On Wednesday, April 6th 2022, the case involving an Elkton woman being arrested at a Cecil County School Board meeting was heard in court. Brooke Somers, a mother of school aged children, was arrested in early February and charged with six misdemeanors: disturbing school operations, school trespassing, disorderly conduct, failure to obey a lawful order, resisting arrest, and trespassing on private property. All initial charges stood at the time of the trial.
The incident leading to Brooke Somers arrest originated from her attempt to attend and participate in a School Board meeting while not wearing a mask. The full body-cam footage of Officer Anthony Devine, the arresting officer, has been viewed by Cecil County News. The video shows the events leading to what the court determined today was mostly inappropriate police conduct, when the judge decided to drop four of the six charges.
The footage shows that on February 9th, 2022, Brooke Somers attempted to gain access to a School Board meeting. Before she could enter the room where the meeting was being held, she was stopped by an individual on behalf of the school board, who informed her that she could not enter the meeting because she was not wearing a mask. She presented a note from her doctor stating that for Brooke, wearing a mask presents a medical difficulty, as prolonged restricted breathing triggers a series of adverse reactions.
During his interaction with Brooke Somers, the administration official was accompanied by Officer Devine. The body camera footage shows Somers presenting the note from her doctor to the official, who decided that without an ID he could not let her in. While she was retrieving her ID from her car, Officer Devine is heard telling the administration official that he did not believe the note was sufficient to warrant an exception. However, Officer Devine in his testimony stated that he did not read the mask mandate he was attempting to enforce. His input was unsolicited, and outside the scope of his authority. Devine was there to enforce the law, not to counsel the School Board on how he felt their mask policy should be applied.
Once Somers presented her ID to the administration official, he again reviewed the letter. He told Somers that she would not be allowed to enter the meeting without a mask. When Somers asked if he felt she would be a public health risk if she were to attend the meeting unmasked, the official responded, “No.”
The interaction was tense, but not hostile. The administration official clearly didn’t have clear guidance on how to handle medical exceptions to the mask requirement, and Somers clearly wanted to attend the meeting in person to participate, while not wearing a mask. The administration official also stated in his testimony that he did not read the mask mandate. not wearing a mask.
Her willingness to stay and observe the meeting from the lobby, as well as her demeanor in the interaction to the administration official runs counter to what Devine later put in his report that stated:
“It became evident that she had come to the meeting with the intent of making a demonstration out of not wearing a mask and was therefore advised she could not enter the meeting,”
Had her intention been to make some type of demonstration in the meeting, she would not have stayed after being denied access to the meeting. Without the video this speculation on the part of the officer would not have been shown to be clearly unfounded.
Despite there being a mask requirement for the entire building, individuals were allowed to watch a livestream of the meeting in the lobby about a dozen feet away from the main doors. While this option allowed Somers and the others to view the meeting, it meant they could not participate in the meeting or address the board as every parent should be able to do. It is worth noting that not only were the chairs in the lobby grouped closer together than the main meeting, but the number in attendance of the main meeting was so sparse that social distancing guidelines could have been observed without the need for masks.
The footage continues without audio and the meeting appears to be continuing without disruption. Then, without prompting from anyone in the meeting, Devine goes out into the lobby, turns the audio on his body cam footage on and tells the three individuals in the lobby to stop talking. Somers, at a conversational level, says “No” and Devine responds with, “Get out!”
This portion of the footage further illuminates another aspect of Devine’s report, where it states:
“She was then instructed to leave the property as it was evident her intent was to disrupt the meeting and cause a disturbance.”
After reviewing the footage this statement does not seem to adequately represent the facts. Furthermore, this is the second time Devine states her actions are ‘evident’ of something that appear to anything but evident of what Devine is claiming, calling into question his judgement in the situation.
Somers refuses to move from her chair and informs the officer that she does not intend to leave. Devine then proceeds to place Somers under arrest. In the course of the arrest Devine yanks Somers from her seat, and throws her on the ground. While she is on the ground she tells Devine that he is hurting her, and Devine responds with “Good. You are resisting.”
Two other officers are called in to remove Somers, and Devine remains behind at the building. Once Somers is removed, one witness who was in the lobby tells Devine that he was “in awe” of how he responded. The witness told Devine that he was pro-cop, but “could not believe” Devine’s behavior.
The body camera footage provides greater context to parts of the statement released by Cecil County Public Schools after the event, which states in part:
“The officer on duty asked the individuals in the lobby to lower their volume as it was disruptive to the meeting. Upon one individual’s refusal to do so, the officer asked her to leave the building, which she refused, leading to her arrest.”
Once arrested, Somers is placed in a holding cell at the Elkton police station where she waits until approximately 11:30 PM, when she is then transported to the District Courthouse for a bond hearing. Devine escorts Somers inside, once the locked entry door is opened for them by an overnight employee. When they enter, Devine authoritatively redirects a handcuffed Somers to walk through the metal detector, which obviously sounds on account of the handcuffs that Devine put on her.
Devine, Somers, and the overnight courthouse employee are the only ones in the lobby. Before going to see the commissioner Devine tells Somers that a mask is required in the courthouse building too. Somers looks at the courthouse employee, who is also not wearing a mask, and asks whether Devine will make the courthouse employee put on a mask as well. He tells Somers that either she can put on the mask, or Devine will put it on for her. She declines, again citing her medical reservation, and Devine forces the mask over her face.
After the mask is on, Somers lowers it below her mouth and nose, which prompts Devine to physically engage Somers. This interaction, once again, results in Somers being thrown to the ground, where she remains for quite some time. It is on the ground where she meets Commissioner after being summoned by Devine. The commissioner then literally and figuratively talks down to Somers and tells her that she can either put on the mask or spend the night in Cecil County Detention Center. When faced with the threat of imprisonment, Somers dons the mask.
It is unfortunate for Somers, the town, and the police department that the situation evolved the way it did. Law enforcement has an important responsibility, and allowing emotional responses to triumph over rational ones can lead to devastating outcomes. When the authority placed in our law enforcement is vested in the wrong individual, it is not uncommon for that power to be abused. Cecil County News deals only in facts, so it is not our place to make determinations. It is up to the reader, having been presented with the facts, to decide whether or not Officer Devine’s actions are an example of such an abuse. What we can say, is that today the court decided that the charges against Brooke Somers were largely without merit, and four of the six charges have been dropped. The two remaining charges; Disorderly Conduct, and Failure to Obey a Lawful Order, will be heard in jury trial.
She was acquitted of: school disruption, school trespassing/reusing to leave the building, resisting arrest, and trespassing on private property.
Video Link: https://youtu.be/GFx3CEuwQxw