Alton vs. Clay again over speech

Disorderly conduct, or free speech?

Judge must decide if Alton resident Jeffrey Clay violated meeting rules

By THOMAS P. CALDWELL, LACONIA DAILY SUN

LACONIA — Prosecutor Anthony Estee maintains that Jeffrey Clay had multiple opportunities to conform to meeting rules and avoid arrest last February. Defense attorney Jared Bedrick argues that Cydney Shapleigh-Johnson, chairman of the Alton Board of Selectmen, never gave him the opportunity to make his point.

Three hours of evidence and testimony in the N.H. Circuit Court District Division Laconia on Tuesday was not enough for the attorneys to call all witnesses or get to their final arguments, so the trial recessed, with another two hours of testimony anticipated when it resumes, possibly as late as October.

The case revolves around the selectmen’s Feb. 22 meeting when they held a public hearing on a proposed ambulance billing policy. Clay spoke three times, calling the selectmen incompetent for not already having a policy in place and saying it was another example of why they should resign.

The basis for the charges against Clay came during a later public comment period at the meeting when Clay came to the table and immediately launched into a series of insults.

Tuesday’s hearing began with the judge viewing one hour and six minutes of video from the meeting, beginning with the public hearing and continuing through Clay’s arrest.

When Clay began his public comment session by calling the selectmen incompetent, reckless, and careless, Shapleigh-Johnson interrupted him to ask him to limit his comments to an agenda item, as stipulated in the meeting rules. When he continued taunting the board with insults, Shapleigh-Johnson said she would give him three warnings before having him removed from the meeting. After two warnings, she called a five-minute recess, which she testified was to allow him to cool down.

During the recess, Clay remained at the selectmen’s table and continued to hurl insults at Shapleigh-Johnson and the other board members, as well as town attorney James Sessler. He also goaded the police officers, saying, “You can’t wait to throw the cuffs on me.”

After reconvening the meeting, Shapleigh-Johnson again warned Clay that he needed to address an item on the agenda, or he would be asked to leave.

“Didn’t you lose enough money the last time when you embarrassed the town by having me arrested?” Clay asked in a reference to a $45,200 settlement he had received in a civil suit against the town following a meeting in February 2015 when board policy did not allow anyone to criticize a public employee.

Shapleigh-Johnson called for assistance in removing Clay from the building and Sgt. William Tolios attempted to get him to leave. When Clay resisted, demanding that he get his three minutes of public comment and asking whether Tolios intended to arrest him, the officer said, “You’re going to be detained while I investigate whether to file disorderly conduct charges.” Ultimately, he arrested Clay for resisting arrest and the town later filed the disorderly conduct charge.

Estee questioned Shapleigh-Johnson to establish that Clay was not observing the rules outlined on the meeting agenda. She testified that, prior to the start of the meeting, Clay had approached her to say she had a lot of nerve running for re-election when she is so incompetent. During his comments on the ambulance billing policy, he continually strayed from the subject to talk about the board’s incompetence, but he returned to the topic at hand and remained within his three-minute comment limit.

She said that, during the public comment period, he continually spoke over her as she attempted to get him to address a particular agenda item.

Under cross-examination, Bedrick focused on how quickly Shapleigh-Johnson cut off Clay’s comments: “How long before you admonished him?” he asked. When she replied, “Fifteen seconds,” he corrected her, “Four seconds,” and he replayed that portion of the video to prove it.

Bedrick then went into a long line of questioning to illustrate that Clay was still addressing the ambulance policy when he spoke during the public comment period. Clay was picking up on his comments about the board’s incompetence during the hearing on ambulance billing when he opened his public comment, Bedrick said, so Shapleigh-Johnson should have known he was addressing an agenda item.

And, if Clay was addressing an agenda item, the argument went, he was not violating policy and police had no reason to arrest him.

When Sgt. Tolios took the stand, Bedrick took the same approach. “Throughout the time he was speaking, when he mentioned incompetence, it had to do with ambulance billing,” Bedrick said. “How would you conclude he was not talking about the ambulance the last time?”

Tolios had testified that he was following the chairman’s direction in asking Clay to leave, but Bedrick argued that a police officer has to have reasonable grounds to act.

