Some Additional Reflections on My Arrest at a Romney Event in Hudson, NH

by Matt B. on January 10, 2012

[For those who've read the previous post, please know that about half of this material is repeated.]

On Friday, January 6, I took a bus from my home in Boston to Manchester, NH. I was planning to attend a few Republican primary events, write a few posts for this blog, maybe cross-post them on HuffPo, and head home the next day.

But the famous retail politics atmosphere of New Hampshire was exhilarating. I was watching the candidates up close, trading notes with citizens and reporters about the campaigns, and then slurping up diner food while I processed my thoughts. I decided to stick around for a few more days, so I rented a car and found a family friend in Nashua who offered a spare bed.

On Monday, January 9, I drove a couple of towns over to see Mitt Romney speak at the Gilchrist Metal Fabricating Company in Hudson, NH. I walked into the big machine shop, put my backpack and jacket down on a seat near the stage, asked a neighbor to watch them, and went off to find a restroom. Afterward, I was chatting up a campaign staffer when a police officer approached. Sir, we have to ask you to leave the premises.

“Sir, is this about my backpack? I’d be happy to show you – there’s nothing dangerous in there.”

“No, sir – we’ll explain it to you outside.”

I gathered my things and walked past a group of citizens and press, humiliated and confused.

Outside, the officer said, “Sir, the campaign has identified you as someone who was at a protest at Romney’s office in Manchester.”

Now I was really confused. Protest? I didn’t even know there had been protests at Romney’s headquarters, and if there had been, I certainly hadn’t been at them. (Later, after I got out of jail, I looked on the web; I still haven’t found any news stories about protests at Romney’s offices here, though Occupy protesters have attended several of his events.)

I explained to the officer – his name was Lamarche, and his partner’s was Ducie – that there must have been some misunderstanding. Could I speak to someone from the campaign to clear this up? No. I’d have to leave immediately.

I asked about his authority to remove me. “We’re working for the Romney campaign,” he said. I asked if he was on-duty; he said he was. My confusion deepened. So was he working for the town of Hudson today, or for the campaign? “Both.” (Later, I think I got it straight: the campaign hired the police for the day, sort of like a private security detail.)

I thought about Romney’s campaign staff inside. They had mistaken me for someone else, and that was enough – I was out. They had imagined trouble and whisked it away, out of sight. And the police – my police – were being paid to do their bidding.

I asked again to speak to someone from the campaign or the company who owned the plant. The officer refused; the company had delegated authority to the campaign, and the campaign had authorized the police to remove anyone the campaign didn’t want present. But wouldn’t it be simple for me to just talk to someone and explain the mistake? Too many people around, the cop said. Apparently it would be too big a bother. I either had to leave the company’s property or face charges for criminal trespass.

My reason-seeking brain couldn’t take in what was happening. I had come here to be a part of the primary process, to see it first-hand and to write about it. I had already attended events with Rick Santorum, Rand Paul, and Newt Gingrich (and I would later see Ron Paul and Buddy Roemer). In each of these instances, I had come to understand the candidates and their views better and had developed greater respect for each of them. And I fully expected that the same would happen with Romney.

In other words, I came because I was curious, and on my own nickel. I wasn’t part of any protest group or in anyone’s employ. Couldn’t we just have a reasonable conversation and figure this out?

I asked another question or two, and the cop had had enough: “You’re under arrest.” He took my things, handcuffed me behind my back, searched me, and tucked me into a nearby cruiser. I could overhear him talking about going through my things, and he answered a question from the media. I was “the subject.”

A few minutes later, an officer removed me from the cruiser and had me lean up against another police car and spread my legs for a second search. Two or three TV crews had their cameras trained on us; I felt ashamed in a wholly unfamiliar way. I wanted to look directly at the cameras and explain what had happened, but I feared the police officers’ reaction.

I was tucked into the second cruiser and driven away. The camera crews continued filming. A protester – oh, did I mention that there was an actual protest there? – yelled, “Free the prisoner.”

