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Exeter police silent on decision to charge man with defaming chief

Union Leader Correspondent

June 06. 2018 11:12AM
Robert Frese of Exeter has been charged with defaming Exeter Police Chief William Shupe. (JASON SCHREIBER/Sunday News correspondent)

The Exeter Police Department has come under fire by the American Civil Liberties Union after a local man was charged with defaming the police chief. (Jason Schreiber/Correspondent)

EXETER — Police officials have yet to publicly defend a decision to bring a criminal defamation charge against an Exeter man in a case that drew national attention and outrage from the American Civil Liberties Union.

Police Chief William Shupe declined comment Tuesday on the May 23 arrest of Robert Frese, 62, who faces one count of criminal defamation of character for posting an online comment that read, “Chief Shupe covered up for a dirty cop.”

Frese has had several encounters with police over the years and claims he’s become a target.

The New Hampshire chapter of the ACLU late last week urged police to dismiss the charge, arguing that it raises serious free speech concerns and appears to be an effort by police to suppress speech that’s critical of law enforcement.

Frese, who is free on bail and will be arraigned on July 10, was charged under the state’s criminal defamation law.

The law states that a person can be found 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 complaint accuses Frese of purposely communicating 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 has been arrested by police in the past and has a record that includes convictions for stalking in 2014, criminal trespassing in 2017, and a felony conduct after an accident charge resulting from an accident last year in Portsmouth in which he struck a construction flagger and left the scene.

Frese was given a 2- to 4-year suspended prison sentence on the conduct after an accident charge and claims police only brought the defamation charge because it could prompt the court to impose the prison sentence for violating the condition of good behavior.

Along with his run-ins with police, Frese also fought the town after it denied his application for a disability exemption for his property taxes in 2013. His appeal to the state’s Board of Tax and Land Appeals was eventually denied.

News of Frese’s arrest on the defamation charge caught some town officials by surprise.

Selectman Anne Surman said she was unaware of the case until it made headlines last week.

“The first I heard of it was when it was reported in the paper. I don’t know if that’s good or bad,” she said Tuesday, adding, “I would like to know about it before it was in the paper because I’m a selectman,” she said.

Selectman Don Clement said he also hadn’t heard about the case until he read it in the newspaper.

“It took me completely by surprise,” he said.

Clement said he’s heard many comments from people who have asked him about the case.

“It concerns me, as an elected official, that I had to read about it in the paper. I wish that I was at least made aware that a story was about to break so we could be prepared,” he said.

Town Manager Russ Dean said he couldn’t comment as it was a criminal case.

“It is a legal process in the hands of the courts,” he said.

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