Sobriety checkpoint in downtown Manchester

Supporters of the Free State movement hold signs warning drivers of a sobriety checkpoint in downtown Manchester in September 2016.

MANCHESTER — The city of Manchester has paid $15,000 to a Free State activist arrested by police two years ago while he was attempting to film a DWI checkpoint in Manchester.

The payment, which was confirmed Thursday by City Solicitor Emily Rice, came after the lawyer for Keene resident Christopher Waid threatened the city with a federal lawsuit alleging violations of Waid’s rights under the First and 14th amendments.

The city denies any wrongdoing, and the settlement was reached “to buy peace,” the settlement agreement reads.

“As you know, the City does not provide commentary regarding settlements or legal or personnel matters beyond what is legally required under (the Right to Know Law), so we have no further comment,” Rice wrote in an email.

According to paperwork submitted with his claim, Waid was filming a Manchester police DWI checkpoint on April 20, 2017.

He was on the south side of Bridge Street and crossed two lanes of roadway to reach the median and get closer to the checkpoint. At that point, a confrontation occurred between Waid and Officer Robert Harrington with Harrington telling Waid to move to the sidewalk, according to the claim.

According to the claim, Harrington grabbed Waid’s camera; Waid said he was a member of the press and Harrington had no right to take it.

Harrington said, according to Waid’s lawsuit, “I don’t need you in my face” and demanded identification. Waid said he has no obligation to show an ID.

The lawsuit states that Harrington threatened to jail Waid unless he returned to the sidewalk; Waid said go ahead, and Harrington arrested him for disorderly conduct and jaywalking.

Prosecutors later dropped both charges.

The lawsuit relies on video footage shot by both Waid and a friend, Ian Bernard, who remained on the sidewalk. It notes that in his affidavit about the incident, Harrington claims that he thought Waid would strike him when he moved a camera toward his face.

“The main problem with the disorderly conduct charge is the video didn’t back it up,” said Seth Hipple, the Concord lawyer who represented Waid in both the criminal case and civil claim.

Rice would not answer questions about whether Harrington or other officers were reprimanded, whether police provide training in such situations, and what effect body cameras will have on similar situations.

Police in Manchester have pared back on DWI checkpoints, given their low success in finding drunken drivers. Police have blamed protests by Free State project activists, who warn drivers of pending checkpoints.

Waid writes for FreeKeene.com, a website that follows one of the more active and confrontational Free State pockets in New Hampshire.

In an email, Waid said the Manchester arrest was his first out of many encounters that he has had with police as a media correspondent.

“What the cops were doing was harassing innocent drivers under the guise of safety despite roving patrols being less expensive, more effective, and targeted at actual drunk drivers,” he wrote.

“It’s a vindication for the wrongful arrest that occurred,” Waid said in a telephone interview.

The settlement is the third — and smallest — that Manchester police have paid out when it comes to settling allegations of First Amendment violations.

In 2017, it paid $275,000 to Alfredo Valentin, whom police arrested in 2015 when he recorded a raid on his house. In 2017, the city also paid $89,000 to Theresa Petrello, a veteran who was arrested in 2015 during a crackdown on panhandling.

Saturday, December 14, 2019
Friday, December 13, 2019
Thursday, December 12, 2019