Two courtrooms in New England saw criminal cases this week, two cases that should never have been brought. One in Massachusetts, one in New Hampshire. In one, justice eventually prevailed. In the other, it doesn’t look promising.
And to our shame, Massachusetts got it right, while here in New Hampshire, we’re getting it wrong.
In Lawrence, Massachusetts, 2005 Marine Of The Year Daniel Cotnoir and his family live in an apartment over his family’s funeral home. It’s next door to a rather rowdy night club. One night last August, the partiers got too loud for Mr. Cotnoir and his daughters, so he called the police. When they didn’t respond, he opened his window and yelled at them. Something smashed his window, sending broken glass all over his bedroom. He responded by firing a warning shot from his shotgun into the pavement near the crowd. Fragments slightly wounded two people (including a 15-year-old girl, which begs the question of what someone of that age is doing at a liquor-serving night club at 2 in the morning).
Cotnoir was arrested and charged with two counts of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, and had to undergo psychological evaluation. He refused a plea bargain, insisting that he had acted in defense of himself and his family.
After deliberating about two hours, the impossible happened: a Massachusetts jury did the right thing, and acquitted him of all charges.
Meanwhile, in Nashua, New Hampshire, a guy has been having some troubles with local police. They suspected his son of some misdeeds, so they came to his house to talk to the boy and his father. They were apparently less than polite to the gentleman in question, so he lodged a formal complaint. To back up his charges, he brought along a videotape — he has cameras set up to monitor his front and back door.
Apparently, in New Hampshire, especially in Nashua, it’s illegal to tape someone without their knowledge. Even at your own doorstep. And especially when it’s the cops, who aren’t too happy with you in the first place.
Now, I have nothing against such laws. In fact, I think they’re extremely valuable. But I think that an exception ought to be carved out for police.
Whenever a police officer is on duty, carrying out their assigned role as guardians of the peace, they ought to act at every moment like they’re on tape. (With obvious exceptions like bathroom breaks, of course.) And it should never be illegal to record the words or deeds of an on-duty police officer.
The Gannon family plans to sue the Nashua police over the incident. Now, my own (admittedly shallow) reading of the situation says that this family is quite likely one of those pain-in-the-ass types, always upset with local authorities over some vague “violation” of their “rights” and looking for trouble — everyone knows the type. But here, I feel pretty comfortable saying that in this case, they were well within their rights in taping the goings-on on their property, and especially their dealings with law enforcement. Mr. Gagnon’s arrest seems a petty, vindictive move by local officials fed up with his shenanigans and looking to “show him who’s boss.”
Again, this is almost entirely rampant speculation, based on very little actual facts.
Mr. Gagnon and his family, even if they are everything I suspect they are, did nothing morally wrong in taping his encounter with the police. And if the law disagrees, then that law is wrong and needs fixing. I am almsot always a supporter of law enforcement, but I know they’re not perfect. I was once a witness to an incident of police brutality, and my report of the incident led to the officer being disciplined. (Somewhere around here I have a letter of thanks from a former police chief.) But no decent cop should ever object to their actions being recorded and aired publicly.