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State vs. Ademo Freeman, the Resistant Chalker

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Ademo Freeman went on trial last Monday in Manchester district court to answer to the charges of criminal mischief and resisting arrest. Ademo was the first of the Chalking 8 arrests made outside the police station during a police accountability rally on June 4. At least 17 supporters and members of independent media were present to witness as the state presented its case against Ademo, with five city of Manchester employees speaking in favor of the state.

Before the proceedings were underway, there was much conversation between liberty activists present and the representatives of the state. As these interactions were being filmed by various camera-wielding individuals, bailiffs approached those with cameras visible and handed them an order signed by the judge that limited recording to the duration of the trial itself. The order effectively banned pre and post trial interviews and interactions, which are often recorded when activists are due in court. The move was likely motivated by an interaction on camera which occurred outside courtroom #201 following my own trial three days prior.

At about 1:30, the event was to get underway when the defendant asked the status of two pretrial motions he had filed. Judge William Lyons indicated that he had denied both motions previously. Ademo responded that he would be ready to proceed after reading the judge’s ruling on the motions, and after a short recess, prosecutor Gregory Muller called his first witness.

Joseph Mucci, a sergeant in the Manchester police, appeared wearing green khakis and an olive t-shirt. His testimony began with him arriving on the scene at a quarter to five after having made an arrest. He observed what he described as a group “writing in colored chalk” on the police station. The group allegedly writing on the station wall were defendants Ademo and Wesley Gilwreath, who were arrested simultaneously. But it was not during their first interaction that Mr. Mucci decided to arrest Ademo and Wes. As the officer first approached the chalkers, he did not instruct them to stop chalking. He explained that he was awaiting orders from his superiors on how to proceed. This suggests that he himself was not sure whether a crime was being committed.

Once Mucci positively identified the defendant as the person he had observed writing on a wall with chalk, he was turned over to the defense for cross-examination. Ademo’s initial questions were met with a string of objections as he asked Mr. Mucci how he would define public property. That was determined to be a legal question, which the court would address, and the witness was not required to answer. Mucci testified that he did not consider the gathering a protest at the time, but that he had in retrospect.

The question was brought up as to whether the police’s actions in not making any effort or request to stop chalkers could be interpreted as permitting the chalkings. The prosecutor argued that this amounted to an ignorance of the law defense, and the rules concerning such an approach were then discussed before more questioning commenced.

Ademo asked each witness to define “damage”, and most explained that damage had been done because a complex cleanup method was used that city officials chose for resolving the colored retaining walls. Entered into evidence for all of the Chalking 8 was a memo written by Manchester police sergeant John Patti explaining that the fire department had a minimum cost associated with bringing their truck around the block to the police station. Though the cleanup lasted about 20 minutes, the memo stated that payment was required for a minimum of three hours of labor. Additionally asked of each of the state’s witnesses was how much they were being paid for their testimony. Most replied that they were currently on duty, and receiving time-and-a-half pay while in court.

Daniel Doherty, another Manchester police officer, testified next that he had assisted in Ademo’s arrest. He denied that there had been any physical, active resistance to the arrest, and noted that Ademo did not walk into the police station.

Doherty’s testimony was followed by that of Timothy Craig. Craig had not been on the scene that day. He is a detective who was, after the fact, given the task of collecting digital evidence, both from the Internet and from phones and cameras stolen by police from those present. He is seemingly the scapegoat for the gross incompetence of the investigation. Craig testified that he took all readable data from phones and cameras, and passed them off to his supervisors. Craig did not recall on the stand the identity of the mysterious next person in the chain of evidence, who so poorly organized the evidence that some relevant videos and photos from that day were never submitted. It should be noted that private, unrelated photos and videos of individuals with family and friends were distributed to all of the Chalking 8 in their discovery requests. As well, the police’s own video footage from the day was never preserved, despite claims by Manchester officers that such footage would be preserved at the time that private electronics were stolen. This was a clear violation of the search warrant, which authorized that only evidence relevant to the case be collected and distributed. Craig also testified that he is additionally employed by the Secret Service and Homeland Security, which perhaps explains why Manchester PD’s inability to properly investigate supposed crimes reaches ineptitude levels of federal proportions. John Patti signed the affidavit for the search warrant, so presumably he was responsible for ensuring that the terms were not violated.

