By Doug Ireland
---- — A child pornography conviction cost David Lantagne his job and parental visitation rights, but he will continue to hold on to his freedom, his attorney said.
The New Hampshire Supreme Court has overturned the Salem, N.H., man’s conviction after he was first arrested in July 2011 for using his cellphone to photograph young girls in bathing suits at Canobie Lake Park in Salem.
The high court unanimously ruled that Salem police had no right to arrest Lantagne because photographing children at the amusement park did not constitute a public threat.
The arrest later led to his conviction on child pornography charges and a two- to 15-year New Hampshire State Prison sentence.
“We are very happy with the decision that found the entire case was handled improperly,” John Macoul, Lantagne’s attorney, said yesterday. “It was a very unfortunate situation.”
Lantagne, 48, was initially charged with disorderly conduct and violation of privacy. A woman complained to a park security employee that Lantagne was taking photos of her young daughter while she played in the water.
Lantagne brought his own young daughter to the park that day, and lost his visitation rights when convicted, Macoul said.
When confronted by security, Lantagne admitted having a “problem” and being attracted to young girls. Lantagne also said he previously photographed girls at The Mall at Rockingham Park.
The charges against Lantagne were later upgraded when Salem police seized his home computer and found images of nude young girls.
Lantagne was convicted in Rockingham Superior Court in October 2012 on three counts of attempted possession of sexual images.
Lantagne was then sentenced to state prison in January but remained free pending appeal of his conviction. He sought sex offender treatment immediately after his arrest, according to Rockingham County Attorney James Reams.
In his appeal, Lantagne claimed he was arrested without cause, violating the state and U.S. constitutions.
The Supreme Court handed down its decision Tuesday, ruling that any evidence collected during Lantagne’s unlawful arrest should not have been presented during his case in Superior Court.
“Photographing properly-attired children in an open and public portion of Canobie Lake Park — regardless of whether the photographs were of the children’s backsides, were taken surreptitiously or would be uploaded to a computer — would not have warranted a reasonable belief that the photographer posed a threat of imminent harm to any patrons, including the children,” the court ruled.
Lantagne and Macoul lost their bid before Judge Margaret Wageling to bar the cellphone photos from being submitted as evidence.
During the hearing, park employees testified about their encounter with Lantagne, saying he held the cellphone below his waist to photograph the girls while trying not to be detected.
Wageling later ruled that police had the right to confiscate Lantagne’s cellphone and to detain him.
Macoul said while justice was served when the conviction was overturned, the two-year ordeal had a major impact on his client and caused him to lose his job with a Massachusetts printing company.
Although free pending the outcome of his appeal, Lantagne still spent 13 days and jail and had to post $50,000 cash bail to earn his release, Macoul said.
“It’s been very emotional — we feel he has not been properly treated from the beginning,” Macoul said. “Nobody can give him back what he’s been through.”
Salem Deputy police Chief Shawn Patten said yesterday it was premature to comment on the high court’s ruling.
“The decision is obviously disappointing from a public safety standpoint,” he said in a statement. “The case was handled and prosecuted by the Rockingham County Attorney’s Office and until we have had time to review the decision with them, it wouldn’t be prudent to comment at this time.”