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N.H. Supreme Court: Man’s sex charge arrest was illegal

The state Supreme Court has reversed a man’s conviction for attempted possession of child sex abuse images, saying the police were wrong to arrest him for taking pictures of children at an amusement park water attraction.

The police charged David Lantagne of Salem with disorderly conduct in 2011 after a patron of Canobie Lake Park told a security officer Lantagne was taking pictures of children with his cell phone. They used the arrest to get warrants to search Lantagne’s home computer and cell phone.

Based on data in his computer, the police charged him with felonies.

The court ruled that photographing children at a public water park did not constitute threatening conduct as defined by the disorderly conduct law.

“Photographing properly attired children in an open and public portion of Canobie Lake Park – regardless of whether the photographs were of the children’s backsides, were taken surreptitiously or would be uploaded to a computer – would not have warranted a reasonable belief that the photographer posed a threat of imminent harm to any patrons, including the children,” the court ruled.

The court Tuesday unanimously ruled that the evidence gathered after Lantagne’s illegal arrest should have been barred.

Lantagne’s lawyer said the convictions cost him his job at a Massachusetts printing company and visitation rights with his daughter. Lantagne also had to register as a sex offender.

“It cost him everything,” attorney John Macoul said. “It’s been a tragedy – an unwarranted tragedy.”

Lantagne was sentenced earlier this year to two to 15 years in prison, but was allowed to remain free on an appeal bond.

“There’s no statute in New Hampshire that makes it a crime to take pictures of people who are in a public place,” Macoul said Tuesday. “The fact that someone feels uncomfortable is not a basis to arrest someone.”

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