Three people charged for refusing to leave closed Concord playground

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

Monitor staff
Published: 9/24/2020 3:27:17 PM

Three people accused this spring of defying police orders to leave a Concord playground closed due to precautions over COVID-19 now face criminal charges.

Their arrests come months after the incident at Rollins Park, where police say Tyler Workman, Pamela Jewell and Rochelle Kelley argued it was their constitutional right to use the public playground despite the ongoing government-declared state of emergency. While the park was open, yellow caution tape roped off the monkey bars, stand-alone swing sets, blue slides and a short climbing wall for children.

The April 23 call was captured on cellphone video and quickly circulated on social media in the hours and days that followed. The footage led to an outpouring of support for the city’s officers and public outrage over Kelley’s role in the incident given her active service on the Weare School Board, where she still sits today.

Workman, 30, and Jewell, 29, both of Loudon, turned themselves in to police in recent weeks on warrants charging them with misdemeanor counts of criminal mischief and disorderly conduct. Kelley, 32, of Weare turned herself in on Sept. 5 on identical charges and is scheduled to be arraigned Oct. 19 in Concord’s district court.

Concord Deputy Police Chief John Thomas said Thursday morning that the evidence in the case was reviewed by the Concord City Prosecutor’s Office before any charges were brought forward against the three defendants.

“We wanted to make sure that the proper charges were brought forward so we asked for the office’s review,” Thomas said. “This type of case isn’t one that we’ve seen a lot of, but because of the unique times and the governor’s standing orders due to COVID-19, it was important that we asked for that review.”

The 11-minute video shows Officers Stephen Carter and Paige Salmon asking for compliance from Workman, Jewell and Kelley, who are in the roped-off playground area with children. Members of the group shout at the officers and tell  them to go after the “real criminals” and at one point the officers are called “Concord Nazis.”

The video also shows a man appearing to intentionally and repeatedly cough as he walked a few paces behind the officers, while holding a child. In April, Concord Police Chief Brad Osgood called the behavior “disturbing” and said it was an element of the case that would require further investigation. But after prosecutors’ review, no criminal charges were filed at the time.

“I don’t know for sure why the prosecutor decided not go forward with charges there,” Thomas said Thursday.

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 warned visitors of the closure.

This summer, the playgrounds reopened to the public. City officials said they are sanitized twice a week.

In an interview in April, Kelley told the Monitor that she took her children to Rollins Park so they could get some fresh air and play outside. She said what followed were messages of support from people thanking her for standing up for people’s constitutional rights, while others 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 previously. “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 could not be immediately reached for comment Thursday about the pending criminal matter. She told WMUR this week that she immediately complied with officers’ when she was asked to leave the playground area.

Thomas said officers asked Kelley, Jewell and Workman to leave the playground multiple times but they refused. He noted that officers returned to Rollins Park a second time to ask the same group to leave again.

Since the state of emergency declaration, Concord police said they’ve tried first to educate people about the virus, the need for social distancing and mask wearing. The new public health guidelines pose challenges for police departments tasked with their enforcement, but the incident in Concord in April serves as an example of how officers can effectively carry out that responsibility, Thomas said.

“We received multiple calls from other agencies throughout New England after the video went viral,” he said. “Several are now using the video as a training opportunity to show their officers how to handle similar situations.”




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