By Guy Page
A St. Johnsbury man was handcuffed by Newport City police and cited for trespass last week after he refused to put on a mask at a high school basketball game, Police Chief Travis Bingham said Monday.
Dennis Steele, father of one of the St. Johnsbury Academy players and a business owner, entered without a mask and sat down in the stands in the North Country Union High School gym, Bingham said.
The misdemeanor crime of trespass is punishable by up to three months in prison or a $500 fine. Steele referred all comments to his lawyer, Robert Kaplan. This is the first citation for mask-related trespass issued by the Newport Police, Bingham said.
North Country Athletic Director Phil Joyal has a policy that anyone attending games must wear a mask. If they won’t, they’re refused entry. Forfeiting the game also is an option for non-compliance, the chief said.
“Somehow this gentleman got into the facility and sat down next to a lady who also wasn’t wearing a mask,” Bingham said. “Mr. Joyal went over and tried to have a conversation.” The man said “I’m not wearing a mask and I’m not going anywhere,” the police chief said.
At that point Joyal stopped the game and announced Steele had four minutes to leave. Both teams were sent to the locker room. Police arrived on the scene and arrested Steele for trespass.
“He wasn’t arrested for any criminal law violation [about masking], because there isn’t one,” Bingham said. Steele didn’t resist and was taken off in handcuffs to the police station, where he was cited and released. A photo on social media shows Steele being led away by police.
Guy Page is publisher of the Vermont Daily Chronicle. Reprinted with permission.