***

The holding cell at the Hudson Police Department. (I was allowed to use my own phone to make phone calls, and I snapped these pictures as well.)

The holding cell at the Hudson Police Department. (I was allowed to use my own phone to make phone calls, and I snapped these pictures as well.)

At the police station, an officer put me in a cage and asked to remove my shoes, belt, and sweatshirt and place them on the floor between us. He asked me to lift my feet so he could inspect them. He did so tentatively, from a distance.

An officer named Manni and another officer processed my paperwork. As they did so, they told me not to go back to “that area” when I was released. I indicated that I understood I wasn’t permitted to be on the company’s land or in their facilities, but surely I could go back to the street if I so chose – it’s public property, after all. Don’t go back to that area, they said. If you go back, you might cause a disturbance or a riot, and you could be arrested for disorderly conduct.

I tried to keep calm and ask even-keeled questions. Were they telling me I wasn’t even permitted in the street near the facility? And if so, on what grounds? (I wondered, Is the Romney campaign just permitted to cordon off a whole neighborhood?)

And then the following exchange took place. I began to ask, “If I express my First Amendment freedoms –

And Officer Manni interjected, “You’ll probably be arrested.”

I couldn’t locate words. (I’m not entirely sure he said ‘probably,’ but I want to give him the benefit of the doubt.)

It was clear to me that the two officers had no interest in discussing what the law actually said, or what my rights actually entailed. I was paperwork, and they wanted to get it over with. I kept asking questions, and at one point, one of them opened up the New Hampshire legal code and read me the definition of disorderly conduct. He read the words dully, as if they were just syllables, with no interest at all in what they meant.

I asked the officer if he could help me connect what he’d just read with my situation and understand why it would be a problem to return to the street outside the event. He told me that I might return and say things that “aren’t what others think.” [It might have been "aren't what others believe" or "aren't what most others believe." I'm not 100% sure.] It was incredible – he actually paused before he said those words, as if searching for something politically correct to say. I don’t think he realized that the words he found had so little to do with the letter and spirit of our laws and Constitution.

***

My cell was down the hall and to the left.

My cell was down the hall and to the left.

An officer returned, and I given a choice: I could either post bail or spend the night at a nearby jail and see a judge for an arraignment in the morning. Neither option seemed particularly fair: I could either pay money for not having done anything wrong, or I could go to jail and take my chances with a judge for not having done anything wrong. I wasn’t sure I’d hold up very well in jail. I was already shaken and lightheaded, and my heart was still going hard.

I opted for bail, and I was brought back out to the holding cell for mug shots. (Officer Manni made sure that I knew not to smile. “The court doesn’t like that. They take it as an insult.”) He then took a second set of mug shots in a different room. (The first, if I remember correctly, were for the local police department’s records. The second would be sent to other state and local law enforcement agencies and the FBI.)

Last came fingerprints. The prints involved no ink; instead, a digital machine captured my “finger slaps.” Each time the laser-reader scanned my fingerprints and recorded the image, it read “Scan Complete!”

Officer Manni put me back in the holding cell to wait for the bail bondsman, and I sat there for the next couple of hours. At some point, he offered to let me make a call, and he allowed me to use my own phone to do so. “Can I make more than one?” I asked. He didn’t care: “You’re not a murderer.”

So I called a journalist friend, hoping she was nearby. (I only had $16 in my wallet, and I wasn’t sure if I’d need help making bail.) I called my dad, too, and a couple of other friends. Then, remembering I had internet access, I searched for news of the arrest. It had been reported by a local CBS affiliate.  Unfortunately, the reporters (or the police with whom they interacted) had gotten the facts wrong. (Contrary to what the story had indicated, I had never spoken with the owner of the company where the event had been held. In fact, I had asked Officer Lamarche for that very privilege and been denied.)

I was humiliated again. There was a picture of me looking like a thousand other pictures I’d seen, being cuffed and taken away. I saw myself like I imagined others did: Just some jerk who refused to play by the rules and got himself arrested by good, upstanding policemen. And I was in a cage with no way to respond.

