Gilford, NH- A judge dismissed all charges against William Baer, the father who was arrested at a May school board meeting after railing against the school’s missteps when it failed to disclose to parents a required reading assignment involving violent and sexually explicit material. The judge’s ruling described Baer’s behavior at the meeting as “impolite, but not criminal.”
Baer was arrested during a school board meeting on May 5 when he criticized the board for its failure to notify parents about a particular book, Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult, that was assigned for his daughter’s advanced English class as required reading. The book, which is about a school shooting in a fictitious New Hampshire town, contained an explicit passage illustrating an aggressive, drunken sexual encounter between two of the main characters.
Baer had taken his concerns to the principal ahead of the meeting and told him he was upset that parents were not notified ahead of time about the book’s content and were not provided with an alternative option for a reading assignment. School officials admitted that past notifications about the book had been distributed since 2007, but the school had failed to do so this year. The school, realizing the mistake, sent out notices to parents about the book after Baer’s meeting with the principal.
Baer went to the meeting to make his dissatisfaction known to the board and other parents in attendance. Gilford Lt. James Leach was also at the meeting, at the request of the superintendent. Baer was arrested by Leach for violating the “two-minute rule” for public comment that was imposed at the meeting when he responded to comments another parent was making.
Baer faced three counts of disorderly conduct which have all been dismissed. “The Court does agree with the Defendant’s argument that, often in an official meeting or at the Court, for that matter, individuals, from time to time, may be disruptive but that disruptiveness should not be cause for an arrest in the first instance. The sequence of the arrest actions cause pause by the Court as to the chilling, if not silencing of a citizen by the State, for actions which do not warrant a criminal arrest nor conviction,” read the ruling.
Baer said that “these three criminal charges against me were not ‘dropped’ by Gilford Police Chief Bean-Burpee and his prosecutor Sergeant Eric Bredbury, they were dismissed by a New Hampshire Circuit Court Judge after a full hearing.”
“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.”
Baer noted that he has experience in the legal system and had obtained a strong legal team, but pointed out that many people in his situation do not have that advantage and “one of the most troubling aspects of this experience is having to face the fact that, out of the millions of people arrested every year in the United States, many are unlawfully arrested, maliciously prosecuted, wrongfully convicted, or pressured to plead guilty just to get it over with.”