KEENE - The city has filed a lawsuit against six citizens, part of a group dubbed Robin Hood of Keene that patrols downtown armed with video cameras and pockets full of change to fill expired parking meters.
Also known as Robin Hooders, the six are associated with the Free Keene group.
"They say video recording or talking to them is harassing them, but I don't agree with that," "Robin Hooder" James Cleaveland said of parking enforcement officers. "So they want to establish a safety zone of fifty feet."
Members of the group place cards under windshield wipers that read, "Your meter expired; however, we saved you from the king's tariffs, Robin Hood and his Merry Men. Please consider paying it forward," and includes an address where donations can be sent.
The group says the suit was filed because the city is losing revenue from parking tickets. The city says the activists are harassing its employees.
In the case filed May 2, the city asks the court to prohibit residents Kate Ager, Ian Bernard aka Ian Freeman, James Cleaveland, Graham Colson, Garrett Ean and Peter Eyre from coming within 50 feet of the city's three parking enforcement officers "during the performance of their employment duties for the city."
According to the suit, the residents "regularly, repeatedly and intentionally taunted, interfered with, harassed, and intimidated" the officers starting last December, "surrounding, touching or nearly touching, and otherwise taunting and harassing" the officers.
Cleaveland said the group has prevented the officers from issuing about 4,000 tickets.
In the filing, parking enforcement officer Linda Desruisseaux said, "Besides following me, crowding around me, making video recordings of my activities, and placing coins in expired meters to prevent me from writing tickets, these individuals repeatedly taunt and harass me, asking why I am stealing peoples' money and telling me to get another job ... In particular, Graham Colson likes to taunt me by saying, 'Linda, guess what you're not going to do today - write tickets.' ... The taunting and harassment tends to get worse when there is a group, as they try to one-up each other at my expense."
The lawsuit does not deny group members' right to videotape and takes no issue with them filling expired parking meters, but said there is a concern that the three parking enforcement officers will quit. The suit states the city would suffer financially from having to hire and train new employees, and might have difficulty filling the positions.
According to parking enforcement officer Alan E. Givetz in the suit, the "constant harassment" has made him "feel very stressed and anxious."
"In addition, I have begun to suffer physical effects due to the stress, including coming home from work with a red face, feeling heart palpitations, and having dreams related to this activity."
Cleaveland and Garrett said they were served with the suit Thursday and have 30 days to answer the complaint.
"I basically feel like it's slander. I did not harass or intimidate anyone," Garrett said.
Cleaveland said he speaks to the officers less than 90 percent of the time, and when he does, he is not harassing or intimidating.
He said the Robin Hooders try to be about 20 feet ahead of the officer, but the officers cross the street, zigzag, or hide behind buildings if they see a Robin Hooder.
"If they see us in front of them, they will try to alter their path," Cleaveland said.
The two said the video recordings of their "Robin Hooding" will vindicate them in court.