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Top court tosses child porn conviction of man arrested at Canobie

CONCORD — The state Supreme Judicial Court has overturned the guilty plea, conviction and two- to 15-year prison sentence of a man police said admitted possessing child pornography.

David Lantagne agreed last year to plead guilty to a reduced charge of attempted possession of child pornography and was sentenced to state prison.

But the plea deal came only after a judge refused to throw out Lantagne's admission to police that he possessed child porn and the results of a search of his computer. The agreement allowed him to remain free while he appealed that ruling.

Salem police arrested Lantagne at Canobie Lake Park in July 2013 on disorderly conduct charges after getting complaints that he was taking pictures of young girls' backsides as they emerged from a water ride.

In a unanimous decision, the justices said since the disorderly conduct charge did not meet the legal standard for that crime, the arrest was "unlawful" and prosecutors could not use statements made when he was questioned while police were holding him on that charge.

The court said Lantagne was arrested after a woman complained to a security guard that Lantagne made her "nervous," and the guard observed Lantagne positioning his cell phone on the side of his leg and aiming at young girls clad in swim suits.

The officer said Lantagne admitted taking the pictures and saying that he had an attraction to young girls, calling it "a problem."

Lantagne was arrested for disorderly conduct and taken to the Salem police station

Police said that during several hours of questioning after his arrest, Lantagne "admitted that he possessed child pornography" on a computer in his bedroom. A search warrant was obtained and prosecutors notified the court and Lantagne's lawyer they would use the evidence at trial.

The justices said "photographing properly attired children in an open and public portion of Canobie Lake Park" does not meet the legal definition of disorderly conduct. The ruling said evidence obtained when he was in custody following an "unlawful" arrest could not be used at trial.

Salem police never pursued the disorderly conduct charge, the court noted.