Dad hits back after ‘false arrest’ at school meeting

By Leo Hohmann

William Baer gets ushered out of a school board meeting in May 2014 by Lt. James Leach, who was then police chief of Gilford, New Hampshire.
William Baer gets ushered out of a school board meeting in May 2014 by Lt. James Leach, who was then police chief of Gilford, New Hampshire.

A New Hampshire man who was handcuffed and arrested for speaking his mind at a local school board meeting last year has filed a lawsuit against the police, alleging violations of his civil rights.

The criminal charges against William Baer of Gilford, New Hampshire, were tossed out of court by Belknap County Judge James Carroll in December, as WND previously reported.

Then-Acting Police Chief James Leach, who made the arrest, could have dropped the charges but elected not to, said Baer, who was arrested while addressing the board about a reading assignment given to his daughter’s ninth-grade class that included sexually explicit material.

“Lieutenant Leach, and Police Chief (Anthony) Bean Burpee, both took an oath to support, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States,” Baer told WND. “Lieutenant Leach violated my rights when he silenced and arrested me, and Chief Bean Burpee continued to violate my rights by prosecuting me for nearly seven months.

“These men abused their authority and their positions under color of law. The ‘law enforcers’ became lawbreakers and must be held to account.”

Citizens exercising their First Amendment rights have been roughed up by police not just in New Hampshire in recent years.

WND reported last year on the case of Eddie Overholt, a 76-year-old military veteran who was arrested at a Greene County, Tennessee, board of commissioners meeting because he stood up and requested that the board members speak louder so the audience could hear.

Just last week another man, Jeffrey Clay, was arrested at an Alton, New Hampshire, city council meeting for asking his elected leaders to resign due to “poor actions” and “poor decisions,” the Manchester Union Leader reported.

Press reports abound of other parents who attempted to address their local school boards about the controversial Common Core national education standards and ended up being ushered out, sometimes in handcuffs.

In one such case, in Baltimore County, Maryland, a parent was approached by a burly security guard, pushed, shoved, threatened and eventually handcuffed and forced to leave the meeting, reported, which also published a video of the incident.

Baer said his lawsuit is as much about stopping the national trend as it is seeking justice for himself.

He said it’s time for elected leaders to stop trampling the First Amendment rights of citizens. The video of his arrest went viral on YouTube, attracting more than 1 million views.

Baer spoke in opposition to a reading assignment given to his daughter, Marina. The book, “Nineteen Minutes,” by Jody Picoult, contained graphic descriptions of a violent sexual assault that, in Baer’s opinion, was not age-appropriate for a 14-year-old.

The school officials said the book had “important themes” to be studied about a school shooting.

Parents were not properly notified ahead of time about the assignment’s explicit content. Many concerned parents on both sides of the issue showed up at a tense May 5, 2014, school board meeting.

Several news reporters and at least one videographer were also present, according to the local newspaper, the Laconia Daily Sun.

Chairwoman Sue Allen opened public comment and limited each speaker to two minutes. The officer, Leach, was at the meeting, in uniform and initially standing off to one side, according to the Sun.

Watch video of William Baer’s arrest below:

[jwplayer 9KuS7sIr]

Baer spoke for two minutes and was told by resident Joe Wernig that his time was up. Baer finished his thought and sat down. Wernig lives in Gilford and is a professional educator in a neighboring school district.

Two others spoke and were followed by Wernig, who accused Baer and other parents of trying to “dictate” what his kids could and could not read. Baer interjected, without being recognized, that Wernig’s statement was false and he was told by Allen to respect other speakers.

“Like you’re respectful of my daughter, right, and my children?” Baer told the chairwoman.

Baer said the school’s actions were “ridiculous” and that those present were getting a “civics lesson” on the First Amendment.

After a nod from Allen and Superintendent Kent Hemingway, Leach approached Baer and told him he was being asked to leave. He gave him no prior warning and Baer said, “I guess you’re gonna have to arrest me.”

Leach removed Baer by grabbing his wrist and leading him from the meeting room, all of which was captured on video. He was taken outside, handcuffed and arrested.

Leach did not respond to WND’s request for comment Wednesday. His boss, Gilford Police Chief Anthony Bean-Burpee, also did not return WND’s phone call.

Baer said he may include others on the lawsuit, but for now it’s just Leach being sued. At the time of the incident, Leach was the acting police chief, Baer said, and answered to no one.

“My inclination would have been to name everyone, and sort it out later. The attorneys representing me thought the action was primarily stemming from the false arrest,” he said. “If through discovery we find evidence that the school board/administration basically conspired to have me shut up at the meeting, we will add them as defendants.”

Baer has retained former Rep. Charles Douglas III as his attorney.

“Chuck Douglas was a U.S. congressman and served on the New Hampshire Supreme Court for 12 years,” Baer said. “This guy is a heavy hitter in New Hampshire. I picked him for very specific reasons so he could not just be looked at as some sort of ambulance chaser. When people see his name on the suit, they will know this thing is for real.”

Baer said he is also being advised by Charlottesville, Virginia-based The Rutherford Institute, which defends Americans against government abuse and overreach.

Marina Baer addressed the board after her father was arrested.

Marina Baer addresses school board that just had her father arrested on May 5, 2014.
Marina Baer addresses school board that just had her father arrested on May 5, 2014.

“I just watched my father get arrested because he broke the two-minute rule at a board of education meeting,” she said. “This just shows you resort to force at the first turn of conflict and I’m appalled.

“I don’t trust you. I haven’t. I honestly don’t feel safe around you people,” she said, before turning away to leave.

Baer said in December that his life and the lives of his family had been thrown into disarray by the arrest.

“After seven-and-a-half months of being pursued by the State of New Hampshire, through the Gilford Police Department and School Board, I am obviously pleased that all charges have been dismissed. Belknap County Judge James Carroll showed me there still is some justice in our system,” he said.

He had been charged with three counts of disorderly conduct.

“Make no mistake, these three criminal charges against me were not ‘dropped’ by Gilford Police Chief Bean Burpee and his prosecutor Sgt. Eric Bredbury; they were dismissed by a New Hampshire circuit court judge after a full hearing,” Baer said. “In spite of having months to review the law and the facts, the prosecutor refused to drop the charges or even propose a plea, but rather continued to seek a conviction to justify the state’s violation of my First Amendment right of free speech, and my unlawful arrest.”

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