You may have read in the Globe on December 24th that the SJC upheld the conviction of an Andover couple who harassed a neighbor via the internet. In Commonwealth v. William P. Johnson decided on December 23rd, The Johnsons were charged on October 16, 2008, in Lawrence District Court with making a false report of child abuse (G.L. c. 119, § 51A [c ] ); identity fraud (G.L. c. 266, § 37E); conspiracy (G.L. c. 274, § 7); and criminal harassment (G.L. c. 265, § 43A [a ] ). It all started when the Johnsons proposed to subdivide their land and their neighbors James (“Jim”) and Bernadette Lyons opposed the development. In either late February or early March, 2008, William Johnson telephoned his friend Colton “and enlisted him to play a series of ‘pranks’ on Jim. The ideas for these ‘pranks’ were generated in several ways: (1) William would directly instruct Colton or convey ideas through Gail; (2) the Johnsons would provide information about the Lyons family to Colton so that he could use this information to harass them; or (3) the Johnsons would prompt Colton to think of ideas. Over the course of thirty-five days in late March and early April, 2008, the defendants, directly and through Colton, engaged in a series of acts directed at the Lyons family. The Commonwealth alleged four separate acts of harassment in addition to the false report of child abuse…” Com. v. Johnson, No. SJC-11660, 2014 WL 7261476, at *2 (Mass. Dec. 23, 2014). The defendants also posted fake ads on the internet that caused numerous people to call or go to the Lyonses home or call them late at night.
William Johnson was sentenced to 18 months behind bars; his wife was given a six-month sentence to serve.
We have seen circumstances when citizens who are opposed to a development have engaged in smear campaigns on social networks. And the Johnson decision will cut both ways when opponents to a project go beyond protected free speech and engage in harassment.
Paul F. Alphen, Esquire
Alphen & Santos, P.C.