WESTBORO- Maybe the pro-marijuana group from Greenfield was a little hazy on
who supports its cause. The police officer, state Trooper John Suyemoto of
the Russell barracks, does not support the legalization of marijuana and
neither he nor the state police authorized the use of his picture, state
police Capt. Donald S. Johnson said.

A pro-marijuana billboard on Route 9 that made its debut this week featured
pictures of a police officer, a firefighter and a teacher.

Problem is, the police officer, state Trooper John Suyemoto of the Russell
barracks, does not support the legalization of marijuana and neither he nor
the state police authorized the use of his picture, state police Capt.
Donald S. Johnson said.

"He was upset when he found out," Capt. Johnson said. "He did not pose for
that and had no knowledge that they were going to use his picture."

Change the Climate, the pro-marijuana group, had rented the billboard, which
previously displayed the public-service "Wanted" poster of a man who is
believed to have raped or attacked four women. Clear Channel Outdoors Inc.,
which was not charging rent for the "Wanted" sign, had planned to move it to
another billboard on Route 9.

But yesterday, the marijuana message came down and the "Wanted" sign went
back up. Westboro Police Chief Alan R. Gordon said Clear Channel Outdoors,
which owns the billboard, recognized its mistake and immediately removed the
pro-marijuana sign.

"They had an unauthorized picture of a Massachusetts state trooper up there,
but they removed it," Chief Gordon said.

The "Wanted" sign features a police sketch artist's composite of the rapist.

The man has not attacked in a month and police are still aggressively
pursuing him.

After the Change the Climate sign went up, a state police officer drove by
it to check it out and noticed that the policeman was wearing a
Massachusetts trooper's cap, Capt. Johnson said. State police recognized the
picture of Trooper Suyemoto because it is the same one used for recruiting
posters, Capt. Johnson said.

Photos of models were used for the firefighter and the teacher.

State police will not take any action against Change the Climate or Clear
Channel, Capt. Johnson said. He said the company was apologetic and
accommodating and offered to immediately replace the sign, which it did.

Joe White of Change the Climate said the organization planned to rent
several billboards across the state for a new campaign calling for the
legalization and taxation of marijuana. The group says doing so would save
more money for local services, such as police and schools.

Mr. White said he was caught off guard when his first billboard generated a
"firestorm." He said the concept was his, but Clear Channel designed the
sign and chose the three photographs. He said the company made an error by
inserting a picture of a real police officer. A new sign will use a model
for a police officer, he said.

"The Clear Channel art department made an innocent mistake," Mr. White said.

Capt. Johnson said Clear Channel originally planned to use a stock
photograph of a model dressed as a police officer, but it felt the model
didn't have the right look because he was not wearing a cap or badge, so it
inserted Trooper Suyemoto's picture instead.

"It was just a misunderstanding and there is no reason to think otherwise,"
Capt. Johnson said.

Change the Climate has initiated several marijuana legalization campaigns
outside Massachusetts but never here, Mr. White said. The organization had
sought to rent billboard space from Lamar Outdoor Advertising, but was
rejected because of the content, Mr. White said.

"It's pretty shocking to me, actually, that they rejected our signs," Mr.
White said.

Mr. White said Clear Channel was willing to do business and never questioned
his group's message. Billboard rental costs $7,000 to $25,000 a month, Mr.
White said.

Clear Channel Outdoors, a subsidiary of the media goliath Clear Channel
Worldwide, owns 1,225 radio and 39 television stations in the United States,
including local stations WTAG AM 580, which features talk-show host Jordan
Levy, and WSRS 96.1 FM.

Clear Channel released a statement yesterday afternoon saying that it is
"committed to assisting the Westboro Police Department in its efforts to
make an arrest in this case."

The company also said "business commitments" may force the company to
relocate the Wanted poster to another location. The company owns another
billboard in Westboro. Chief Gordon said moving the billboard to another
location may help in the search for the rapist because it would be seen by
more people.

Pubdate: Thu, 11 Sep 2003
Source: Worcester Telegram & Gazette (MA)
Copyright: 2003 Worcester Telegram & Gazette
Contact: letters@telegram.com
Website: http://www.telegram.com/