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Ray Duckler

Ray Duckler: Lights, camera, action – then arrest

  • Joe Hamel's home was searched and police charged him with wiretapping after Hamel recorded a city official who he claimed was lying to him about an appeals process for a taxi cab license.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

    Joe Hamel's home was searched and police charged him with wiretapping after Hamel recorded a city official who he claimed was lying to him about an appeals process for a taxi cab license.

    (JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

  • Joe Hamel's home was searched and police charged him with wiretapping after Hamel recorded a city official who he claimed was lying to him about an appeals process for a taxi cab license.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

    Joe Hamel's home was searched and police charged him with wiretapping after Hamel recorded a city official who he claimed was lying to him about an appeals process for a taxi cab license.

    (JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

  • Joe Hamel's home was searched and police charged him with wiretapping after Hamel recorded a city official who he claimed was lying to him about an appeals process for a taxi cab license.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)
  • Joe Hamel's home was searched and police charged him with wiretapping after Hamel recorded a city official who he claimed was lying to him about an appeals process for a taxi cab license.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

Joe Hamel says it’s time to move from his Pembroke apartment.

He’s nervous, looking over his shoulder the past two months since the Concord police, armed with a search warrant, banged on his door one morning at 9 and ordered him and his girlfriend onto their porch.

Within minutes, the cops found what they had come for: a tablet with a video/audio recording of the city’s health and licensing officer. Hamel believed the officer, Gene Blake, had falsely told him he had no recourse after a licensing board rejected Hamel’s application to drive a cab.

Hamel taped Blake because he felt his right to an appeal was being dismissed, and he wanted proof that Blake was merely “blowing him off,” as Hamel later said.

Blake, though, says he followed proper procedure, telling Hamel he had to first speak to the Concord police. Meanwhile, the cops say they had probable cause for the search warrant, the city prosecutor later dropped the charges and Hamel’s attorney claimed his client’s civil rights were trampled.

And Hamel? He was welcomed into the ever-changing technological landscape, in this case booked on wiretapping charges,

that at times features gray areas, interpretation of law and privacy issues galore.

“I worked for the New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union going back to the late 1970s,” said Jon Meyer, the Manchester attorney hired by Hamel. “And in the late 1970s, I can tell you that we did not have this issue.

“I’m hoping the judiciary starts looking at this issue,” Meyer continued. “People are so reflexively used to the wiretap statute that they don’t give thoughts to the other consideration here. I hope that changes, because I don’t want to spend the rest of my career as a lawyer putting out these kinds of fires.”

Meyer and Hamel were eager to talk about this fire. Hamel’s story begins last winter, after he submitted an application and the $52 fee for a cabbie’s license. But his driving record – lots of speeding tickets – and criminal record – receiving stolen property – led the police to reject his request.

“In the time period between submitting the application and getting denied, I was doing a lot of research online,” said Hamel, 31. “I came across the Concord municipal website, and it had a section for taxi cab licensing. It said if you’re denied, you have the right to an appeal.”

But, Hamel insists, Blake stonewalled him, telling him the police were concerned with his record, and that no appeal would be held.

“He said I had no right to appeal this,” Hamel said.

Countered Blake, “Of course he had a right (to an appeal). I told him the first step is to go to the police department, since they are the ones denying the taxi license. He got irate. He didn’t want to listen.”

Hamel said this is when he took out his tablet, ensuring he had proof that an official wasn’t doing his job. Hamel, sitting at a Dunkin’ Donuts recently, placed his tablet on the table, beside his cup of coffee, with emphasis and a thud to show that Blake did, indeed, know that he was recording.

“I pointed it right at him,” Hamel said.

Blake, however, denies that he knew he was on camera, saying, “As far as I know, he didn’t have anything in his hands.”

Hamel called city officials to secure his appeal, which was held in April. Blake was there and claimed he had tried to explain the process. That’s when Hamel said that he had recorded the exchange, apparently catching the attention of the police.

Four days later, the Concord police – five, Hamel said – entered his apartment. Hamel says he was naked and had to dress in front of a cop in his bedroom, then join his girlfriend outside, both wondering why their home was being searched.

The police say they had every right to conduct the search. “The case was investigated and probable cause existed based on information and circumstances we had,” Concord police Chief John Duval said via email.

Enter a case involving Simon Glik, a Boston man charged with illegal wiretapping after using his cell phone to document what he thought was a case of police brutality during an arrest. The United State Court of Appeals for the First Circuit ruled two years ago that Glik’s rights had been violated, saying private citizens had a right to audiotape public officials during public business in public places.

That ruling’s effect extended north, to New Hampshire.

The result? City prosecutor Tracy Connolly dropped the charges, saying, “A case law came up after the arrest. Sometimes, after viewing the facts, a charge doesn’t meet the statute.”

Meyer praised Connolly for her decision, adding that he never conferred with her before the charges were dropped. That, he said, was unusual.

“She said this was virtually unprecedented,” Meyer said. “It wasn’t even a matter of me persuading her.”

Meyer, though, wasn’t as flattering toward the police and judges. Generally speaking, he said the Glik ruling, plus the recording craze that is now part of our culture, means boundaries of understanding need to expand.

“People have their whole lives on those tablets, and what an incredible invasion of privacy that is,” Meyer said. “There are too many times where individuals trying to hold government accountable are being prosecuted. Part of the reason is ignorance, and that ignorance extends to the police and some district court judges.”

Hamel has since chosen to leave town. His cell phone repair business isn’t doing well, and he hopes to land a job at a car dealership in Rochester and move there.

After he was cuffed, fingerprinted and photographed, he says this incident has changed him forever.

“Can you blame me for being paranoid?” Hamel asked. “I don’t want to live around here anymore.”

(Ray Duckler can be reached at 369-3304,
rduckler@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @rayduckler.)

Legacy Comments3

"The result? City prosecutor Tracy Connolly dropped the charges, saying, “A case law came up after the arrest. Sometimes, after viewing the facts, a charge doesn’t meet the statute.”...Oh darn..Whoopsie...we were not aware of the fact we just trampled your first amendment rights. How is it, I, ordinary citizen, am keenly aware of this ruling by the court, and not police, judges, prosecutors, and investigators?? And what would have happened if this man had said to the police..."Get out of my house with your bogus warrent!". He lost his 1st amendment right, and you cannot go back in time to give it to him. Gone forever.

So, now that it has been determined that this mans 1st amendment rights WERE violated, does that go on anyones record? The man has speeding tickets and other various items on his record. The judge, police, investigators, what will go on their record???

The First Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on this in August 2011. This happened April 2013. That ruling is simple: "The filming of government officials engaged in their duties in a public place, including police officers performing their responsibilities, fits comfortably within these principles [of protected First Amendment activity].," said the Court. "Gathering information about government officials in a form that can readily be disseminated to others serves a cardinal First Amendment interest in protecting and promoting the free discussion of governmental affairs." It is going to take a lawsuit, a painful one, to get the govt to realize this. A man at the gun rally goes to jail for touching a cop, but cops, judges, investigators, all that were involved in this egregious trampling of the Constitution wont go to Prison. They need to. And then be sued personally.

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