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A tale of two courtrooms

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.

And that was when he was arrested.

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.

Comments (8)

Everytime you walk into a c... (Below threshold)
USMC Pilot:

Everytime you walk into a convinience store you are on video tape. Is this against the law? How can you legislate what somewone does to protect their own property? Unless they had a warant, or were in pursuit of a criminal, the police are not entitled to any special protection on someones private property. This police department is indicative of many police officers who are overly impressed with their roll in society, and see little need to be courteous to the public. There is also no law against being a pain in the ass.

People should be able to vi... (Below threshold)

People should be able to videotape occurences on or near their property, especially if they feel their personal security is involved. At the same time, I see nothing particularly wrong with posted a notice that they may be videotaped. This might keep such people on their best behavior. In this case, I suppose the suspect was trying to document the bad behavior of the police, so such a warning was not in his interest.

Regarding the Marine, his behavior was understandable; it can be very irritating to be kept awake by a noisy, unruly crowd. It's hard to know whether or not he was actually threatened by what came through the window. The Marine, rightfully, was acquitted. At the same time, I'd hope that people won't start reaching for their shotguns prematurely.

I was shocked to see Sgt. C... (Below threshold)

I was shocked to see Sgt. Cotnoir acquitted- considering how MA can be! Shocked but happy because I have been to his neighborhood- uuugh!

As for Mr. Gannon- I think this case will be tossed. Some things are just a waste of money and hopefully NH folks will see it this way.

The boston.com article abou... (Below threshold)

The boston.com article about Cotnoir displays cluelessness about guns. In the first paragraph, they write what you quoted, that he fired a shotgun into a crowd. That sounds nuts even to me.

However, things become clearer later when they write: "He fired a rifle shot into what he said was a clear area, but the shell struck a curb and shattered into fragments, striking Kelvin Castillo, 21, and Lissette Cumba, 16, both of Lowell."

So, was it a rifle or a shotgun? If it was a rifle, no problem.

As I recall earlier account... (Below threshold)
Jay Tea:

As I recall earlier accounts, it was a shotgun, but firing a solid round, not pellets. As much as I loathe defending the Boston Globe, it appears they got it right. But I'm sure that was entirely accidental on their part.


In regard to the Gannon sto... (Below threshold)
Brian the Adequate:

In regard to the Gannon story, the reports I saw agreed that they did have signs posted informing people they were being videotaped.

Regardless of whether this is true, I firmly believe that one has an absolute right to have cameras covering any area of your property with or without notice. Assuming that the obvious exception of areas (example: bathrooms) where individuals could reasonably expect to have heightened privacy are respected.

New Hampshire has become mo... (Below threshold)

New Hampshire has become more liberal in the last several years, and they have adopted some very bad new laws. Chapter 570-A of the RSA is one such law. Amongst other things it outlaws using equipment to record oral conversations without the consent of all parties. The law then describes the exceptions to the rule, mostly law enforcement is exempt. What the law totally fails to do is to account for the expectation of privacy, freedom of the press (i.e. the public's right-to-know), or property rights. If you put video equipment up outside or inside your house to record people who have been vandalizing your property, you can be arrested for an offense that is much more serious than the vandals (and, of course, your evidence cannot be used against them). Similarly, if the press records public officials talking in public, they can be arrested if the microphone is not in plain sight. (For example, it is common practice for reporters to put a voice-activated tape recorder in their pocket, even when they are taking notes -- in case they miss something.)

We are now to believe that if the police are videotaped beating up some citizen, the person who videotaped the police can then be arrested. (The device used and contents can also be seized, as per RSA 570-A:4 and 617.)

Are tapes from security cam... (Below threshold)

Are tapes from security cameras, the kind you find in banks, exempt? How about the automatic portrait cameras at some intersections?






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