Man Nearly Faced Jail Time for Criticizing Police Chief

By Lisa M. Schaffer, Esq. on January 09, 2019 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Every parent knows that the best way to curb behavior is to be consistent and immediate with consequences. That leaves many wondering why an Exeter, New Hampshire man could be facing jail time long after the conditions were met to have his suspended sentence reinstated, but immediately after he published disparaging remarks about the local police department on a Facebook page. The action has left many wondering exactly which behavior the police were trying to curb.

Police Seemed to Go Light on Frese...

Robert Frese doesn't claim to have the cleanest arrest record. He was charged and convicted by Exeter police for stalking in 2014, and criminal trespassing in 2017 for rummaging through a private dumpster. In September 2016, he pleaded guilty to criminal mischief for smashing the rear window of a neighbor's SUV. He received a suspended 60-day jail sentence, a fine, and a two-year good behavior provision.

During this two-year suspended sentence period, in August 2017, he hit a construction flagger with his car. Though originally charged with felony first-degree assault and reckless conduct, Frese entered into a plea deal in March of 2018 that amounted to a 67-day suspended jail sentence, with a two to four-year good behavior provision. You're reading that right -- two concurrent suspended sentences. Police don't seem to be going too hard on Frese yet. But then something changed.

...Until He Tried to Get the Last Word on the Police Chief's Retirement Page

When the Exeter police showed up on his doorstep on May 23, 2018, Frese thought they were there to impose his 2016 criminal mischief suspended sentence. Instead, Exeter police arrested Frese for criminal libel for something he posted on Facebook.

Frese posted comments on a May 3 article in the local paper's Facebook page about the retirement of Exeter's Police Chief William Shupe. Frese said Shupe was a coward and "covered up for a dirty cop." Frese had issues with Shupe dating back to 2013, when Frese was pulled over for a traffic stop by an Exeter police officer, and Frese alleged that cop was dirty, Shupe knew about it, and Shupe chose to do nothing.

Criminal Libel Suit Against Frese Dropped

Criminal libel suits are rare, but they do happen, about twenty times per year, and almost always end with a guilty verdict. But some argue that there's an issue with the way criminal libel suits are parsed out. They seem to only be placed on the poor. Normally a civil suit will be pressed by government officials in instances such as Frese's. But knowing that you can't squeeze blood from a turnip, and you can't get money from an insolvent defendant, Frese claims they went after him for criminal libel in order to throw him in jail and silence him.

The American Civil Liberties Union stepped in to help Frese, and was able to argue that the law under which Frese was being charged for criminal libel was unconstitutional because it was vague, and also because the government couldn't prove that Frese knew the malicious things he was saying about the police were false, which is an element of criminal libel. Quite frankly, Frese very much believed them to be true! The Exeter police ended up dropping the criminal libel charge on June 7, 2018. Frese is now suing the police department for $68,000 in damages from the libel charge.

If you feel your freedom of speech is being suppressed, contact a local civil rights attorney. Don't let intimidation be a factor in silencing you, whether it be coming from a friend, a foe, or a cop. 

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