By PHILLIP BANTZ
The Keene Sentinel: April 29, 2010
When a car collided with a college student walking in downtown Keene on Sunday evening, a Marlborough police detective had to investigate the incident while N.H. State Police troopers interviewed the victim.
On most evenings, Keene police officers would have handled the accident, which resulted in minor injuries. But they were busy processing a dozen people who were accused of trespassing at the new Cheshire County jail in Keene.
The arrestees – all were charged with trespassing and one was charged additionally with possession of marijuana and drug paraphernalia – have ties to the Free State Project and one of its offshoot groups, Free Keene.
The Free State Project is an effort to persuade 20,000 people to move to New Hampshire and participate in activism or run for political office. Project members are particularly active in Keene.
The Free Keene website states that the “Trespassive Twelve” circled the jail building several times, attracting the attention of some inmates, and police. “No Trespassing” signs are posted on the property.
Ian “Freeman” Bernard, 29, a Keene resident who was among the protesters, said in a phone interview Tuesday that the group was rallying for N.H. Free Press publisher Russell Kanning. Kanning is jailed for nonpayment of child support.
Bernard added that he and the other protesters also wanted to “raise the spirits of other men and women in prison there.”
The gathering drew a rather large police response: the Keene Police Department sent an entire shift, four officers and a supervisor, to the jail. Marlborough police sent Detective Steven E. LaMears. Swanzey police sent an officer. The N.H. State Police sent two troopers. Finally, three corrections officers from the jail joined the group.
Additional state troopers were called to cover the city of Keene while city officers dealt with the protesters, who were eventually arrested, processed at the Keene Police Department and ordered to appear in court at a later date.
The protest consumed significant police resources, creating a ripple effect in some area towns with limited resources, LaMears said.
“These smaller towns require state police coverage, so who’s going to cover them?” he said.
While Keene police officers were processing the 12 arrestees at the police department, a 19-year-old college student, Brittney Frank, was crossing Main Street in Keene when a car hit her, LaMears said.
Because city police had their hands full booking the protesters, LaMears was called back to Keene to investigate the collision while state police troopers interviewed Frank at Cheshire Medical Center/Dartmouth-Hitchcock Keene, where she was treated for a leg injury.
The driver of the vehicle that hit Frank, Almut Yakovleff, 56, of Alstead, told LaMears she was headed north on Main Street in her 1997 Honda Civic when the college student stepped in front of her car and entered a crosswalk, LaMears said.
It was nighttime, Frank was wearing dark clothing and Yakovleff said she didn’t see her until it was too late to stop the car, according to LaMears.
He has closed the crash investigation and will not be filing any charges or traffic citations against Yakovleff.
After he was done investigating the collision in Keene, LaMears tried to catch up on a logjam of other calls that were delayed while he was dealing with the situation at the jail, he said.
But before LaMears could make a dent in the backlog, he was sent to another call that ended in a drunken driving arrest that dragged on for six hours. The driver fell when she stepped out of her car and punctured her chin on a rock, LaMears said. He had to wait in the hospital until the woman was treated for her injuries and released.
LaMears said he spent most of his next shift chipping away at all the calls and cases he wasn’t able to address Sunday.
“It’s just a time delay,” he said. “You keep getting a backlog. This time it took a day to get out of that backlog.”
The ripple effect on police resources was an unintended consequence of the protest, Bernard said. And besides, the protesters should have been left alone, he said.
“There was no one being put in danger. There was no victim,” he said. “Even if the cops had to respond, they certainly didn’t have to send the entire squad out.”
The protesters who were arrested will likely request trials in a bid to clog the already-strained court system, Bernard said.
“I don’t expect anyone to take a plea,” he said.