It’s been 17 days since Sam Dodson was arrested for filming inside a New Hampshire courthouse and his jailers have yet to release him.
All because he has refused to provide them with his legal name, something he says is his Constitutional right.
The self-described political prisoner has also been on a hunger strike during his incarceration, living on nothing but milk and water, growing weaker by the day.
His jailers told him he could end the ordeal by simply providing them with his legal name, which they apparently already know anyway, even though they have him listed as both “John Sam Doe” and “Sam Dodson”, neither which are his legal names.
But he is refusing out of principle, just as he did when he refused to stop filming outside a courtroom on April 13th as one of his friends was about to be arraigned.
“There is no standing law that says a name is used to identify people,” he said from the Cheshire County Department of Corrections during a brief phone interview with Photography is Not a Crime last Friday.
“There is no penalty for withholding your name.”
And there is also no law in New Hampshire that forbids people from filming inside courthouses. On the contrary. The New Hampshire Supreme Court ruled in 2003 that the use of cameras to document trials was permitted in courtrooms.
So obviously something is amiss in the Live Free or Die state.
Dodson is part of a growing movement of libertarian-minded activists in New Hampshire that call themselves the Free State Project. This is how they describe themselves on their website.
The Free State Project is an agreement among 20,000 pro-liberty activists to move to New Hampshire, where they will exert the fullest practical effort toward the creation of a society in which the maximum role of government is the protection of life, liberty, and property. The success of the Project would likely entail reductions in taxation and regulation, reforms at all levels of government, to expand individual rights and free markets, and a restoration of constitutional federalism, demonstrating the benefits of liberty to the rest of the nation and the world.
The Free State Project began in 2001, but it wasn’t until 2003 that they settled on New Hampshire as the state to breed their movement. Since then, 500 activists from around the United States have made the move, adding to the 250 activists who were already there. And thousands more have committed themselves to moving to New Hampshire.
One of the reasons they chose New Hampshire was because its small size would be valuable in gaining a foothold in state politics. The other reason is that it has a rich history of independence, being the first state to form an independent State government after breaking off from Britain in 1776. And, of course, there is its “Live Free or Die” state motto.
But apparently, these values have clashed with District Court Judge Edward Burke of Keene, New Hampshire who has had it out for the Free State Project since he encountered one of its members in his courtroom last November.
They have also clashed with Keene prosecutor and police sergeant Eli Rivera, who is always “gone for the day” when I call seeking comment, even if its 12 pm or 2 pm or 4 pm.
In Keene, New Hampshire, it is obviously not considered a conflict of interest for the city prosecutor to also be a city police officer with arrest powers. Rivera is also an Obama supporter (and former republican) who drives around with a license plate proclaiming “PEACE”.
It all started in November 2008 when Ian “Freeman” Bernard of the Free State Project found himself in Burke’s courtroom after he was cited for failing to remove a couch from the front yard of one of his properties. He was joined by several Free State Project members, including one who was filming.
The video shows that Burke lost his temper when Freeman did not sit down fast enough. He ended up sentencing Freeman to 93 days in jail for contempt of court. Freeman was released three days later.
Since then, the video of Burke blowing his top at Freeman made its rounds on the internet, apparently embarrassing Burke because since then, he did not allow cameras in his courtroom anymore, even though that goes against a New Hampshire Supreme Court ruling in 2003.
In January, Andrew Carroll of the Free State Project purposely got himself arrested in an act of civil disobedience by holding a marijuana bud in his hands in downtown Keene. That incident was also videotaped and uploaded to Youtube.
Then on March 3rd, during Carroll’s arraignment, Free State Project member Dave Ridley was arrested for trying to enter the courtroom with a video camera in an incident that was also uploaded to Youtube.
And then on April 13th, during Ridley’s arraignment, Sam Dodson was arrested for trying to enter the courtroom with a video camera. Sergeant Rivera apparently ordered this arrest. Prosecutor Rivera apparently will try this case. And who is stop him from running for judge so he can also rule on the case?
That video has not been uploaded to Youtube because police confiscated the camera and have yet to release it. However, another video showing five Free State Project members getting arrested outside the courthouse for refusing to leave the lobby after Dodson was arrested was uploaded to Youtube.
Also, an audio recording of Dodson’s arrest was uploaded to the internet where you can hear him screaming because of the painful manner they handcuffed him.
That was 17 days ago. Dodson has been in jail ever since on charges of disorderly conduct, resisting arrest and refusing to be processed, which stems from him refusing to provide his legal name. Free State Project activists have been maintaining a regular log of developments in his case.
The truth is, his legal name is not that much of a mystery. If you check out some of the videos from the Free State Project, you can hear it mentioned. And the jailers apparently know it because a writ of habeas corpus has been filed on his behalf under his real name.
But they want to hear it from his own mouth and that is something he just won’t do.
It should be noted that in October 2008, just one month before Judge Burke lost his temper over Freeman not sitting fast enough, Freeman and Dodson joined Keene Police Lt. Shane Maxfield for a ride-along where they discussed the Second Amendment, police corruption, police credibility, the drug war and public drunkness.
It appeared to be a very productive meeting of the minds, something citizens and police officers should do more often.
But somehow, somewhere along the way, things went astray.
I am a multimedia journalist who has been fighting a lengthy legal battle after having photographed Miami police against their wishes in Feb. 2007. Please help the fight by donating to my Legal Defense Fund in the top left sidebar, which helps pay for the thousands of dollars I’ve acrued in debt since my arrest. To keep updated on the latest articles, join my networks at Facebook, Twitter and Friendfeed.