May 23 2013

Salem police harass free speech activists

Dr. Q

You may have already heard about the case of Cameron D’Ambrosio (or “Cammy Dee”). D’Ambrosio, an 18-year old student, was arrested by police in Methuen after he posted some rap lyrics he had written that referenced the Boston marathon bombings on his Facebook page. He has been charged as a terrorist and held without bail.

These are the lyrics Cameron posted:

All you haters keep my fuckin’ name outcha mouths, got it? what the fuck I gotta do to get some props and shit huh? Ya’ll wanme to fucking kill somebody? What the fuck do these fucking demons want from me? Fucking bastards I ain’t no longer a person, I’m not in reality. So when u see me fucking go insane and make the news, the paper, and the fuckin federal house of horror known as the white house, Don’t fucking cry or be worried because all YOU people fucking caused this shit. Fuck a boston bominb wait till u see the shit I do, I’ma be famous rapping, and beat every murder charge that comes across me!”

It should be pretty obvious that these lyrics were not intended to be a threat. As Tim Cushing of the blog Techdirt observes:

When I reread his words, I don’t find him threatening to kill anyone. He says he’ll “go insane” and make “the news, the paper, the (expletive) federal house of horror the White House.” “Go insane” is not the same thing as threatening violence and its takes a lot of willingness to see something that’s not actually there to believe it does. Sure, D’Ambrosio mentions both the White House and the Boston bombing, but simply throwing those words into a sentence (and filling the rest out with expletives) doesn’t turn this into a credible threat, or at least not one that should result in a 20-year sentence.

By all means, the police should be willing to investigate perceived threats, but putting this into context (your average profane, overdramatic, attention-seeking, rap fan teenager) should have resulted in little more than a discussion about the possibility that word dumps like this could have negative consequences or legal repercussions.

Earlier today, D’Ambrosio was finally given a court hearing to determine whether or not he could post bail and be freed from jail.

Several free speech advocates went to the courthouse where D’Ambrosio’s hearing was taking place to stage a small protest. They were asked to leave even though they had every right to be there. They complied anyway, but were then harassed again by officers of the Salem Police Department. You can see video here:

If you’d like to contact the Salem Police Department to demand that they stop harassing free speech activists, I’ve included their contact information below:

  • Business 978-744-0171
  • Non-Emergency Request for Police 978-744-1212

You should also click here and sign the petition to get Cameron D’Ambrosio’s ridiculous charges dropped.

Update (same day as the original post): I just got the following additional information from the person who uploaded the videos (via Twitter): “there were only 2 activists present w/ only 1 of whom stood on the forbidden sidewalk vs 6 pd & the Sargent returned to complain about being filmed w/o consent & threatened to take the camera.” Apparently the Sergeant has never heard of Simon Glik.

Update (5/24/2013): Here’s a small update on Cameron D’Ambrosio’s hearing from the Eagle-Tribune:

The Methuen High School student who has held been in jail for three weeks on charges related to a threatening post on his Facebook page, was in Salem Superior Court yesterday morning to ask again for his release, while civil liberties groups ratcheted up pressure to free him on First Amendment grounds.

Cameron D’Ambrosio, 18, asked Superior Court Judge John Lu to be released with conditions, such as a GPS monitoring bracelet, a prohibition on using computers, and checking in regularly with probation.

Judge Lu did not issue a ruling yesterday.

Geoffrey DuBosque, D’Ambrosio’s attorney, said yesterday D’Ambrosio is not a threat and is willing to submit to court-imposed restrictions for his release.

“My argument is, one, he’s not a danger, but if the court were to find he is a danger, there are conditions the court could impose,” DuBosque said.

D’Ambrosio on May 1 wrote on his Facebook page a profanity-laden post that said he would outdo the April 15 Boston Marathon bombing, “be famous for rapping, and beat every murder charge that comes across me!”

Students at Methuen High School, where D’Ambrosio is a senior, reported the post immediately to administrators, who alerted the school’s police officer. D’Ambrosio was arrested later that afternoon on Pleasant Street in Methuen.

Police searched D’Ambrosio, his book bag and his parent’s home, finding no weapons, manifestos or specific plans or threats to commit violence, DuBosque said.

“His house was searched and they found absolutely nothing in his house that was indicative of someone who is a danger,” he said. “They searched his book bag and his person when they arrested him and found nothing indicative of someone who is a danger.”

Update (5/24/2013): Apparently there was more video of the protesters interacting with the court employees that I missed the first time around. I’ve updated the post so that it now includes the entire video.

Update (5/27/2013): Somehow I missed this news, but the judge for D’Ambrosio’s case denied him bail on Friday, the day after the hearing. Very shameful.

Also, the activist who recorded the Salem police harassment has posted a video here where she explains what happened in a little more detail. The discussion of the protest and police harassment occurs at about the 7 minute mark.

Update ((5/28/2013): Techdirt has some good commentary on the judge’s decision to deny D’Ambrosio bail here. Also, I updated the post with a more complete version of D’Ambrosio’s rap.


Sep 23 2011

Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Approves Charging Innocent Ticket Recipients

Dr. Q

This article was originally published at TheNewspaper. It has been reprinted with permission.

Motorists issued a traffic ticket in Massachusetts will have to pay money to the state whether or not they committed the alleged crime. According to a state supreme court ruling handed down yesterday, fees are to be imposed even on those found completely innocent. The high court saw no injustice in collecting $70 from Ralph C. Sullivan after he successfully fought a $100 ticket for failure to stay within a marked lane.

Bay State drivers given speeding tickets and other moving violations have twenty days either to pay up or make a non-refundable $20 payment to appeal to a clerk-magistrate. After that, further challenge to a district court judge can be had for a non-refundable payment of $50. Sullivan argued that motorists were being forced to pay “fees” not assessed on other types of violations, including drug possession. He argued this was a violation of the Constitution’s Equal Protection clause, but the high court justices found this to be reasonable.

“We conclude that there is a rational basis for requiring those cited for a noncriminal motor vehicle infraction alone to pay a filing fee and not requiring a filing fee for those contesting other types of civil violations,” Justice Ralph D. Gants wrote for the court. “Where the legislature provides greater process that imposes greater demands on the resources of the District Court, it is rational for the legislature to impose filing fees, waivable where a litigant is indigent, to offset part of the additional cost of these judicial proceedings.”

The court insisted that allowing a hearing before a clerk-magistrate instead of an assistant clerk, as well as allowing a de novo hearing before a judge constituted benefits that justified the cost. Last year, the fees for the clerk-magistrate hearings generated $3,678,620 in revenue for the courts. Although Sullivan raised the issue of due process during oral argument, the court would not rule on the merits of that issue.

“I am disappointed that the SJC did not consider my due process argument,” Sullivan told TheNewspaper. “I suppose that some other driver who gets charged with a moving violation will need to consider doing that. At least this decision will give them a blueprint for a focused due process argument.”

Sullivan, an attorney, is not planning on further appeal to the US Supreme Court.

“While the decision did not go my way, I am safe in the knowledge that I gave it my best shot,” Sullivan said. “I took on this case because I felt that it was the right thing to do.”

Source: Salem Police Department v. Sullivan (Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, 9/21/2011)