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Weare police facing another lawsuit regarding filming of 2010 traffic stop

The town of Weare is facing a second federal lawsuit stemming from how several police officers handled a confrontation with a group filming a 2010 traffic stop. William Rodriguez claims he was illegally held and his camera wrongfully confiscated during the incident, and he says in his suit that he was submitted to excessive lecturing by the officers before being released.

“It’s nothing outrageous in terms of he wasn’t beaten bloody or anything like that,” said Rodriguez’s attorney, Brandon Ross. “But the town of Weare, they need to learn to behave themselves.”

Weare police Chief Gregory Begin said yesterday that he wasn’t yet aware of the case and declined to comment about the incident. In the related case, though, the police have argued that the officers were justified in their actions because the people recording were being disruptive and interfering with their duties.

According to the suit filed at Concord’s U.S. District Court, one of Rodriguez’s friends was pulled over by Weare police Officer Joseph Kelley on March 24, 2010. Rodriguez, who lives in Manchester, claims that when he heard that his friend had been stopped, he and another man went to a nearby parking lot. He turned on his video camera and began to film the incident.

Lt. James Carney, who had by then arrived at the scene, approached Rodriguez and said he would be arrested if he didn’t stop filming, according to the lawsuit.

“Carney further approached as if to assault William or seize the camera,” the lawsuit continues. “There was a short verbal altercation between Carney and William, but the officer did not arrest William or touch him.”

But the officers did arrest one of Rodriguez’s friends, Carla Gericke, who was also at the traffic stop with a camera but has said in court that it was broken and she was only pretending to film. (In 2011 Gericke filed a lawsuit, which is ongoing, stemming from her arrest. Gericke is president of the Free State Project, an organization that encourages liberty activists to move to New Hampshire.)

Rodriguez went to the police department to post bail for Gericke, according to the lawsuit, which says he brought his camera but wasn’t filming or intending to do so. Sgt. Robert Peters, who is being sued along with Carney and Kelly, thought Rodriguez was filming and told him to leave, according to the lawsuit.

As Rodriguez was exiting the lobby, he “muttered some mild profanities under his breath,” prompting Carney and Kelley to follow him outside, according to the suit. There, Carney pointed a stun gun at Rodriguez and placed him under arrest, Ross said.

Rodriguez was held for several hours, during which he was lectured about the sacrifices several Weare police officers made in Iraq, according to the suit.

Ross said the Weare Police Department has had an “interesting and antagonistic” relationship with Rodriguez, who moved to New Hampshire as part of the Free State Project, and his friends. Ross said he sees the comments made by the Weare officers as an extension of that strained relationship.

“While Will was handcuffed and detained they just kind of lectured him for several hours, not continuously like an interrogation style,” he said. “They told him they were doing this for him basically, ‘We’re protecting you.’ ”

The next day the police charged Rodriguez with wiretapping, disorderly conduct and breach of bail conditions, charges that were all dropped by the town’s prosecutor, Ross said. The lawyer said Rodriguez still hasn’t gotten back the camera the police took from him.

The lawsuit was filed Friday, two days before the three-year statute of limitations expired. The suit includes nine counts accusing the police of infringing upon Rodriguez’s right to free speech as well as falsely imprisoning and assaulting him.

Ross said Rodriguez is seeking financial compensation including payment of lawyer’s fees stemming from the charges that were dropped. But he said the main goal is to assure that the Weare police don’t arrest anyone else trying to legally record them.

“I think Weare could improve their training a little bit,” he said. “Or at least supervision of their duty officers.”

(Tricia L. Nadolny can be reached at 369-3306 or
tnadolny@cmonitor.com or on Twitter at @tricia_nadolny.)

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