Pubdate: Sat, 11 Jun 2016
Source: Trentonian, The (NJ)
Copyright: 2016 The Trentonian
Author: Isaac Avilucea


TRENTON - Trenton Police's Facebook status is nonexistent.

The department removed its Facebook page sometime Thursday amid 
allegations that negativity hurled at the department, partially over 
the arrest of a lightning rod marijuana activist, was being scrubbed 
from its social media page.

That led some activists - working in concert with Ed Forchion, also 
known as NJ Weedman - to paper the city with public records requests 
regarding the social media page.

One is Steven Wronko, a Spotswood man who earned the national 
spotlight after being escorted out of Helmetta town hall by police 
while filing a records request about animal abuses at the borough's 
beleaguered animal shelter.

"This is a group of supporters who have waged war on my behalf," 
Forchion said in a phone interview Friday.

One government accountability guru said social media pages run by 
city departments are governed by state law that requires the 
retention of public records and prevents those records from being destroyed.

John Paff, chairman of the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open 
Government Advocacy Project, said he was also concerned city police 
may have removed unfavorable public comments that appeared on its 
page. He called it a form of censorship.

"For example, you can't tell people at a town meeting, 'As long as we 
like your comments, you can have three minutes to speak," Paff said. 
"It's core First Amendment stuff."

Forchion said that instead of complying with the Open Public Records 
Act, the city took a different route.

City clerk Richard Kachmar reportedly sent a memo instructing the 
department to shut down the Facebook page.

"It was an internal memo," the city clerk told

"If you have a copy of it or someone released it, they're in 
violation of the law."

Kachmar claimed the memo is not public record.

"I cannot divulge anything that was in that memo and I have no 
further comment on this issue," he said.

Trenton Police spokesman Lt. Stephen Varn declined to say if the 
Facebook page's disappearance was due to issues with OPRA.

"We have deactivated our Facebook page until such time as our social 
media policy can be reviewed and updated," he said.

Some of the online vitriol directed toward the Trenton Police 
department stemmed from an April raid on Forchion's city businesses.

Police arrested 11 people, including Forchion, and seized $19,000 
worth of marijuana.

The prominent marijuana legalization activist says he has been under 
siege since he filed a federal civil rights lawsuit challenging the 
city about whether his businesses must close at a certain time.

He claims the city infringed on his religious rights by shutting down 
the Liberty Bell Temple for operating late at night.

Since the raid, Forchion was also arrested and charged with 
cyber-bullying for calling Trenton Police officer Herbert Flowers a 
"pedophile" in an encounter captured on video outside of his establishment.

Forchion pointed to other instances of police harassment. He was 
issued summonses for sparking up a joint at City Hall months after 
the incident.

Forchion says his associates have also been targeted for petty 
offenses, such as spitting on sidewalks and tossing cigarette butts 
on the ground.

The always-outspoken Forchion has fought back in a number of ways. He 
personally challenged Angelo Onofri, acting prosecutor of Mercer 
County, to try his drug case.

He also claimed responsibility for distributing jury nullification 
leaflets to jurors in a murder trial outside of Mercer County 
criminal courthouse.

Forchion's plight in Trenton has drawn attention from activists 
around the state.

That includes Wronko, a former Marine with a penchant for producing 
productive public trouble.

He has successfully sued municipalities for records in the past. And 
he and his wife, Collene, are currently litigating a lawsuit that 
alleges former Helmetta Mayor Nancy Martin conspired with a Middlesex 
prosecutor and two municipal judges to influence the outcome of their 
criminal cases in New Brunswick municipal court.

He says he and his wife were targeted by Helmetta police and hit with 
charges because of their activism.

Collene appealed one of her convictions when a municipal judge 
sentenced her to 10 days in jail for calling a cop a "douchebag" and 
not complying with orders to leave the Helmetta animal shelter.

Wronko said Forchion's spat with Flowers is similar to his wife's case.

That prompted him to send numerous record requests to the city of 
Trenton over Forchion's arrests, asking for surveillance footage of 
the raid captured by a camera mounted on a telephone pole near City Hall.

He also asked for emails exchanged between city officials mentioning Forchion.

Wronko said the city denied the requests or claimed they didn't have 
responsive documents. In one instance, the city required him to pay 
$157 for documents he asked to be scanned and sent by email.

Public record laws allow municipalities to charge for copies but not 
scanned documents, Wronko said.

Wronko is building a case against Trenton and plans to sue.

"They're playing a crazy game over there," he said. "I don't like 
when government goes after the little guy. The same thing happened to 
me. Ed's doing a legitimate business that they're trying to wreck. 
They're trying to throw him under the bus, trying to get some stuff 
to stick, trying to make him look like a kook. When it's in their 
favor, they go right to the media. When it's not in their favor, 'no comment.'"

Trentonian staff writer David Foster contributed to this report.
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