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Franklin restaurant targeted by white supremacists sues mayor, police chief, over response

Miriam Kovacs stands in front of her Franklin, N.H. restaurant.
Phillip Martin
/
GBH News
Miriam Kovacs stands in front of her Franklin, N.H. restaurant. (file photo)

The owner of a Franklin restaurant who became the subject of online harassment by white supremacists after she denounced a hate group last summer is suing city officials, including the mayor and police chief, alleging they violated her civil rights through a number of retaliatory actions.

The lawsuit comes after more than a year of back and forth interactions between Miriam Kovacs, a Jewish resident of Franklin, and city officials that included a public rebuke of Kovacs by Franklin Police Chief David Goldstein.

Last July, Kovacs used the Instagram page of her restaurant, Broken Spoon, to denounce a rally held by members of the hate group NSC-131 in Kittery, Maine. The restaurant was subsequently flooded with one-star online reviews as well as anti-Semitic threats. She alleges in her lawsuit that after she asked local police to investigate, the “government did not provide protection.”

“Instead, it adopted a policy of retaliatory viewpoint discrimination against her,” her lawsuit alleges.

Jo Brown, the mayor of Franklin, declined to comment on the lawsuit, but noted the city passed a resolution opposing hate in the wake of the initial incident. Franklin also established a citizens group that works on countering intolerance.

Judie Milner, the city manager who is a named defendant, said that she believes the community "rallied around Ms. Kovacs directly after the incident as well as the few incidents since."

The32-page lawsuit lays out months of interactions between Kovacs and local officials, in which Kovacs alleges she and her partner, who previously was a police officer for the city, became the subject of ridicule and retaliation by Franklin officials.

Following the online harassment on her restaurant’s social media feed, Franklin police didn’t pursue criminal charges, according to the lawsuit, writing in police documents that the negative reviews “did not constitute direct harassment” and were protected on First Amendment grounds. The New Hampshire Attorney General's Civil Rights Unit looked into the incident and scheduled a meeting with Kovacs last summer, according to court paperwork, to discuss the online harassment.

Upon learning of the meeting, Kovacs alleges local police officers attempted to block her attendance by calling to tell her that her vehicle registration had expired, and that she shouldn’t drive. Kovacs claims her registration had not lapsed.

Several months later, in November 2022, Kovacs’s business was vandalized, with menus torn down and a sticker removed from the front door. She alleges local police refused to conduct a “meaningful investigation” and then in the police report “criticized [Kovacs’s] social media post about the incident and blamed [Kovacs] for the vandalism.”

In December, the lawsuit alleges, Kovacs was the subject of further ridicule and criticism at a police commission meeting. An audio recording of the meeting captured members of the commission discussing Kovacs, comparing her appearance to that of a “thug” and her behavior as “psychotic.”

The back-and-forth continued in February, when Kovacs was asked to participate in a public forum organized by the New Hampshire Attorney General and U.S. Attorney’s office on the growing number of hate-related threats in the region. At that event, Kovacs said that she believed the local community had not followed up on the threats against her with appropriate action.

Shortly after the event, David Goldstein, the Franklin police chief, posted a statement to the police department’s Facebook page in which he rebuked Kovacs by name. The post became the subject of significant online attention, before it was taken down.

The lawsuit alleges Goldstein previously disciplined Kovac’s partner, former Franklin Officer Mark Faro, for his relationship with her, writing in a memo to him that “[Miriam] promotes anti-Franklin Police Department and anti-law enforcement attitudes and behaviors.”

According to a March article publishedin the Boston Globe, Goldstein gave Faro what essentially amounted to an ultimatum.

“I realize that your relationship with Ms. Kovacs presents you with a conundrum,” Goldstein wrote. “However, the challenges presented by your affiliation with Ms. Kovacs are unacceptable as it/they exist and the solution is completely up to you.”

Faro left Franklin’s police force shortly afterwards.

The suit seeks a preliminary injunction blocking the city from any further alleged violations of Kovac’s first amendment rights and seeks monetary damages, as well as attorney’s fees.

Todd started as a news correspondent with NHPR in 2009. He spent nearly a decade in the non-profit world, working with international development agencies and anti-poverty groups. He holds a master’s degree in public administration from Columbia University.

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