Event organizers, police hash out handling of ‘suspicious van’ investigation that disrupted Pride fest

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An unmarked van parked at the Pride Festival brought police and delayed the start of the annual Pride Festival. Photo/Jeffrey Hastings

MANCHESTER, NHPolice Chief Alan Aldenberg says the executive director of Queen City Pride owes him and the city’s police officers an apology for saying they caused the LGBTQ community “further harm” in how they handled an incident involving a “suspicious” white box truck the morning of last month’s Pride Festival.

“I am sensitive to the struggles that your community has experienced and continue to experience but to assert that myself and the dedicated men and women of the Manchester Police Department are or have caused your community further harm is baseless and it is an assertion that you should publicly apologize for.  In the end, the event for June 18th was delayed by one-half hour. In my opinion that is more than acceptable given the circumstances that we were presented with,” the chief wrote in his email response on Saturday, July 9, 2022.

The morning of the June 18, 2022, as vendors began to set up tents and trade show booths about 9 a.m. at Arms Park in preparation for the Pride Festival, the area was evacuated because of a “suspicious” large white box truck parked in the area.

Police became concerned about the unoccupied, unmarked truck parked in the middle of a parking lot. There were none of the usual U.S. Department of Transportation markings for a commercial-type vehicle to identify the owner.

Members of the New Hampshire State Police Bomb Squad responded to assist Manchester police as people were moved about a block away and several streets were closed as the investigation began.

Aldernberg said two police dogs “alerted” to the truck, resulting in the police response.

Kyle Davis, executive director of Queen City Pride, sent copies of his letter to the Board of Mayor and Alderman, the Manchester Police Commission, Sgt. Jami Khavari and Sgt. Casey Seigle, both the department’s LGBTQ liaisons and Anabel Moreno-Mendez, the city’s LGBT liaison.

In the July 8 letter, Davis said the fight for gay rights and equality began more than 50 years ago because of a police raid that instigated riots, leading to protests against the institution of law enforcement.

Davis was referencing the The Stonewall riots, a series of protests by members of the gay community in response to a police raid that began in the early morning  of June 29 1969 at the Stonewall Inn in the Greenwich Village section of Lower Manhattan in New York City.  Patrons of the Stonewall Inn, other Village lesbian and gay bars, and neighborhood residents fought back when police became violent. It is considered the historic moment when the gay liberation movement began.

Davis, in his letter, said that many people feel that this June 18 in Manchester was the “day of police protesting the queer community of Manchester.  The actions of Manchester Police Department (MPD) prior to and during the start of the festival resulted in behaviors most aligned with “fearmongering and misinformation.”

He said that between Wednesday, June 15 through the night of Friday, June 17, organizers contacted the MPD on four separate occasions to report the white box truck parked illegally in the festival ground area.  On Thursday, June 16, he said police attempted to have the truck towed, but the tow truck was too small to haul it away.  “At that time, there was no concern that this was a suspicious vehicle that would need to be examined prior to moving,” Davis wrote.

Police Capt. Michael Donohue, Davis wrote, provided anecdotal evidence that the truck “has been towed several times from different parts of the city” without concerns that it was suspicious or harmful.

Davis contended that while the site was in lockdown, rank and file officers were telling vendors the Festival was cancelled and they should head home, which negatively impacted the attendance at the Festival. Queen City Pride had expected more than 130 vendors and food trucks along with more than 5,000 visitors to “rejoice with us and celebrate queer life in the Queen City.”  Davis did not say what the ultimate number of visitors and vendors totaled.

After receiving Aldenberg’s detailed responses to his initial letter, Davis reached back to the chief on Monday, thanking him for responding to his concerns.

He clarified that he “did not leak or send the letter or any information related to this matter to the media,” adding I am as perplexed and frustrated as you are in hearing that this happened,” wrote Davis.

“Queen City Pride is committed to helping Manchester’s LGBTQIA community raise awareness of the issues facing us and celebrating the value our identities bring to our families, friends, workplaces, and neighborhoods. We have no doubt the Manchester Police Department shares our mission and we look forward to working with Chief Aldenberg and his leadership team in a collaborative way to address the concerns we have raised. We can learn from one another and will be a stronger city for all its residents and visitors because of it,” Davis wrote.

