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Lawyer: Keene 'Robin Hooders' about a hostile environment, not meter feeding

KEENE — The City versus Robin Hood and his Merry Men continued in Cheshire County Superior Court Monday, but is far from over.

The evidentiary hearing in which the city is asking the court for a injunction for its three parking enforcement officers against a band of activists calling themselves Robin Hood and his Merry Men started Monday morning, and after seven hours of testimony was continued to an undetermined date.

On May 2 the city filed a lawsuit against six residents associated with the Free Keene movement — Kate Ager, Ian Bernard aka Ian Freeman, James Cleaveland, Graham Colson, Garrett Ean and Peter Eyre — also known as Robin Hooders, though Eyre contests that he does not participate in the groups activities.

The Robin Hooders patrol downtown armed with video cameras and pockets full of change to fill expired parking meters before a city parking enforcement officer can issue a ticket.

As their name would suggest there is more to this group than just plugging the meter for a fellow citizen, they don't think the city should be creating revenue by issuing parking tickets.

And now the city is suing the Robin Hooders to protect that revenue stream and because the group is making the city look bad, said defendant Ian Freeman after the hearing on Monday.

"This is not about feeding the meters. This is about employees not having a hostle work environment," said attorney Charles Bauer of Gallagher, Callahan and Gartrell law firm in Concord.

If the group were just feeding parking meters downtown that would not be a problem, but they are videotaping, following and haranguing the city employees, he said.

Bauer said the city has a right and an obligation to protect its employees from harassment while at work.

Bauer recently replaced the city's legal council on the case and since then the request for the injunction has been modified.

Freeman said the city acquired new counsel after first amendment attorney Jon Meyer stepped up to represent them.

Originally the city asked for an injunction that would bar the Robin Hooders from coming within 50 feet of the city's three parking enforcement officers.

Now the city is only requesting a 30-foot buffer that would not bar the Robin Hooders, just the activities that the city says are harassing within that 30-foot zone.

Parking enforcement officer Linda Desruisseaux and Alan E. Givetz testified Monday as well as Eyre and a clinical physiologist hired by the city to counsel the three parking enforcement employees.

Givetz who recently resigned due to the stress created on the job by the Robin Hooders did not complete his testimony and will return when the hearing continues, Bauer said.

Parking enforcement officer Jane McDermott has yet to testify.

Freeman said he anticipates the remaining five defendants including himself would take the stand when the hearing continues.

On Monday the city was able to start presenting its argument that what the group is doing goes beyond the stress a parking enforcement officer might experience when a ticketed person becomes angry, Bauer said.

In that case someone might become momentarily angry about getting a ticket, but can be referred to a supervisor or the courts, Bauer said.

In her testimony Desruisseaux described how the group follow her around for an 8 hour shift, taking turns by tag teaming each other, waiting for her outside of a bathroom or waiting for her as she eats her lunch, Bauer said.

"She testified today that that has had a physiological and emotional impact on her doing her job. ...and also going to work. 'I didn't sign up for this,'" she said on the stand.

Freeman maintained what the group does is not harassing and that government employees should be held accountable while on the job.

"Her suggestion was everything that we do is harassing cause its so constant," Freeman said. "She even went so far to say that the use of a video camera is intimidating."

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