Chief gets support in Danville following charge
DANVILLE - Selectmen won't be taking action against Police Chief Wade Parsons after he was charged with leaving his service weapon unlocked and accessible to a 15-year-old boy who authorities say used the gun to commit suicide inside Parson's home.
Selectman Shawn O'Neil, board chairman, said he still has confidence in Parsons, an elected chief who is facing one count of negligent storage of a firearm - a violation punishable by a fine of up to $1,000.
"It's an elected position. The board can't do anything, but on a personal note, I will vote for Wade in the next election," O'Neil said.
At a press conference Friday, Rockingham County Attorney James Reams said Parsons set his Glock 22 .40-caliber handgun down on a safe in his closet on the night of March 11.
He said the 54-year-old Parsons "was distracted and didn't take the final steps to secure it" before he left to run some errands.
Parsons returned to his home at 53 Caramel Drive about two hours later to find Jacob Carver with a gunshot wound.
While he was away, the teenager, who lived at the residence but wasn't a relative, went into the closet and took the gun, Reams said.
The shooting occurred while the boy was home alone.
"It's our hope, after reviewing all of this, that people with firearms are reminded of their legal responsibility to handle those firearms carefully. In this case, it's our allegation that he failed to do that and as a result that firearm was used that evening," Reams said.
The charge came after the Rockingham County Attorney's Office reviewed a New Hampshire State Police investigation into the shooting.
Reams said this is the first time such a charge has been filed in his 15 years as county attorney.
The statute used to bring the charge, RSA 650-C:1, states: "Any person who stores or leaves on premises under that person's control a loaded firearm, and who knows or reasonably should know that a child (under the age of 16) is likely to gain access to the firearm without the permission of the child's parent or guardian, is guilty of a violation if a child gains access to a firearm and the firearm is used in a reckless or threatening manner; the firearm is used during the commission of any misdemeanor or felony; or the firearm is negligently or recklessly discharged."
Reams said he wasn't sure if the gun is owed by Parsons or the town.
O'Neil questioned whether such a charge would have been filed if Parsons were not a police chief. He said he feels the county attorney's office faced public pressure.
"I know Wade is personally hurting and this is going to live with him for the rest of his life. This is just one more sad component added on top of this. This is not going to bring Jacob back," he said.
While the case attracted media attention because the shooting occurred at the chief's house, Reams said he didn't feel any pressure to make a decision.
"We make all of the decisions based on the evidence, not on what the public thinks we should or should not do. This is a unique circumstance. We've never had a case happen like this," Reams said.
Reams recalled a case in the past when a grandfather allowed a boy to use an all-terrain vehicle and the child died. He said that case involved a similar statute and the grandfather was charged.
The Rockingham County Attorney's Office will prosecute the charge brought by state police.
Reams said the prosecutor assigned to the case, Terri Harrington, has never met Parsons and "knows nothing about" him. Assigning someone who's unfamiliar with the chief will "make sure that there's no sense that he got special treatment."
O'Neil said he still has confidence in Parsons, who remains on the job.
"Deep down he's a really good man. I have the utmost respect for this man. We all err as part of human life. Charging him with this is not going to make anything change," O'Neil said.
Reams said he's known Parsons for many years.
"It's a sad day for the family. There isn't anybody who has been involved in this investigation that isn't heartbroken over what happened, but the statute is pretty clear," he said.
Added Reams: "I hope anybody with a firearm rethinks how that store that in a house, particularly with children living in that residence or who have access to that residence."
O'Neil said that anyone looking to harm themselves will find a way.
"If this kid was 16 years old this would not be an issue," O'Neil said.
Reams said he didn't know the circumstances that may have led to the suicide of the freshman from Timberlane Regional High School in Plaistow.
"We don't understand it. Nobody who was involved in it understands the reason why or what led to that. It was a surprise, I think, to everybody that knew him," he said.