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Saturday, August 25, 2012

Sergeant not guilty of stealing vest

Concord / Hill
Sergeant not guilty of stealing vest...
Garb taken from pepper spray store...
Hill police sergeant Jonathan Evans speaks with his lawyer during his trial for the theft of a leather motorcycle vest at Concord District Court; Friday, August 24, 2012. The defense claim the vest was the property of the Road Dawgs Motorcycle Club and not that of Brian Blackden, whose store it was taken from in May 2011.
August 25, 2012
A Hill police sergeant who took a vest bearing the colors of his police motorcycle club from Brian Blackden's pepper spray supply shop last year was acquitted of theft yesterday by a Concord district court judge.
Jonathan Evans brought the Road Dawgs vest to the Concord police within an hour of taking it from the North State Street store in May 2011, and prosecutors didn't prove that Evans, who went to the store that day with three other members of the police motorcycle club, acted with a purpose to deprive Blackden of the vest, Judge Gerard Boyle ruled yesterday.
"The state must prove the purpose to deprive, and that is defined as to withhold property permanently," Boyle said yesterday in Concord's district court. "The court is not convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that the purpose to deprive element of this offense has been met."
Evans, who said he believed the vest belonged to the Road Dawgs, was charged with the theft in May along with a second officer, Bedford police Sgt. Gary Norton. Norton died the day the complaint was filed against him, and a law enforcement official told the Union Leader Norton had committed suicide.
"I'm just glad it's over," Evans said after the trial, standing outside the courthouse next to Norton's wife. "It got all blown out of proportion. I didn't do anything wrong."
Blackden disagreed. "He proved today he can walk into somebody's store, steal something, and it's okay because he's a police officer," he said, pointing across the court parking lot at Evans.
Evans said the May 2011 incident began when Road Dawgs members learned at a meet-up before a charity motorcycle ride that a vest bearing the club's colors had been on display outside Blackden's shop.
Road Dawgs bylaws state that the club, not its members, owns the colors, said Evans, who has since left the club. Evans, who was with three club members, another man, and two of their wives, said the club's leaders decided they would go to Blackden's store and see the vest.
Once at the store, "it was Road Dawgs business, so only Road Dawgs went inside," Evans said. The four men recognized the vest as theirs, Evans said, and Norton took it off the mannequin.
When Blackden asked the officers what they were doing, Norton told him, " 'That's our vest,' " Evans said. He said Blackden protested, and Norton said, " 'Let's just charge him with receiving stolen property.' "
At that point, Blackden told the officers to "get the hell out of the store," Evans said. He said Norton offered to just cut the colors off the vest and also offered to pay for the vest.
But Blackden "told us to take it," Evans said. As they left the store, Evans said, the argument between Blackden and another one of the club members grew heated.
"Boys were being boys," Evans said. He said he stepped between the two men and told Blackden: " 'You gave us the vest. We're not bringing the police in on this. Let's call it a day.' "
Evans, however, took the vest to the Concord police an hour later, said Assistant Cheshire County Attorney John Webb, who questioned why the motorcycle club members hadn't involved the police sooner.
"Neither you nor anyone else you were with called the Concord police ahead of time and made a report you thought Brian Blackden had stolen property," Webb said, accusing the officers of making a mistake and panicking.
"No," Evans said. "There's a reason why we didn't report it to the police." He later said the officers hadn't wanted to get Blackden in trouble: "Why would you want to bring in law enforcement for something that could be handled between two individuals?"
Evans, who said he took the vest out of the store, said he and the other officers went to the police station because "we weren't happy with how things had transpired."
Blackden called 911 after the incident, and he was "emotionally distraught," testified Concord police Officer Erik Haglund, who responded to the call at the pepper spray store.
Blackden testified yesterday that five men burst into his store at noon the day of the incident. He said three stood in front of him as another went to the mannequin and the other stood in the door, "acting like security."
The man at the mannequin tore off its arm as he removed the vest, and as Blackden told them they "couldn't just come in and take something from my store," he said one man threatened to " 'kick (his) f---ing ass.' "
"I was intimidated," Blackden said. "It was five on one." He said he never gave the men permission to take the vest from his store.
Blackden said he got the vest through a yard sale when the storage unit holding the property of a former Sanbornton police officer was seized for nonpayment.
He had been displaying it on the female mannequin outside his store to attract motorcyclists, he said. He said he changed the patch reading "Road Dawgs" to "Road Girls" for the mannequins.
Blackden said he flipped the police patches on the vest upside down as a "political statement." Once a frequent accident scene photographer, Blackden was convicted last year of impersonating emergency personnel after showing up at a car accident in turnout gear and a converted ambulance. He sued the state police for seizing his camera during the incident, and that lawsuit is ongoing.
"In times of distress, we put the American flag upside down," Blackden said. He denied using the mannequin to taunt the police.
After the trial, Blackden said the ruling reflected corruption in the justice system, "right up through the judges."
"They are thieves," Blackden said of the officers. "This is exactly why people don't trust the police."
(Maddie Hanna can be reached at 369-3321 or or on Twitter @maddiehanna.)