He indicated that he would be filing motions to dismiss the charges on constitutional grounds.

 

  • Written by Tom Caldwell
  • Category: Local News
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Invisible dog fences questioned

By RICK GREEN, LACONIA DAILY SUN

LACONIA — Marc Burrell is fed up with dogs charging through electric invisible fences and attacking his pit bull.

The city is considering his request to tighten an ordinance governing how dogs should be confined.

“Twice I have been walking my dog and I have had dogs coming off their property, come across the street and attack me and my dog,” he told the City Council.

An invisible fence system utilizes an underground wire that can activate a device on a dog’s collar. The device beeps when the animal approaches the wire and delivers an electric shock when the dog gets too close.

Most dogs learn to stay away from the barrier, but the system isn't foolproof.

Burrell found out the hard way that some dogs are willing to take the shock and continue on their way, particularly if they are agitated and going after another dog.

“The dog that attacked us had a shock collar on it and broke through the invisible fence,” he said. “When I went back afterward and spoke to the owners, they said the dog does it constantly. Once the dog gets excited it just ignores the shock of the fence.”

A city code says it is unlawful to intentionally permit any dog to run at large. The animal must be kept on a leash or in an enclosure when not on the property of the owner.

Burrell wants to see wording added that would require an owner to be outside and in control of the dog if it is not fastened to the property or behind a real fence.

The issue has been referred to the city's Government Operations and Ordinances Committee.
City Councilor Ava Doyle, who sits on the committee, said there's another problem with invisible fences.

“One of the reasons I never went with an electric collar for my dog, is that if they go after something and they go through the fence, they're not going to come back,” she said. “They calm down, but they'll get a shock if they try to come back to their own yard.”

City Manager Scott Myers said he understands Burrell's concerns and will examine if city dog laws need a tweak.

“He's looking to protect himself, or his dog, from dogs coming off their property,” he said. “We'll certainly look at it and the legalities and see if there are alternatives.”

Burrell said his 9-year-old dog, Titan, is friendly with people, but will fight if another dog charges him.

“He's a pit bull, so automatically he's going to be at fault for anything that happens,” Burrell said. “If people can't control their dogs on their own property, if they are coming out on the street, where am I supposed to walk my dog? Am I supposed to keep him at home and not take him out?”

  • Written by Rick Green
  • Category: Local News
  • Hits: 1600

Gilmanton woman charged with opening phone account under relative's name

By THOMAS P. CALDWELL, LACONIA DAILY SUN
BELMONT — Police have charged a Gilmanton woman with identity fraud, witness tampering, and making false statements after allegedly using a family member’s identity to open a phone account.
Lt. Richard Mann said Helen T. Baker, 52, of 2 Brook Ave., Gilmanton, denied the allegation when police questioned her about it, and then allegedly tried to coerce the family member who filed the report.
• Other recent activity includes a report of a hit-and-run incident on Horne Road on July 22, when a neighbor allegedly struck a post in front of a nearby residence, knocking it over, but continued home without reporting the incident.
Mann said there were vehicle parts around the fallen post and the neighbor’s vehicle showed similar damage. The incident remains under investigation and an arrest may be pending, he said.
• Police charged Randy W.J. Nadeau, 34, of 19 Church St., Belmont, with driving after his license was revoked or suspended.
Thomas J. Boisvert, 39, of 34 Gardners Grove Road, Belmont, faces a charge of displaying a false inspection or registration sticker.
Police charged David Osorio, 30, of 183 Wilder St., Lowell, Massachusetts, with driving after revocation or suspension.
• On July 25, police arrested Jennifer R. Clark, 30, of 123 Sheridan St., Laconia, on a bench warrant from Laconia District Court, and also charged Henry J. Lamontagne, 56, of 189 Gilford Avenue, Laconia, with drug possession.
• Police charged Pappilion P. Mains, 31, of 36 Farmington Road, Rochester, with driving after revocation or suspension.
• Police arrested Caleb John Phillips, 19, of 46 Concord St., Belmont, on a bench warrant from Laconia District Court.

  • Written by Tom Caldwell
  • Category: Local News
  • Hits: 916

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