September 22, 2019
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The case of a woman who threatened Belfast officials on YouTube may hinge on the First Amendment

Tom Groening | BDN
Tom Groening | BDN
Laurie Allen gestures to the stream that runs behind her house on Seaview Terrace in Belfast in this May 2013 file photo.

The trial of a Belfast woman accused of terrorizing city officials with a target-shooting video is expected to continue Tuesday morning, after city councilors and others testified last week at the Waldo Judicial Center how they feared she might hurt them or their families.

Laurie Allen, 58, was arrested and charged with terrorizing with a dangerous weapon in February 2018 after she posted a politically charged YouTube video of herself involving a gun. Allen specifically mentioned seven Belfast officials by name and could be heard in the video saying, “Thanks for being my target,” after firing nine rounds with a scoped rifle.

Allen, who has clashed with city officials on various issues for at least eight years, claims her comments were jokes that are protected by the First Amendment.

But Belfast city councilors and other officials who testified before Justice Robert Murray last week said Allen’s words and actions have frightened them over the course of the yearslong dispute.

“She put the fear of Jesus in me,” Councilor Eric Sanders said of Allen, adding that he believes the woman’s threats are more serious than those from other political critics. “They don’t scare me. She scares me. I don’t feel that they could shoot me or my family. I don’t feel they would, but I worry that Laurie might.”

Allen sat alone at the defense table Friday wearing a purple “Nevertheless, She Persisted” sweatshirt. She is defending herself after two court-appointed attorneys withdrew from the case for unknown reasons.

At the outset of the hearing, Allen told the judge she did not intend to call witnesses or cross-examine any.

“I still plan on not taking the stand and not objecting and you being the final decider,” she told the judge last week. “I’m better off just being quiet and letting the trial roll.”

But Assistant District Attorney Bill Entwisle said Monday that when the judge asked her at the end of the trial’s first day if she wanted to testify, Allen told him she was overwhelmed at the prospect of making that decision. The trial was continued until Tuesday.

On Monday night, Allen wrote in a mass email sent to the Bangor Daily News and others that she would not take the witness stand. It is unclear if she will make a closing argument when the trial resumes.

What to expect

In a brief opening statement last week, Allen said her case was about freedom of speech — not terrorizing — and that it was a waste of taxpayer dollars to put her on trial.

But Allen largely remained silent during the proceedings, looking away from the witness stand as city officials recounted their past experiences with her. In an email she sent to media before her trial began, Allen wrote that she does not own firearms and had used a gun just once, when a friend took her target shooting in October 2017. She recorded that account for her Youtube channel, where she often posts rants about city officials, her neighbors and others.

Her channel is still active, and the seven-minute video called “First and Only Target Shoot Freedom of Speech Not Sent to Anyone” has 2,117 views on YouTube. Allen has posted scores of other videos on the channel since 2014.

Her email to the media suggests her defense tactic will rely on a 1969 Supreme Court case. The case upheld that political hyperbole is protected under the First Amendment.

“Flippant verbal jokes to public officials are not a credible threat,” Allen wrote, indicating that her comments in the video were simply an expression of free speech.

But testimony from city officials has been clear: They found the woman’s threats alarming and credible.

Allen’s YouTube video concluded after she fired the shots and approached the camera.

“Yeah, man, I did it, I did it!” she said.

She named Belfast Councilors Eric Sanders, Mary Mortier, Mike Hurley, Neal Harkness and John Arrison as well as Joe Slocum, city manager, and Wayne Marshall, head of the code and planning department before looking at the camera and saying, “Thanks for being my target, you a—holes.”

A troubled history

Back in 2011, when Allen’s conflict with the city began, it seemed limited to flooding issues she was having with the stream in her Seaview Terrace backyard. But over the years, the problems escalated, according to Belfast Police Chief Mike McFadden, who told the court that councilors and other officials grew worried when Allen became “more and more confrontational and accusatory” at City Council meetings.

“She would accuse them of lying and attempting to hurt her and her family,” the chief said. “That was at almost every City Council meeting.”

Slocum told the judge that for years, the city has had a police officer present at every City Council meeting because of Allen’s words and demeanor and in 2012, he installed a portable panic button in the council chambers. She also eventually was barred from entering City Hall, but none of these steps seemed to temper her rhetoric or other actions, officials said. In the past, Allen often drove downtown with large signs on her vehicle protesting alleged abuses at the hands of those she called the “Belfast bullies,” playing loud music and at least once stationing herself outside the police department with a bullhorn.

“I have responsibility for all city facilities and all city employees,” Slocum said, adding that he is worried that Allen perceives a reality that he does not. “Just this week I went to her blog, and she was talking about her being murdered. If she perceives that we’re trying to murder her, I’m definitely, definitely afraid of this woman.”



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