The PJ Tatler

Martha's Vineyard Police Drop Charges Against Man Who Videotaped Them

The young man at the center of the case, Caleb Bacon, did nothing wrong at all. In fact, there was no reason for the police on Martha’s Vineyard to arrest him or anyone else. According to the news story, Bacon was only arrested because the chief of police got annoyed at another group’s legal exercise of their freedom of speech to protest against the National Labor Relations Board.

A young man Tisbury police arrested at the Five Corners intersection for unlawful wiretapping and disorderly conduct at an August 25 demonstration by a national pro-business organization, complete with a 25-foot inflatable rat, will face no charges in Edgartown District Court.

Assistant Cape and Islands district attorney Laura Marshard said that the state agreed to drop charges against Caleb Bacon, 20, of New Hampshire. The decision followed discussions with Tisbury Police Chief Dan Hanavan and Mr. Bacon and his lawyer, Dan Larkosh of West Tisbury.

The state’s decision not to prosecute was preceded by a separate agreement worked out among Chief Hanavan, James Morse, a lawyer and Oak Bluffs police officer, Mr. Larkosh, and the Mr. Bacon’s father, in which Mr. Bacon agreed to release the police from civil liability in connection with his arrest.

Note the potential charge — illegal wiretapping — and the police climbdown. What did Bacon actually do? He certainly didn’t wiretap anyone.

Just after 8 am, August 25, five members of Americans for Job Security (AJS) began inflating a large brown rat with gleaming white teeth on the wide expanse of brick pavement in front of the Vineyard Haven Post Office.

Stephen DeMaura, president of AJS, told The Times the demonstration was to protest an NLRB rules change, made without Congressional approval, that would give unions an unfair advantage through an expedited election process when attempting to organize non-union businesses .

The rat was intended to refer to a May NLRB decision in which the board said union use of an inflatable rat when demonstrating against an employer or secondary business is not picketing or coercive and does not violate U.S. labor laws, according to an AJS flyer.

The demonstration and rat barely got off the ground when police arrived. Police told the men they could not demonstrate on federal property and that the large rat swaying in the breeze and blocking the sidewalk represented a safety hazard at the congested intersection.

Mr. Bacon, a paid volunteer with no connection to the group, stood off to the side and videotaped the ensuing discussion between Chief Hanavan and Mr. DeMaura.

Visibly exasperated with the continuing discussion and resistance to his order that the men deflate the rat, Chief Hanavan ordered Mr. Bacon’s arrest.

The demonstration at one of the Island’s most congested intersections coincided with the vacation of President Barack Obama. The arrest came one day before the First Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston ruled (see related story) that the Constitution protects the right to videotape police officers making an arrest.

“Wiretapping” comes in because Bacon used his cell phone to video the discussion. That’s not wiretapping; the police overreached after they arrested him for no good reason. Everything Bacon did was perfectly legal, as was the rat protest, which the NLRB has ruled constitutes free speech when unions deploy them against corporations. Why the unaccountable NLRB is even ruling on basic First Amendment rights is questionable, but nevertheless, there were no laws broken. The police chief just got annoyed and felt like putting a young man’s future in jeopardy. He is very fortunate that the Bacon family agreed not to sue. This incident could and probably should cost the chief his job.

I wonder if this is relevant to what happened: The Tisbury, MA police force is a union shop.