NH crash photographer guilty of impersonating responder

The man parked his ambulance behind a row of fire trucks and emergency vehicles, and said he was with a rescue squad, a trooper said

By Maddie Hanna
The Concord Monitor

CONCORD, N.H. — Concord photographer Brian Blackden was found guilty yesterday of impersonating emergency personnel for showing up at a fatal car accident in Canterbury last year dressed in protective fire gear, misleading a state police trooper.

Concord District Court Judge Gerard Boyle handed down his verdict at theof Blackden's trial yesterday afternoon, also finding the photographer guilty of displaying red emergency lights without authorization on the ambulance he brought to the Interstate 93 crash scene Aug. 25. He fined Blackden $1,000 for each of the two crimes and ordered him to pay a $240 penalty assessment but didn't sentence him to jail time.

Blackden's attorney, Penny Dean, said he will appeal the impersonating emergency personnel conviction to the Merrimack County Superior Court. Blackden is also suing the state police for allegedly violating his First Amendment rights by seizing his camera at the accident scene.

In ruling on the case, Boyle remarked on the length of Blackden's trial, which ran for several days in April and was continued to yesterday afternoon. The case involved misdemeanor and violation- level offenses that would normally take no more than two hours to resolve, Boyle said.

He said he was aware of the lawsuit Blackden filed against the state police in federal court, and "I frankly don't know whether this case would ever be brought if that case hadn't been filed," Boyle said.

At the same time, he said, "This is not a frivolous action brought by the state."

According to Trooper James Decker, Blackden — who worked as an emergency medical technician and firefighter in the 1980s — identified himself as being with the Penacook Rescue Squad and said he'd been toned to the early morning accident by the squad. He'd parked his ambulance behind a row of fire trucks and emergency vehicles along I-93, and he had its red emergency lights flashing.

Blackden, a freelance photographer who regularly took pictures at local accident scenes involving Penacook Rescue, said he was wearing the fire gear for protection and never identified himself as a member of the rescue squad or as an emergency responder.

Dean said he didn't have his name and town emblazoned on his gear like many local firefighters, and "if his goal is to trick these people, he's surely not that stupid," she said.

But based on what Blackden was wearing at the scene and Decker's testimony as to how Blackden represented himself, Boyle said there was sufficient evidence to find Blackden guilty of the impersonation charge, a misdemeanor.

Boyle also found Blackden guilty of displaying red emergency lights without authorization, a violation-level offense.

Blackden, who also owns a pepper spray supply shop on North State Street, said he bought the ambulance to use as a showroom for his pepper spray products and only uses the lights when he puts it on display in parades. He said he turned them on at the accident scene, however, to caution drivers on I-93.

Besides those charges, Boyle dismissed two different charges brought by the state police: one for obstruction of government administration and the other for unlawful entry to a controlled rescue scene.

While Boyle said he believed Blackden's presence at the scene had interfered with Decker's ability to do his job, he said the state hadn't properly pleaded the misdemeanor charge. Blackden had to act purposely to be convicted of the crime, but that language was missing from the complaint.

And while Boyle said there was "no doubt in my mind" that Blackden had entered the accident scene without permission from someone in charge, he said he couldn't find Blackden guilty of the violation-level offense because the state hadn't given him a copy of the uniform fire code Blackden was accused of violating.

After Boyle ruled on the charges, he denied state police prosecutor Jean Reed's request for a pre-sentencing investigation into Blackden's background.

"We know of three other incidents, three different jurisdictions, where the defendant had issues almost identical to this one," Reed said. "This is not the ordinary case. This is not the ordinary incident. This is not the ordinary defendant. . . . It's our position this is the tip of the iceberg," she said.

Reed said the Loudon police reported pulling Blackden over as he sped through town one night in his personal pickup truck, which had blue lights on it.

Blackden told the police he was chasing an escaped inmate and said he was with the prison and allowed to do that, Reed said.

Reed said the Madbury police chief also reported that Blackden, who used to work for a security company in that area, had been driving around in blacked-out Crown Victoria cruisers, "insinuating himself to be an emergency responding person" to the University of New Hampshire community, Reed said. He also drove around Farmington in a surplus cruiser, she said.

Reed said Blackden lost jobs because of his behavior. While working for CVS in its loss prevention department, he was issued a small plastic badge but bought himself a more official-looking version, Reed said.

And as an employee at the state prison, he produced a badge that looked as of it was issued by the Department of Corrections and then sold it on eBay, Reed said.

Dean disputed Reed's characterization of each incident. When Blackden was pulled over in Loudon, he was a certified police officer, Dean said.

She said the Madbury police had a dispute with the security company that employed Blackden because the security officers complained that the police weren't prosecuting drug charges involving UNH students, Dean said. She said the Farmington case involved Blackden's ex-wife and said Blackden had sued his wife after she had an affair with a police officer.

Dean said Blackden was medically discharged from his job at CVS and said any allegations that he produced a fake Department of Corrections badge were "news to him."'

"What they're trying to do is smear and slander his name," Dean said.

Although Boyle denied the request, he recalled a previous experience he had with Blackden, who once appeared before Boyle on a stalking complaint related to his duties as a private investigator.

"The thing that strikes me about that case was the company that Mr. Blackden had at the time," Boyle said. Blackden's cars, he said, were painted black and white and looked like Concord police cruisers — so much so that one day, Boyle saw several parked in a row in the courtroom parking lot and remembered wondering what the Concord police were doing at court that day.

"That's sort of relevant to the allegations here," Boyle said.

Regarding Blackden's motivations, "I do not believe Mr. Blackden is a bad man," Boyle said. Blackden is "somebody who is totally immersed in his work, who is out there (at the Canterbury accident scene) trying to do the right thing, make a living, in good faith.

"But I think things got a little out of hand," Boyle said.

While his appeal is pending, Blackden's bail conditions remain in place, meaning he must remain 500 feet away from all accident scenes. Dean asked Boyle yesterday to lower that requirement to 250 feet, but Boyle denied her request.

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