I sat and talked with Officer Manni. After what had felt like a tense conversation earlier, he was friendly with me – I was freezing in the holding cell, and he let me have my sweatshirt and jacket. We chatted about his time as a cop in Boston, and we joked about Hahvahd. He answered my questions about what might happen at the arraignment as best he could.

Eventually, nearly four hours after Officer Lamarche had first taken me aside, the bail bondsman appeared. He was friendly enough, though he – like some of the other policemen at the station – seemed to think I had been protesting down at the event. I explained otherwise, and he brushed it aside. What had happened or hadn’t happened wasn’t his concern; he was interested in getting through the procedure and making sure I didn’t get in any more trouble.

He issued me an order to appear at an arraignment in Nashua on January 26th; I would face a charge of criminal trespass. I told him I didn’t have enough money to pay my bail, but that I’d be happy to go to a nearby ATM and get it. He offered me a ride, and we chatted along the way.

I liked him. He didn’t seem to think I was a bad guy, and he treated the whole thing matter-of-factly. I asked if there was any way this wouldn’t appear on my record, and he said no. Make sure you appear at that court date, he said. He explained how things might shake out at the arraignment – what my plea options were, that kind of thing. He seemed to genuinely want things to go well for me. And when he dropped me off at my car, he had some last words of advice, “Don’t hang around this area.” Apparently, even hours after the event had ended, the Romney campaign and the local police were still present, nibbling away at my freedoms.

{ 133 comments… read them below or add one }

deadpieface January 13, 2012 at 10:25 pm

What are you willing to do about it?

Rebecca January 13, 2012 at 11:43 pm

Here’s my story about a Newt staffer physically assaulting me this weekend.  I was among five that I know of who were assaulted at various times and places.  A crazy weekend for sure.
 
http://fiveminutestilmidnight.wordpress.com/2012/01/13/the-time-i-got-assaulted-at-a-newt-rally/

Matt Bieber January 14, 2012 at 12:34 am

Thanks so much for your support, Matthew!

Matt Bieber January 14, 2012 at 12:34 am

Thanks so much, Joel. I hope it doesn’t come to that, but it’s great to know that so many people are with me!

Matt Bieber January 14, 2012 at 12:35 am

My sense is that most Americans don’t have a sense for how any of this works. I certainly don’t yet! Thanks Jacques.

Matt Bieber January 14, 2012 at 12:36 am

Thanks Clay. Not looking to get back at anyone. It’d be a good substitute if everyone were to email the Romney spokespeople and let them knwo that this sort of thing just isn’t okay.

Andrea Saul: ASaul@mittromney.com

Ryan Williams: RWilliams@mittromney.com

Matt Bieber January 14, 2012 at 12:37 am

Thanks mamacita! I’ll be sure to keep everyone up to date. As of now, the arraignment is scheduled for the 26th.

Matt Bieber January 14, 2012 at 12:37 am

Thanks for your thoughts, Jerry. I’m curious, though: does none of this seem troubling?

Matt Bieber January 14, 2012 at 12:40 am

Not sure I see this as a Romney-specific problem – though I sure think he should make clear to his staff that this isn’t acceptable, and I’d sure appreciate some help making this legal stuff go away.

I don’t think force was the appropriate response here either. If I’d been braver and had the wherewithal, I might have sat down in civil disobedience. Unfortunately I was relatively far away from the protesters, and I’m not sure they had a sense for what was going on.

I’m curious about this: Ron Paul is very into private property rights, but lots of RP supporters tell me he’d have protected my rights to stay. Given that this was a public event, (albeit on private property) you think he’d have sided with me?

Matt Bieber January 14, 2012 at 12:41 am

I’m on board with knowing everything about our rights, and about standing our ground when they’re violated. 

Matt Bieber January 14, 2012 at 12:45 am

The officer himself can confirm that I wasn’t causing any problems: http://www.buzzfeed.com/rosiegray/arresting-officer-at-romney-event-says-student-ha

Guest, may I ask if you would have felt like everything was as it should be if this had happened to you? You’d have walked away thinking that that was the right outcome?

