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Photographer Arrested for Impersonating Responders

A Concord photographer who shoots fire and accident scenes in the area was arrested yesterday and charged with impersonating an emergency responder and obstructing the administration of government in the aftermath of a fatal car crash in August.

Brian Blackden, 46, has been a regular at emergency scenes for about two years as a photographer for 1st Responder Newspaper, a monthly publication distributed to fire departments nationwide, and as a freelancer for local news outlets. Blackden, who also owns the Pepper Defense Supply store on North State Street, drives a converted ambulance with "1st Responder News" on the side and says he often dons protective gear for safety reasons.

On Aug. 25, Blackden was wearing a fire coat and helmet - with "Photographer" printed on the side - at the scene of a fatal single- vehicle accident along Interstate 93 in Canterbury. State police Trooper James Decker, unsure for whom Blackden worked, seized his camera as he was leaving.

Yesterday, following what the state police described as a "lengthy investigation," Blackden was arrested at his residence in Concord. Later in the day, he was arraigned in Concord District Court on two misdemeanor charges: impersonation of emergency medical/ rescue personnel and obstruction of government administration.

He also faces two violations: entering a controlled emergency scene without authorization and a "Red Light" restriction, which state police Lt. Scott Sweet described as "displaying emergency lighting when not authorized." Both of the misdemeanor charges carry a sentence of up to one year in jail, Sweet said. Each of the violations could result in a $1,000 fine.

Penny Dean, Blackden's attorney, indicated the police are infringing on her client's First Amendment rights. She said Blackden's bail conditions include a restriction from coming within 500 feet of an accident scene, which may be a problem for a man who sells photos of fires and crashes.

"I remember something about a First Amendment," said Dean, to whom Blackden referred comment yesterday. "It was written a long time ago; it's pretty old."

Dean indicated she suspects the charges are a "retaliation" for a lawsuit she filed in federal court against the state for seizing Blackden's camera and flash memory card. The police said they planned to review the photos Blackden shot at the crash scene as part of the investigation, though Sweet declined yesterday to say what role the images played in the decision to press charges.

"They seem to be finding a lot of charges - I'm not sure from where," Dean said, later asking, "Why should an innocent man ever go to jail?"

Sweet said the police spent the past three months "following up, conducting interviews, making sure that we had given Mr. Blackden every benefit of the doubt."

"Our issue is not with him being a member of the press, it was how he was attired and how he represented himself that day," Sweet said.

Blackden is set to stand trial in March on the charges, Sweet said.

(Matthew Spolar can be reached at 369-3309 or mspolar@cmonitor.com)

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