‘This is still America’ – Parents caught on video defying police order to leave city playground

  • Concord police talk to a family using a playground that has been shut down by the city. JUSTIN GRAYBILL   Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 4/30/2020 1:33:20 PM

Visible in the background of the cell phone video is the yellow caution tape that ropes off the monkey bars, stand-alone swing sets, blue slides and a short climbing wall for children at Rollins Park.

In the foreground, Officers Stephen Carter and Paige Salmon, donning N95 masks, approach a group of men, women and children who ducked under the tape to use the playground on a sunny afternoon last week. The officers explained that due to the current state of emergency all city playgrounds are closed to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“We’re free to use all of the park – this is still America,” one man shouts.

“It is still America, however, we’re in a state of emergency right now,” Officer Carter responds.

“The governor’s order does not surpass the Constitution of the United States,” the man interrupts.

For approximately 11 minutes, the officers continue to ask for compliance as they are told to go after the “real criminals” and at one point get called “Concord Nazis.” The video capturing the interactions at the playground on the afternoon of April 23 has nearly 100,000 views and has been shared 2,000 times on one social media account alone.

Rochelle Kelley, a newly elected member of the Weare School Board, was one of the parents who visited the Rollins Park playground that day and engaged with police. As public outrage over the video grows, more than 3,000 people have signed an online petition calling for Kelley’s immediate resignation from her position on the board.

Kelley told the Monitor on Wednesday that her efforts to communicate with police in Rollins Park were misunderstood and she has no plans to resign.

“The petition is a symbol of my main concern in these recent days: that people are reacting from fear, and not solid, factual information,” she wrote in an email. “I’d like to be part of the solution, helping people get the truth about what happened during this incident, as well as about the laws, our Constitution and our rights.”

Kelley said she is open to discussing the situation with Carter and Salmon or anyone at the Concord Police Department.

“During all this, I was trying to have a conversation with the officers to let them know about the many police departments across the country that have chosen not to enforce the stay-at-home orders because they overstep constitutional rights. But the other people heard in the video were loud and confrontational, so it was difficult to communicate,” Kelley said. “I regret trying to hold a conversation while the officers were undergoing that scrutiny, as it was an unfair distraction for both parties.”


In recent days, Concord police Chief Brad Osgood said emails have poured in from community members, as well as other police chiefs, commending Carter and Salmon for how they handled the situation. He noted that Rye Police Chief Kevin Walsh is now using the video as a training opportunity for officers.

“People are outraged that citizens would treat their local police like this, especially in a time of a state of emergency,” Osgood said. “I’ve received emails in the double digits from people who live in Concord and as far away as the Seacoast, saying how proud they are of the professionalism our officers showed.”

As of late Wednesday, Osgood had not yet had the opportunity to speak directly with the two responding officers, but said he planned to do so this week to learn more about what they faced that afternoon. He said he remains deeply concerned by the conduct of one man who appears to have intentionally and repeatedly coughed as he walked a few paces behind the officers, all while holding a child.

Elsewhere in the state, police have filed criminal threatening charges against people who have attempted to harass officers during the pandemic by coughing on them. Osgood did not rule out charges in this case.

“It’s alarming and disturbing behavior,” he said. “It’s certainly something that I want to explore further with the officers.”

Like many towns and cities in the state, Concord closed its public playgrounds following Gov. Chris Sununu’s state of emergency declaration in March due to COVID-19. Caution tape and signage is up at each location, said the city’s Parks and Recreation Director David Gill.

“The reason why the playgrounds are closed is to help support social distancing requirements based on CDC recommendations and to help limit the transmission of the virus being spread through surfaces common with playgrounds,” Gill said, adding that studies suggest the virus can live on plastics for several days.

Despite the closure of playgrounds, parks in the city remain open until 11 p.m.

Kelley said she took her children to Rollins Park so they could get some fresh air and play outside. Since that day, she said she has received messages from people thanking her for standing up for people’s constitutional rights, while others have sent death threats.

“Many Americans have differing views on the virus and the shutdown of our state’s economy and way of life,” Kelley said. “It is important for everyone to remain respectful of others’ opinions, particularly when so many views are governed by fear. To get everyone to a point of listening to each other, we need transparency, we need balanced coverage of all the different views in the media, and we need a real public conversation about the best way to move forward while respecting the Constitution and keeping people safe.”

Kelley has since deleted her Facebook account where she had posted videos of the encounter with police.

Those seeking her resignation from the Weare School Board wrote that they do not disagree with her “right to freedom of speech, however we take issue with the disrespect to law enforcement and language and/or actions that were witnessed in the video of the April 23rd incident.”

The petition continues, “Whether these actions and/or words were performed by her or in her presence, we the undersigned have lost faith in her ability to objectively, civilly, and maturely advocate for the children of Weare and its taxpayers.”

The online petition can be signed by anyone, and is not restricted to Weare residents. Kelley’s term on the school board expires in 2023.

After officers left Rollins Park on that Thursday afternoon, Kelley said she and her children moved to an open picnic table in a nearby open field.

However, not everyone did, according to police. Osgood said the department received another call that some of the same individuals had returned to the playground. They ultimately disbanded upon police arrival.

Beyond Concord

Since the state of emergency declaration, the Concord Police Department has responded to a few reports of large gatherings and of teenagers playing basketball in the park after hours. But for the most part, city residents have respected the temporary restrictions and have been cordial with officers, Osgood said.

“Our first line of communication is always education. We’re trying to educate people about the state of emergency, the need for social distancing and the stay-at-home directives that will help keep them safe and slow the spread of the virus,” he said. “Many times that works, but in rare situations like we saw last week, there are people who do not like the direction or instructions they are given.”

Osgood said this isn’t the first time officers have heard the constitutional rights argument and it is one officers are trained to respectfully navigate.

The weekend before the incident at the playground, hundreds of protesters gathered outside the State House plaza defying the state’s ban on large gatherings. Holding signs, demonstrators urged Sununu to reopen New Hampshire, arguing the continued shut down of non-essential businesses and restaurants infringed on individual rights and was causing too much economic harm. Police did not shut down the rally.

In Rye, which is home to the largest coastline in the state, police are bracing for similar conversations with residents angry about beach closures as the nicer weather approaches.

“Rye is going to be no different than Concord,” chief Walsh said. “Our beaches are closed and we have a lot of people who are frustrated about that. We have to continue to work on education and awareness, and we have to be calm, like we saw from the officers in Concord.”

Walsh said when he saw the video of the incident in Rollins Park, he recognized its potential as a training opportunity for his officers.

“We now have the officers reviewing the video as they come on for their different shifts,” he said. “I’m a firm believer that you can always learn from the experiences of others.”

Walsh said the pandemic marks a challenging time for law enforcement officers who are also looking forward to the days when there is some return to normalcy.

“We understand that everyone is frustrated with the situation that we’re in and sometimes we say things we don’t really mean out of fear,” he said. “The officers in that video showed a great deal of patience and understanding, but also recognized there is a limit.”

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