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Environmental activist found guilty of trespassing at Massena Memorial

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MASSENA — A Colton man has failed to convince a judge that his free-speech rights allowed him to protest inside the lobby of the publicly owned Massena Memorial Hospital last year.

Donald L. Hassig was found guilty of trespass following a trial Friday in Village Court in connection with the Oct. 24 incident. He was charged when he refused a request by the hospital’s senior director of ancillary services, Mark P. Brouillette, to move his protest to the sidewalk.

Under questioning from St. Lawrence County Assistant District Attorney Andrew T. Botts, Mr. Brouillette testified that he had received a call or a visit about 10 a.m. that day alerting him to a disturbance. He said he found Mr. Hassig in the lobby handing out pamphlets to patients and staff.

The hospital administrator said he asked Mr. Hassig to take his protest outside but he refused, saying that there were no people outside and that he did not want to be exposed to vehicle exhaust. “It was a disturbance to staff and patients making for an unsafe and unsecure environment, a violation of polices and procedures,” Mr. Brouillette said.

Mr. Hassig, who represented himself at the bench trial before acting Village Justice James M. Crandall, questioned the assertion he was causing a disturbance during his cross-examination of Mr. Brouillette.

He asked Mr. Brouillette whether his behavior had included loud noise or physical altercations in the hospital.

“I did not receive reports of loud noise inside the hospital, and I did not witness it myself,” Mr. Brouillette replied to Mr. Hassig. “Basically, people were unable to enter the hospital without going past you when you were pushing literature and making comments.”

Mr. Hassig again questioned whether he was a physical obstacle to people entering the hospital, contending he was standing back from the doors near the information desk asking people if they were interested in cancer and chemicals.

“It is a violation of policy to have someone in the hospital without a purpose, an individual with their own crusade going on. We cannot have people on the premises that don’t belong there,” Mr. Brouillette said.

Mr. Hassig said in his opening argument that he chose to speak at Massena Memorial because it is a public facility and had a number of patients who were exposed to dioxins when they were in Vietnam.

Mr. Crandall urged Mr. Hassig to focus his arguments on the trespassing violation, noting he was not charged with disorderly conduct.

“The vital question here is whether your endeavor can or cannot be carried out in a public hospital after you have been told to leave by the person in charge,” Mr. Crandall said. “You are saying your First Amendment rights supersede New York state penal law.”

Mr. Crandall postponed sentencing. Mr. Hassig said he plans to appeal.

“The Massena Memorial Hospital is owned by the town of Massena. It is a public building,” he said after the verdict. “The Constitution guarantees me free speech there.”

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