Massachusetts State Police Threatens Web Site Operator with Prosecution for Content

HEADLINE IN LOCAL PAPER:
Web site showing arrest OK at least till March 2
Richard Nangle | Worcester Telegram & Gazette | February 22

Worcester (Mass.) - A federal judge yesterday issued a temporary restraining order prohibiting the Massachusetts State Police from taking action against a Leominster woman for posting on her Web site a video of an arrest conducted by state police assigned to Worcester District Attorney John J. Conte's office.

State police had threatened Web site operator Mary T. Jean with a felony charge for posting the videotape at www.conte2006.com. The video shows troopers arresting Paul Pechonis at his Northboro home on Sept. 29 and then apparently conducting a search of the premises.

THAT WAS THE LEAD TO A NEWS ARTICLE ON SATURDAY. HERE IS SOME MORE BACKGROUND:

Ms. Jean operates a Web site critical of the local district attorney.

Last month she posted a video showing the police arresting and handcuffing a man IN HIS OWN HOME and then proceeding to swarm into his home without showing a search warrant.

A few days ago Ms. Jean received a letter from the state police ordering her to remove the video from her site or face "investigation and possible prosecution."

Ms. Jean went to Federal Court and on Friday obtained a restraining order against the Massachusetts State Police, preventing them from taking action against her for ten days. She is also suing the State Police (read the text of her suit here) for violating her right to free speech as guaranteed by the First Amendment to the Constitution by trying to intimidate her.

There will be a conference between Ms. Jean's attorney and the Massachusetts Attorney General's office this week and the case is scheduled to be heard the following week.

This is shaping up to be an important First Amendment case because it pits the right of a solo web site operator to criticize public officials against the prosecutorial power of the State. At issue is not whether or not the making of the tape was legal, but whether Ms. Jean has a right to post it. The arguments is shaping up like this.

The heavy handed tactics the government was using to go after her are scary indeed.

According the newspaper article, "Federal Judge F. Dennis Saylor IV ruled the restraining order will be in effect until March 2. The matter will be taken up again in federal court here on Feb. 28."

Tags: Blogosphere, First Amendment, Massachusetts (all tags)

Comments

2 Comments

Re: Massachusetts State Police Threatens Web Site

I suppose it's possible that Massachusetts has a law against showing a video recording of an arrest, but I can't imagine how such a law could be consistent with the First Amendment.

Last month she posted a video showing the police arresting and handcuffing a man IN HIS OWN HOME and then proceeding to swarm into his home without showing a search warrant.

This is unsavory, but probably legal: the courts have long allowed searches "incidental" to an arrest. If the police come to your home and ask permission to come inside, don't consent if you think they might arrest you. (Of course, if they force their way in anyway, don't try to stop them - they have guns! You can always fight an illegal entry in court later.) Instead, come outside and let them talk with you and/or arrest you there. Then they can't legally search your home without a warrant.

by Mathwiz 2006-02-20 11:17AM | 0 recs
Re: Massachusetts State Police Threatens Web Site

As I understand it the police can search the immediate area of your person as part of an arrest. That would be lunging distance. But they can't walk all over your home. Up the stairs etc. If you look at the tape the guy was cuffed before they helped themselves to a tour of his home. The police had their hands in their pockets, for cripes sakes. They did not perceive any immediate danger that would have justified a warrantless search.

BTW: Word is the Boston Herald (Beantown's tabloid) is worming around on this story, so we may be hearing much more about it soon.

by Worcester Justice Calling 2006-02-20 05:26PM | 0 recs

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