Keene man one of 2 arrested at fall Exec. Council meeting now running for state office

·3 min read

Jun. 18—CONCORD — Two people arrested on misdemeanor charges of disorderly conduct at the Oct. 13 meeting of the N.H. Executive Council — accusations they deny — are now running Republican campaigns for state office.

John Schmitt, 69, of Keene, is seeking to represent Cheshire County District 15 (most of Keene and five nearby towns) in the N.H. House of Representatives, and Terese Grinnell, 48, of Loudon, is running against District 4 Executive Councilor Theodore Gatsas.

Both are opponents of vaccine mandates and say police were in the wrong when they arrested nine people at the meeting, which ended with the Executive Council rejecting $27 million in federal funds for boosting the COVID-19 vaccination effort. The panel reversed itself on this issue at its next meeting.

The council suspended its Sept. 29 meeting at St. Anselm College in Goffstown amid noisy outbursts from some of these same protesters. The Attorney General's Office decided not to prosecute anybody in connection with that incident.

Gov. Chris Sununu warned those at the October gathering at the Police Standards and Training Council in Concord that no such disruptions would be tolerated.

Grinnell was the first to be arrested by N.H. State Police. The criminal complaint against her alleges she yelled, "Amen" during the meeting after being warned by Sununu and state troopers not to be disruptive.

In an interview, Grinnell said she did not say anything before she was arrested. The person sitting next to her, Frank Staples, 41, of Manchester, was also arrested for "making a loud noise," according to the criminal complaint against him, filed in District Court in Concord.

Following these two arrests, seven more were arrested as people loudly questioned why others were being arrested.

The complaint against Schmitt quoted him as saying, "We are the people, you are arresting the wrong people, why don't you arrest the damn emperor?"

In an interview, Schmitt said he refers to Sununu as an "emperor" for executive orders the governor issued during the COVID-19 pandemic. He acknowledges objecting to the arrests.

"I tried to talk some common sense to them, that people were being arrested for no good reason," he said.

Schmitt said he was booked and released after about 90 minutes. Bail was set at $40, and one of the bail conditions was that he stay 1,000 feet from the governor and the Executive Council.

"It's the first time I was ever arrested," said Schmitt, a retired chemical engineer. "It wasn't a bad experience.

"If the state wants to go to trial over something this ridiculous, let's go. I can spend all day. I'm retired."

On the Republican side of the race for two seats in District 15, he will face Malia Boaz of Westmoreland and Joseph Mirzoeff of Keene. Running on the Democratic side are incumbents Paul Berch of Westmoreland and Amanda Elizabeth Toll of Keene, as well as political newcomer Renee Monteil of Keene.

At Wednesday's Executive Council meeting, Councilor Cinde Warmington, whose District 2 takes in much of the Monadnock Region, criticized those whose actions led to the cancellation of the Sept. 29 meeting.

Her comments came eight days after the Attorney General's Office announced it wouldn't prosecute these people because it couldn't show they were guilty beyond reasonable doubt.

"What happened that day [Sept. 29] disrupted the process of this council," Warmington said. "Many people in this room felt threatened by the conduct."

She also asked Jill Perlow, associate attorney general, whether prosecutions would go forward in connection with the Oct. 13 arrests.

"I can confirm that State Police are proceeding with charges following the October meeting, and we're there and available to assist the State Police," Perlow said.

Rick Green can be reached at rgreen@keenesentinel.com or 355-8567.