Weare School Board member acquitted after police said she refused to leave Concord playground 

  • Rochelle Kelley gets ready to enter the Concord District Court on Wednesday morning, August 11, 2021. Kelley, 33, was tried and cleared of charges of criminal mischief and disorderly conduct after police said she and two other people defied orders to leave Concord’s Rollins Park playground in April 2020 GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Rochelle Kelley gets ready to enter the Concord District Court on Wednesday morning, August 11, 2021. Kelley, 33, was tried and cleared of charges of criminal mischief and disorderly conduct after police said she and two other people defied orders to leave Concord’s Rollins Park playground in April 2020. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Leah Wolczko holds up her sign in support of Rochelle Kelley outside the Concord District Court on Wednesday morning, August 11, 2021. Kelly was aquitted of her charges. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Leah Wolczko holds up her sign in support of Rochelle Kelley while confronting counter protestor Bill Politt outside the Concord District Court on Wednesday morning, August 11, 2021 GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Rochelle Kelley gets ready to enter the Concord District Court on Wednesday morning. Kelley, 33, was tried and cleared of charges of criminal mischief and disorderly conduct after police said she and two other people defied orders to leave Concord’s Rollins Park playground in April 2020. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 8/11/2021 3:30:16 PM

A Weare School Board member was cleared of disorderly conduct charges Wednesday, after a judge decided she had behaved “reasonably,” and complied with police orders to leave a Concord playground in 2020, when it was closed due to COVID-19.

Rochelle Kelley, 33, was tried and acquitted of misdemeanor charges of criminal mischief and disorderly conduct after police said she and two other people defied orders to leave Concord’s Rollins Park playground in April 2020, which was closed by the city during Gov. Chris Sununu’s COVID-19 state of emergency. The incident was captured in an 11-minute cellphone video and quickly circulated on social media in the days that followed, in part due to public outrage over Kelley’s role in the incident given her active service on the Weare School Board and partly by other groups who were growing more frustrated with government stay-at-home orders, which they considered to be infringing on individual rights.

“There was nothing I observed in that video that would suggest to me that there was disrespect, or that there was a refusal on part of defendant to leave,” said Judge Edwin Kelly, who presided over the trial. “I believe under all circumstances that the defendant behaved reasonably and there has not been a violation of the law.”

Officer Paige Salmon, who testified at the trial, said she asked Kelley “multiple times” to leave the playground, and Kelley did not immediately comply. Salmon said Kelley climbed up a playground structure after police gave an order for attendees to leave the playground, and slid down a slide, which deposited her outside the caution tape. Salmon testified that Kelley then re-entered the playground by ducking under the caution tape, climbed the structure again and slid down again, but did not return the second time.

In his argument, defense attorney Dan Hynes said there was no evidence that Kelley ever saw the government-posted sign in front of the playground indicating it was closed, because officers did not see which way Kelley initially entered the playground. He also cited several moments in the video where the police officers were filmed talking with other people and not directly to Kelley.

“There is a mistaken identity case. They clearly told other people, not Ms. Kelley. When they did tell Ms. Kelley, she complied in a timely fashion,” Hynes said. 

Salmon estimated about six minutes elapsed between when she first told the group to leave the playground and when Kelley exited the playground for the final time. 

“The issue really comes down to how quickly somebody has to abide by a lawful order,” Judge Kelly said. “I thought there was tremendous forbearance on part of law enforcement officers. They were being polite, they engaged with people on playground who legitimately raised issues. People have the right to ask ‘why am I being asked to move’ if it’s not plain to them.”

About 25 supporters packed the small courtroom for Kelley’s trial and cheered after the judge’s decision. Many wore shirts printed with an image of a playground structure and the words, “play free or die.” Some held protest signs outside the district court building with messages like “playing is not a crime.” One counterprotester was also present.

Kelley, who remains a Weare School Board member and has vocally advocated for masks to be optional in schools, will be arraigned in Goffstown District Court Aug. 26 in connection with a second arrest that occurred in July, where she was charged with obstructing government administration and resisting arrest following a traffic stop and verbal altercation with Weare Police officers.


Eileen O

Eileen O'Grady is a Report for America corps member covering education for the Concord Monitor since spring 2020. O’Grady is the former managing editor of Scope magazine at Northeastern University in Boston, where she reported on social justice issues, community activism, local politics and the COVID-19 pandemic. She is a native Vermonter and worked as a reporter covering local politics for the Shelburne News and the Citizen. Her work has also appeared in The Boston Globe, U.S. News & World Report, The Bay State Banner, and VTDigger. She has a master’s degree in journalism from Northeastern University and a bachelor’s degree in politics and French from Mount Holyoke College, where she served as news editor for the Mount Holyoke News from 2017-2018.



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