Franklin business owner sues police department, city officials 

By JAMIE L. COSTA

Monitor staff

Published: 09-05-2023 12:27 PM

Franklin business owner Miriam Kovacs is suing city officials, including Mayor Jo Brown and Police Chief David Goldstein, accusing them of violating her civil rights when they failed to protect her from hate crimes and retaliating against her when she spoke out.

The lawsuit follows more than a year of threats made against Kovacs, and vandalism at her business, the Broken Spoon, according to her lawsuit. Some of the online attacks targeted her Jewish heritage, including references to Nazi Germany, the Holocaust and the Auschwitz concentration camp.

Despite her many attempts to seek protection from the Franklin Police Department and city officials, she was repeatedly ignored and retaliated against, including comments speculating about her mental health and public criticism posted on Facebook by Goldstein, the lawsuit alleges. Instead of protecting her, they publicly defamed her, damaged her business and her reputation and left her in fear for her life and safety, according to the suit.

Kovacs suffered “severe emotional distress” and “substantial damages” as a result of the “extreme and outrageous” actions of the defendants, the suit states.

“Their conduct, as set forth in this complaint, is the product of overt agreements among and between the defendants, acting in concert, unlawfully and inflicting injury on Miriam,” the suit states.

In addition to Goldstein and Brown, the lawsuit lists Sergeant Daniel Ball, City Manager Judie Milner, Chair of the Police Committee Jay Chandler, City Councilors Valerie Blake and Vincent Ribas, and former city councilor April Bunker as defendants.

Kovacs was first targeted in July 2022 after she sought to organize an online counter-protest to a white nationalist group hosting an event in Kittery, Maine. Her attempts to counter protest were published on Gab, a social networking site popular with far-right extremists, asking followers to leave negative reviews of the Broken Spoon.

Within days, the restaurant received hundreds of negative online reviews and threatening phone calls. She reported the incidents to the Franklin Police Department, which she said refused to investigate her claims. The police told her the posts were opinion-based speech protected by the First Amendment, the suit states.

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In November, the exterior of her business was vandalized. She reported the incident to police, who she says refused to investigate and criticized Kovacs’s social media posts and blamed her for the vandalism.

In December, during a public police commission meeting and a city council meeting, she was the subject of conversations where members discussed her mental health, labeled her “psychotic” and described her appearance as “thuggish.”

Fueling the growing divide between Kovacs and city officials, she participated in a Hate Crime Forum in Manchester hosted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office, where she publicly criticized the failings of the police department. A week later, Goldstein published a statement denouncing her behavior and rebuking what Kovacs had said at the forum.

The purpose of the post was to address complaints made against the department, wrote Goldstein. However, Kovacs never heard anything from him prior to the post going live, which identified her and her business, and felt like retaliation and intimidation, she said in an interview with the Monitor in February.

Fearful of further retaliation from hate groups, Kovacs asked Goldstein to remove the post after it generated significant online attention. At the time, he refused. It has since been taken down.

Around the same time Kovacs began to publicly speak out about her dissatisfaction with the police department, the working environment at the department deteriorated for Officer Mark Faro, who was in a relationship with Kovacs.

The lawsuit states that Goldstein disciplined Officer Faro for his relationship with her. Faro left the department shortly after.

The suit seeks a jury trial and monetary damages as well as attorney’s fees and asks the court to prevent the defendants from further violating Kovacs’s civil rights.

Goldstein and Brown did not respond to requests for comment. A trial date has not been announced.

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