Ashland teen to remain jailed – for now

Judge: Daniel Zeron 'created an unacceptably high risk of danger to public safety.'

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Daniel Zeron during video

MANCHESTER, NH – Daniel Zeron, the Ashland teen accused of authoring a Facebook post intended to incite a riot last Tuesday at a South Willow Street shopping center, will be held without bail until at least June 9 when a further evidentiary hearing is held, according to a court order.

Judge William H. Lyons, presiding in 9th Circuit Court – District Division – Manchester ruled Thursday that Daniel Zeron’s conduct “created an unacceptably high risk of danger to public safety.

The order comes a day after Zeron, 19, asked the court to release him on personal recognizance bail.  Defense Attorney Jillian Rizzo told the judge Zeron had no criminal record.

He was charged with criminal threatening after opening a fake Facebook account on May 30, 2020, titled NH Riots/NH Protests.  The account had no personal identifiers to be traced back to him.

 Zeron made several posts, one of them specifically targeted the Manchester Commons Shopping Center at 401 South Willow St.

One of the posts, Lyons pointed out in his order, said:  #Fuck12 Let’s join the other states in protesting blatant racism and police brutality.  We cannot stand by and watch.  Now is your chance to take action and join a movement that will forever change America for the better.

“To start this event we will meet in the masses on Tuesday, June 2, at 8 p.m. at The Manchester Commons Shopping Center at 401 S Willow St., Manchester, NH 03103.  We will then march all throughout willow street and let our voices be heard. Police cars will be tipped.  Graffti (sic) is welcome.  Bring masks.  Take examples from riots in other cities.”

A picture of a police cruiser on fire was included.

Zeron closed the account at 7:49 p.m. the same day he opened it.  

Manchester police detective Brett Fernald, who is assigned to the NH Joint Terrorism Task Force, learned of the posts and immediately contacted Facebook. He used a provision of a National Emergency Rule to have Facebook remove the posts to the account.

By then, four people said they would participate, 25 shared the post and 27 others said they were interested in attending. 

Defense attorney Jillian Rizzo argued it is a “spectacular leap” to believe the post lead to people appearing at the shopping center Tuesday night.  

Lyons said according to prosecutor Jeremy Harmon’s offer of proof, the New Hampshire Information Bank run jointly by NH State Police and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, received more than 200 reports concerning Zeron’s posts while Manchester police received more than 100 calls concerning them.

“Where the prosecutor concedes that this defendant is not acting in concert with any anarchist group, ANTIFA or a white supremacists’ organization, the application of deductive logic means that anyone who appeared at 401 South Willow St. on Tuesday was as a result of the dissemination of defendant’s post.  It is evident that the post was widely disseminated.  Hence, the prosecutor’s arguments in this regard is logically sound,” the judge wrote.

That night, between 50 and 100 protesters broke off from an earlier, peaceful vigil at Stark Park, and met up in the vicinity of the shopping center.  Police arrested 13 people, including three juveniles.  Most were charged with disorderly conduct.   Police said some protesters threw fireworks at officers, tossed items at cruisers and set fire to a couple of garbage bins.

The judge also dismissed the defense’s argument that Zeron did not act purposely because he told police it was a joke.  He pointed out the first sentence in his post is “Hello New Hampshire, I’m creating this Facebook Page so as to not use my personal identity to be charged with inciting a riot (emphasis added.)”

Lyons said Zeron’s statement to police was made after “his effort to escape detection had failed and by design minimized his culpability, this Court finds it not credible…”  

The defense also argued the defendant was only urging property crimes, an offense that does not warrant pre-trial confinement.  That argument ignores both life experience and common sense, Lyons wrote.

He said the defense argument also ignores that human beings drive and travel in police cruisers; “they are not fully autonomous drones,” according to the judge. 

Should this defendant’s invitees attempt to tip those cruisers over or burn them, those police officers would have a legal duty to enforce the law by arresting perpetrators of criminal mischief and protecting both public and private property.  

 “Not only is there the risk of life-altering injury to those immediately involved but in the context of a crowd drawing together for the purpose of vandalizing property, the inherent risk of onlookers choosing to become unlawfully physically involved with the police,” he wrote.

The defense also argued that Zeron’s speech is protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, Lyons said not all speech is entitled to protection against criminal prosecution.  

He quoted Justice Oliver Wendel Holmes Jr. who wrote 101 years ago: “falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing panic highlights that speech that is dangerous and false is not protected…”

The vigil was a memorial to George Floyd, 46, a black man from Minneapolis who died on May 25 after Officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds.

Floyd was suspected of passing a counterfeit $20 bill.

Chauvin is charged with second- and third-degree murder.  Three other officers, Thomas Lane, Tou Thao and J. Alexander Kueng are charged with felony aiding and abetting second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.

 

 

 

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Pat Grossmith

Pat Grossmith is a freelance reporter.