Patti, the other arresting officer, was next on the witness stand. He acknowledged arresting Ademo after he declined to provide identification. Patti also testified to placing himself on top of Ademo after he dropped to the ground upon being grabbed. During direct examination, the prosecutor asked John a line of questions regarding the potential cost incurred by the city of Manchester due to the use of a fire truck, crew of four, and 750 gallons of pressurized water to wash away chalkings. Ademo asked how much, in dollar amounts, the fire department bills for “calls for service”. The prosecution asserted that they were not charging a Class A Misdemeanor in this case, and for this reason, considered the “damage” done by the defendant to be under $100. The judge never allowed the question of what specifically constitutes damage to be raised in court, ruling this to be a legal matter to be determined by the court.

Ademo began his cross-examination of Officer Patti by having him set the scene of the event. Patti described a peaceful protest, where some were carrying signs and speaking with people passing by. In his search warrant, Patti cited that his “training and experience” led him to believe that this was a “free stater” protest and that he was aware that people associated with this group record their interactions with law enforcement. As soon as Ademo asked if the protest was believed to involve participants in the Free State Project, Gregory Muller objected on the grounds of relevance. Citing the search warrant and a possible animus against the political refugees, the judge allowed Ademo’s line of questioning. Though Patti admitted there was no training associated with Free Staters as his affidavit implied, he stated that he was personally aware that some project participants record police. The direct question was asked, “What is your opinion of the Free State Project?” Following an objection, the judge surprisingly told the witness, “You can answer.” John Patti responded that he didn’t have a problem with them, and that he appreciates their enthusiasm for what they support.

In press coverage following the Chalking 8 arrests, Manchester police sergeant Todd Boucher classified the demonstration as, “…basically, a kind of anti-government protest.” He was who all officers deferred to as the officer in charge, and it is unclear whether or not he interacted with the public during the demonstration. John Patti was asked on the witness stand which chalkings he would have considered anti-government, and he did not recall any of them. After looking over his report, the one he could find most fitting that description, was “Government is monopoly”. He followed that with, “Kind of, ‘taxes are theft’.”

In explaining why Officer Patti chose to arrest Ademo as he walked away from him, he stated that his initial intention was to issue city ordinance violations to the chalkers. The resisting arrest charge was motivated by what Patti called “passive resistance”, which on cross examination he defined as to not physically resist, but to not comply with orders. When asked if he had harmed another’s person or property, Patti affirmed, citing the chalk writing on the wall of the station as harm. When asked to elaborate, he said there was a cost associated with removing it. When asked if there was an invoice for the cost, the answer was, “I’m not aware of an invoice.”

Prosecutor Muller asked one question during redirect, which inquired into what was said between Ademo and Officers Patti and Doherty at the time of his arrest. In re-cross, Ademo played the video, and even after reviewing the audio, they could not agree on what was being said in the video. Upon deciding not to continue the line of questioning, which Patti called a difference of interpretation, Ademo concluded with, “It’s in evidence” (referring to the video).

With only ten minutes left before the court would begin to close, the last witness was called. Deputy Fire Chief Michael Gamache was brought to the stand to articulate the fire department’s role that day. It was his decision to bring a fire truck to wash away the chalk. On cross examination, he acknowledged that there could have been other ways to remove the chalk. With the closest thing to a bill for service being John Patti’s memo in which he states the presumed cost, Ademo asked Gamache specific questions about the fire department’s billing policy:

What does 23 minutes of time with a four person crew cost?
-You get that information when you hire us.

Who was billed for the June 4th cleanup?
-There was no one that was billed.

Ademo’s questions concluded with Gamache’s response that no one was billed for the chalk removal, and the prosecution rested. Having no witnesses, the defense also rested, closing evidence.

The judge indicated that, as he had in all prior Chalking 8 cases, he would be taking the matter under advisement. This means there will be some delay before a ruling is delivered, in which time the prosecution and defense are to compose legal memos supporting their points with case law. The two issues that the judge instructed Ademo to defend were ones that he had tried to address prior to trial. The judge dismissed the pretrial motions as not pretrial in nature, asserting that the trial was necessary to hear how the facts applied to this case. The first issue was the definition of passive resistance, and whether or not refusing to comply with an arrest constitutes resisting the arrest. Ademo did not physically resist his arrest, but did not assist in his own transportation either. The second issue was if there was a First Amendment protection for Ademo’s actions which should supersede local or state statute. The judge informed parties not to expect a ruling before the new year and concluded the day’s proceedings by criticizing the bureaucracy of his employers. Apparently the computer system had been down, and the judge did not have access to his case files. “I’m on day seven without computer access.”

Read more at Free Keene

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