Stephen Smith January 14, 2012 at 9:32 am

Land of the Free?

Sara January 14, 2012 at 12:40 pm

I cannot tell you how this affects me.  I feel it viscerally.  I have had more than one episode with the system that would make your blood boil.  And this wasn’t last week, or even last year.  This bullshit has been going on forever.  We have been told that no one cares, nor will anyone believe our story of abuse by the system.  It has to stop.  We must all come forward.  I have to thank you for your story, because it has inspired me to come forward with my own.  Much love to you.

George Jetson January 14, 2012 at 1:21 pm

If Romney was worth a grain of salt, disregarding your vote, he should pay your fines and lobby your record cleared.  He’s a Corporate puke who stands behind this system rather our freedoms.  Been a long time since the White people rioted in this Country! 

Matt Bieber January 14, 2012 at 2:14 pm

I’m really glad this could help, Sara! And I’m sorry for what sounds like some difficult stories.

Guest January 14, 2012 at 8:08 pm

If I had an officer tell me if I did not leave or I would be arrested for Criminal Trespass, I would have left and maybe called a legal buddy from Harvard, wrote a blog post and seen what recourse I had. I believe you were asked to leave, told to leave and then before arrested, given a lawful order to leave the premise and you still didn’t leave. I was kicked out of a Sox game for doing nothing. And I was escorted by Boston PD from my seat all the way to Lansdown (it was embarassing, I understand that). They told me under the stands why they kicked me out. And told me to leave. So I did. Additionally, something else to think about. I know you are getting some great legal advice through these anonymous people online. Have you considered that writing your letter to the Romney Campaign is possibly witness tampering. It is a felony in NH and they are technically the witnesses to your crime. So I would be careful trying to solicit any information or explanation from the Romney Campaign until the criminal matter is resolved. Good luck

Guest January 14, 2012 at 8:14 pm

Are you confused David? The Romney Campaign hired extra police officers for the event so as not to tie up patrolman from the town. I’m sure the town wasn’t interested in having their patrol units (two of them) dedicated to the event when their is a whole town to protect and serve. When you see police at a professional event or concert, what is your take on their role and what their function is at that event?

Fred Flintstone January 14, 2012 at 8:17 pm

Yes, WHITE POWER!!!! Only in this great country are you still allowed to hold such a disgusting opinion without persecution…

Choppam January 15, 2012 at 7:17 am

Hi Matt – what happened to you is indefensible under the rule of law – if it happened in a state being targeted by the US it would be first page news as evidence of premeditated, state-sponsored repression, proof of dictatorship and of the need for regime change.
However – have you seen what is happening in ordinary elementary schools in Texas? Now being patrolled by police with kids being arrested for talking back and obstructing teaching. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/jan/09/texas-police-schools? 
You were lucky not to be pepper-sprayed, tasered or beaten. 
Arbitrary, arrogant, megalomaniac, inhuman, brutal… 
But of course, this ruling class and these goons are “our” SOBs.

Hannah Pelham January 15, 2012 at 7:10 pm

Constitutional Crisis!! Read Judge Andrew Napolitano and watch Freedom Watch!!

Hannah Pelham January 15, 2012 at 7:14 pm

Yes, Ron Paul would definitely say you had a right to be there.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GSKLredTAMk  This is a YouTube video of Ron Paul’s response to getting “mic checked”

Hannah Pelham January 15, 2012 at 7:22 pm

got “caught” doing what? 

Hannah Pelham January 15, 2012 at 7:23 pm

if this happened at a Ron Paul or even an Obama event, it would be all over the media!!  But it happened at a Romney event, so it’s hush hush. 

Matt Bieber January 16, 2012 at 10:21 am

Wow – really interesting. Thanks so much, Hannah!

