Keene High School

Cecily Weisburgh / Sentinel Staff

A brief video of an incident in October, during which a Keene police officer tackled a teenager at Keene High School, received thousands of views on YouTube.

An encounter that ended with a police officer tackling a teenager began when the 15-year-old was confronted for allegedly vaping in a Keene High School bathroom, then escalated when he refused to give his name or comply with commands and tried to walk away, according to the officer’s description of the Oct. 31 incident.

Officer Joshua N. English wrote the account in an arrest report, which The Sentinel obtained recently through a public-records request.

The report contains new details, at least from the officer’s perspective, about an incident that spilled into public view last fall. A brief video of the tackle, seemingly shot by a student, was posted the same day on YouTube and has received thousands of views.

English is Keene’s school resource officer — a city police officer assigned to work in the school district.

The Keene Police Department issued a statement Nov. 4 saying the use of force was justified in response to a subject who “verbally and physically resisted” and “refused to identify himself.”

Court records reviewed by The Sentinel show that English had cited the same student for allegedly vaping at the high school weeks earlier, which his report does not mention. The existence of the earlier citation was first reported by the N.H. Union Leader.

English and Police Chief Steven Russo did not respond to requests for comment and questions sent via email.

An ‘escalating’ encounter

According to English’s narrative, he entered a first-floor bathroom the morning of Oct. 31 to check for suspected vaping.

Noting a “fruity smell in the air,” he saw someone in pink shorts holding something close to his leg, he wrote. English claimed that this person — described elsewhere in the report as a 15-year-old student — tossed the object into a urinal.

The officer wrote that he looked the boy in the eyes and told him to get the vaporizer. According to English, the teen denied having a vape, ignored several commands to retrieve the object and said something to the effect of, “What are you talking about?”

At this point in his narrative, English made the first of several vague references to a worry about safety.

“I noticed that he did not look at me when I spoke to him and seemed to be trying to pretend as if I was not there,” the officer wrote. “I have experience[d] this behavior in the past and believed that he was trying to formulate some sort of plan, I was concerned by this behavior and thought that he might pose as [sic] a danger to the school community as well as myself.”

English’s report does not elaborate further on why he was so worried about the boy’s behavior.

English tried to explain to the boy that he was citing him for a minor tobacco offense and asked for his name several times, according to the report. The teenager said he didn’t have to identify himself and kept trying to walk around English, who was shifting his position to block the boy’s path, English wrote.

When the officer told the boy he would take him to an administrator’s office, the student responded that he was heading to class, according to the report.

English wrote that he attempted to prevent the boy from leaving by putting his hand on the boy’s chest and then, once he pushed past the officer, by loosely grabbing the teen’s wrist. Both times, the boy said not to touch him and continued trying to walk away, the report says.

At the door, English grabbed the boy’s wrist more firmly, saying he would have to arrest him if he kept disobeying, but the boy pulled away and left the bathroom, according to English’s report.

English wrote that he considered fishing the alleged vape out of the urinal, but instead decided to go after the teenager, “considering that he was escalating his level of resistance and I was not sure what he was capable of doing next.

“Based on the way the subject had been acting and that he had untimely [sic] pulled away from me while inside the bathroom I approached the subject quickly from behind,” he added.

English put his arm’s around the teen’s waist and “dragged” him down, taking care, he wrote, not to tackle him face first.

The boy managed to get back up as English reached for his handcuffs, and tried to flee, according to English. The officer wrote that he took him down to the floor a second time and eventually managed to handcuff him.

An attempt to reach the boy’s father through an intermediary was not successful. In a comment on the YouTube video, someone who identified himself as the teenager denied he was vaping and said he was just talking to friends. Police never recovered a vaping device, according to English’s report. The teenager later pleaded guilty to possession of a tobacco product, according to court records.

A supervisor within the Keene Police Department, Lt. Jason R. Short, determined the use of force was justified after reviewing English’s arrest report and security camera footage from Keene High School. The videos show what occurred in the hallway but not the bathroom, according to Short’s report.

Keene’s use-of-force policy states that an officer may use “controlling techniques” — actions unlikely to cause serious injury — when a suspect’s behavior “merely delays or hinders the arrest.” “Defensive tactics,” or those likely to result in injury, are considered appropriate when an officer believes a suspect is about to injure someone, or when that person’s resistance could itself cause injury.

It is not clear whether tackling someone from behind is a “controlling technique” or a “defensive tactic.” The city attorney’s office redacted large sections of the policy before providing it to The Sentinel, including a list of specific types of physical force and how they are categorized (see related story).

Robert H. Malay, superintendent of the administrative unit that includes Keene, said he trusted the judgment of the officials who reviewed the incident.

“The determination about whether the force that was used was appropriate was made by the people who know those level of standards better than I do,” he said.

A prior citation

After the incident, Chief Russo told the Union Leader, which first reported on it, that English didn’t recognize the teenager. “At that point, he didn’t even know he was a student,” Russo said, according to the Nov. 3 story.

In the department’s news release the following day, Russo reiterated that the student did not identify himself.

“The underlying offense is not as important as the fact that the individual’s actions were out of the ordinary under such circumstance[s]: he refused to identify himself to Officer English,” Russo wrote, “and he made several attempts to escape detention through physical resistance as he continued to move through the school.”

The release did not say the person was a juvenile and a student, nor that English had encountered him previously.

A complaint signed by English and dated Oct. 9 alleges that the student possessed a vaporizer at the high school on Oct. 4. The Sentinel viewed a copy of the complaint, as well as a summons to appear issued to the student, also signed by English.

A complaint and summons for an alleged tobacco-law violation on Oct. 4, issued by Officer Joshua N. English to the same Keene High School stud…

English’s report on the Oct. 31 incident does not mention that prior citation. In the report, English wrote that he first learned the teenager’s name after subduing him and bringing him to the assistant principal’s office.

Neither Russo nor English responded to emailed questions about the earlier citation.

Paul Cuno-Booth can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1409, or pbooth@keenesentinel.com. Follow him on Twitter @PCunoBoothKS