to prove its case and that the message he left was protected speech under the First Amendment. His words, according to the appeal, were not to terrorize or cause “extreme fear” but rather to use strong words to convey frustration.

The New Hampshire Supreme Court wasn’t having it.

“Here, the defendant called the town administrator after the DPW plowed snow up to his sidewalk. The defendant yelled that he would ‘start shooting these [plow drivers] if they keep this up!’ We conclude that the evidence, viewed in the light most favorable to the State, was sufficient to establish the specific intent element of improper influence — that the defendant conveyed threats of violence with the intent of influencing the town administrator’s implementation of the town’s snow plowing procedures,” wrote Justice Anna Barbara Hantz Marconi.

Because the jury determined the threat was an improper influence, police did not have to prove that Hanes intended to carry out the threat, the court said.

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