David January 16, 2012 at 10:27 am

Yes I’m confused.  Were they on-duty police, working for the city, or off-duty police working in a security detail?  This is the point I was getting at but seem to have been failing at: an off-duty police officer being paid to work security is in a conflict of interest when it comes to actually making an arrest. Was the person really causing a disturbance and needed to be arrested, or was he just a bother to the person the officer has been paid by and not actually acting in an arrestable way?  That’s why a regular on-duty officer should have been called in to deal with the situation.  Matt now has a criminal record because one officer made a judgement call which was in the interests of the person paying him, not necessarily the interests of the city they are supposed to be protecting.  I don’t believe a private entity should have that kind of power.  As an example, when someone is caught shoplifting, the store security does not have the authority to make an actual arrest, they have to call the police who then make the arrest, even when the security guard is an off-duty police officer, or such is my understanding.
There’s also a second issue: if the police officer was paid to be security at the function, while Matt was getting arrested Romney was out one security guard which was paid for.  Did a second officer come and replace the one arresting Matt?  Or did the Romney campaign quite literally pay for Matt to be arrested by continuing to pay the officer directly for the time of taking him to the office and processing him?

David January 16, 2012 at 10:39 am

This anecdote just came to mind: when I was in university years ago, I used to assist with functions. Some of these functions had the potential to get rowdy, so the police were hired as a security detail because they have the training to handle the situations we were worried about.  Also having police standing around made for an excellent deterrent.  Not a single one of those officers we had hired ever made an arrest.  On the rare occasions when someone had had too much to drink and pushed some boundaries, the would detain the person while an on-duty car came to make the arrest and take the person in for processing.  That’s my experience with police as security and it suits me quite well for all the reasons I’ve already mentioned.

Michael January 16, 2012 at 10:51 am

My anger has no bounds. I won’t be anything but a whiteness of in justice but I will do my best to attend your court date. Driving up from CT MightyMangy80@gmail.com

Jackhatchet January 16, 2012 at 2:33 pm

No, you are right. In the US they get promotions by improving their record.

Guest January 16, 2012 at 9:03 pm

The phrase off-duty/on-duty is muddying the water. The officer was not serving his patrol function. The Romney Campaign hired extra police officers through the town to be present for the event. The original arresting officer remained on the detail while a patrol unit picked him up for transport and booking. I believe Matt was not causing a disturbance. But he was asked to leave, several times. After refusing to leave at the request of the authorized party, he was arrested. But he doesn’t make it clear why he was arrested in his blogs. Matt only denies being present as a protester at the previous Romney event in Manchester. But was he there at all and what was his conduct like at the Romney rally in Manchester? Regardless the private property owner relegated the authority to the Romney staff to remove anyone as they see fit. Although it may not be fair, Matt’s right to be present was relinquished by the staff and he should have left when asked. Maybe if Matt noticed the protesters on scene stayed out of the driveway, off the property and by the roadside to voice their opinion he would have kept himself out of his current predicament. I think Matt was looking for some kind of reaction. Either by having the opportunity to be disruptive when Romney finally arrived or by trying to get an enormous following through his blog. Mission accomplished and let’s see how this plays out in court…

Guest January 16, 2012 at 9:04 pm

The article Matt wrote…

Guest January 16, 2012 at 9:06 pm

Again…please share where you get the information???

Matt Bieber January 17, 2012 at 8:57 am

Thanks for your comments, Guest – I tried to be quite clear in the blog that I was arrested for what the officer called “criminal trespassing.” 

http://www.mattbieber.net/mitt-romney-arrest/

I also did address my attendance at a previous Romney event here: 

http://www.mattbieber.net/letter-to-romney/

(It wasn’t a rally, but a debate watch party at Romney HQ.)

I guess I’m surprised: it sounds like it’s hard for you to believe me when I say that I wasn’t there to be disruptive or to cause a scene – that I was just there to take it all in, observe, and maybe blog my reflections. Why is that so hard to believe, do you think?

Robert January 23, 2012 at 2:16 pm

Guest is a troll plain and simple.  Do not feed the troll.  (and its obvious he’s some police wanna be jackass who think everything is either “anti terrorism” or “to save the children” and can disregard laws and rights on those “facts”. 

if he had balls he’d post not as “guest”

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