Police Chief Sends Officers Out To Arrest Man For Calling The Chief A 'Dirty' Cop

from the in-a-move-guaranteed-to-only-garner-more-respect-for-the-chief dept

If any state still has a criminal defamation law on the books (and there are more than you would think), it needs to get rid of it posthaste. Besides the obvious Constitutional implications, the laws act as lèse-majesté analogs wielded by powerful government officials to silence their critics.

Criminal defamation laws have been abused multiple times by law enforcement officers and their public official friends. Louisiana public officials (and the law enforcement that willingly serves them) seem especially fond of deploying a law already declared unconstitutional to harass citizens who just won't stop complaining about the actions of their public officials.

For whatever reason, New Hampshire still has a criminal defamation law on the books. It's only a misdemeanor but that's still plenty of hassle for those who've been targeted by vindictive cops. [h/t Adam Steinbaugh]

On May 23, a police officer arrested Robert W. Frese in Exeter, New Hampshire and took him to the station for booking. Frese is no stranger to law enforcement; in the past, he has been convicted of fraud, criminal trespassing, and a hit-and-run. (His vehicle was easy to track because of its notable vanity plate: TRUMP1.) But this latest arrest, Frese learned, had nothing to do with those earlier mishaps. Instead, he had been apprehended for insulting a police officer on the internet.

The facts of the case, laid out by the Seacoast Online and the criminal complaint against Frese, are straightforward. On May 3, Frese wrote a comment on a Seacoast Online article about recently retiring police officer Dan D’Amato. He believed that D’Amato had treated him unfairly and harshly criticized his alleged misconduct. He then tore into Exeter Police Chief William Shupe, declaring that “Chief Shupe covered up for this dirty cop.”

Chief Shupe had plenty of options to respond to being called "dirty" by an Exeter resident. He could have said nothing. He could have responded by calling Frese's character into question. He could have demanded proof. He could have taken his badge off and headed to the courthouse to file a civil defamation complaint just like the rest of the unwashed masses. But he did none of these things.

Instead, he arrested Frese and charged him. The arrest itself was unusual. Class B misdemeanors generally result in citations, not arrests, because no jail time is involved. But Chief Shupe had someone to punish for daring to insult a public official, so an arrest was carried out. Shupe got his man -- and a planned arraignment -- but that's as far as this bogus criminal defamation case is going. (h/t Eugene Volokh)

Citing a review by the New Hampshire attorney general's office, Exeter police dropped the criminal defamation charge against Robert Frese for online comments he made accusing the police chief of "covering up for a dirty cop."

In a press release issued Thursday afternoon, Exeter police said "In further review by the attorney general's office of the facts of this case and the law, it is their opinion that the state would not prevail at trial. After careful consideration of all the opinions involved, the Exeter Police Department has decided to nolle prosse the charge."

This is what tends happens when someone other than an aggrieved party -- in this case, the town's police chief -- gets involved. The stupidity of the arrest is exposed by the law being read in the context of the situation. If anything is definitively protected by the First Amendment, it's political debate. An angry man venting about perceived police corruption is part of that debate. Whether or not Chief Shupe is actually corrupt remains to be seen. But this vindictive arrest certainly doesn't make him appear any more trustworthy or honest.

Hide this

Thank you for reading this Techdirt post. With so many things competing for everyone’s attention these days, we really appreciate you giving us your time. We work hard every day to put quality content out there for our community.

Techdirt is one of the few remaining truly independent media outlets. We do not have a giant corporation behind us, and we rely heavily on our community to support us, in an age when advertisers are increasingly uninterested in sponsoring small, independent sites — especially a site like ours that is unwilling to pull punches in its reporting and analysis.

While other websites have resorted to paywalls, registration requirements, and increasingly annoying/intrusive advertising, we have always kept Techdirt open and available to anyone. But in order to continue doing so, we need your support. We offer a variety of ways for our readers to support us, from direct donations to special subscriptions and cool merchandise — and every little bit helps. Thank you.

–The Techdirt Team

Filed Under: criminal defamation, dirty cop, new hampshire, robert frese, william shupe

Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Thread

  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Jun 2018 @ 12:42pm

    Re: Re: Re: Don't want to Shupe with him

    I don't think the bar should be any higher or lower regardless of the person doing or receiving the supposed "defamation". I will always disagree with the creation of two different classes of people having the law apply to them differently.

    In this case, the problem is the law itself and the Police being more than willing to abuse them for purposes that these laws were not intended to address but were "shockingly" written to well... address them. This is literally the slippery slope a lot of people refuse to admit exists. And while many people are more than willing to "never attribute to malice what is sufficiently explained by stupidity", I believe the opposite. I never attribute to stupidity when when government is involved because their entire con game is to get people to believe it is "stupidity" rather than "malice" when they write laws this way.

    This law is clearly intended to be used this way because it is written to be used this way.

Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter

Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Follow Techdirt
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat

Warning: include(/home/beta6/deploy/itasca_20201215-3691-c395/includes/right_column/rc_promo_discord_chat.inc): failed to open stream: No such file or directory in /home/beta6/deploy/itasca_20201215-3691-c395/includes/right_column/rc_module_promo.inc on line 8

Warning: include(): Failed opening '/home/beta6/deploy/itasca_20201215-3691-c395/includes/right_column/rc_promo_discord_chat.inc' for inclusion (include_path='.:/usr/share/pear:/home/beta6/deploy/itasca_20201215-3691-c395:/home/beta6/deploy/itasca_20201215-3691-c395/..') in /home/beta6/deploy/itasca_20201215-3691-c395/includes/right_column/rc_module_promo.inc on line 8
Recent Stories

This site, like most other sites on the web, uses cookies. For more information, see our privacy policy. Got it

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.