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Police Chief Allen Aldenberg, right, pictured conferring with officers at the Pride Festival grounds at Arms Park on June 18. Photo/Jeffrey Hastings

“Baseless claim”

Aldenberg said for Davis to ‘”insinuate that June 18th was the day of police protesting the queer community of Manchester’ is beyond insulting and is a characterization that I will not stand for. This is a baseless claim and one you have no right to make. It is a direct character assassination of myself and the men and women of the police department that I lead. I am the first to recognize that we are not a perfect police department but to state publicly that this police department engaged in “fearmongering” is despicable and unforgiveable,” he wrote.

The police chief said he checked the call logs for Arms Park from June 15th-June 18th for any calls for service reference the white box truck and there were none.  The only call for service for Arms Park was on June 18th at 0844 and “this call was generated as a result of the “K9s alerting on the box truck,” he said.

He said he also cross-referenced Davis’ phone number, and no phone calls were received by the Manchester Police Department “from your number during the same time period.

If you want to provide me with the phone numbers of people from your organization who may have called the police department to report the vehicle then please do so and I will cross-check those numbers as well. If it is determined that a call was made then I will certainly look into the nature of the call and what was relayed to the dispatcher in order to determine if something was missed,” he wrote.

Davis also said in his letter that once a decision was made to tow the truck, there was no senior police leadership in the festival grounds to coordinate, direct or protect “our community during the massive tow operation.”

Aldenberg said he was at the event and was at Arms Park shortly after the two police dogs alerted on the vehicle.

“If my memory is correct it was you that I had a conversation with or perhaps it was James but either way I explained to you fully what we were dealing with. I explained to you that we were doing everything in our power to bring the matter to a quick resolution and I expressed to you that my number one priority was to ensure that Arms Park was save (sic) for you and your community. You were extremely understanding and at no point did you raise any concerns to me. In fact, it was quite the opposite as you thanked me for what we were doing and you were appreciative and very understanding,“ Aldenberg wrote.

The New Hampshire State Police Explosive Ordinance Team (EOD) responded to the scene from an off-duty status as they agreed with the concerns that we had about two separate K9s alerting on the vehicle, Aldenberg said.

Just as they were finishing their search of the vehicle, dispatchers located the owner of the vehicle on the West Side.

“I immediately sent a supervisor to speak with the owner of the vehicle and we learned that he had parked the vehicle at Arms Park due to the fact that he was at risk of having the vehicle towed from his street. Certainly, this is information that would have been valuable to have prior to clearing of the park but it is important to understand that the clearing of the park, the EOD search of the vehicle and efforts to contact the owner were all being done simultaneously as is normal police practice in this type of situation. The search for the vehicle owner was further complicated by the fact that the state-run system that we utilize to run license plates was down and did not come back on line until NHSP had just about finished checking the vehicle,” according to the police chief.

Aldenberg said after receiving the letter Saturday night, he spoke to one of the K9 handlers who told him that when he and the other handler arrived at Arms Park on the morning of the 18th that they were approached by Davis.  Davis, he said, told the officers the box truck was not one of theirs and that Davis had concerns about the vehicle and questioned why it was there.

As a result, Aldenberg said the officers took immediate action and “unfortunately both K9s alerted on the vehicle. So what did you expect them to do? You raised a concern and they took action. I can imagine what the narrative would be if they took no action and God forbid the truck blew up. I am glad that the K9 alerts were a false positive but again what would the reaction from the community as a whole be if we failed to take any action at all,” Aldenberg said.

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Event organizers say they reported the van to police days before the event. Police have not yet substantiated that claim. Photo/Jeffrey Hastings

Davis also said that officers escorting the tow truck from the festival grounds were blaring sirens and horns to get people to move out of the way.He said he asked officers three times to stop the sirens; three times I stood in front of the police cars imploring that we are people and we will peacefully escort you out of the festival with compassion for our guests.” 

Davis said once police were gone, “There was a sigh of relief and safety.

Aldenberg said he can’t control Davis’ community being “insulted by the use of police sirens which were utilized to clear a path for the vehicle to be towed from the park as quickly as possible so that the event could get underway. I also find it strange that “upon the police presence exiting the festival grounds, there was a sigh of relief and safety” especially considering that I personally had numerous interactions with festival-goers during and after the incident who expressed their appreciation for our efforts and for the police department taking the issue as serious as we did.”

Aldenberg said since he has been the police chief the department has referred at least five potential hate crimes to the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office.

 “I am unapologetic for the actions of the Manchester Police Department on June 18th. The safety of all residents and visitors of the City of Manchester is my responsibility as the Chief of Police and is one that I take very seriously and sometimes to the detriment of my own family relative to time spent with them,” he wrote.

The state and city, he said, are blessed to not be experiencing what other parts of the country are dealing with as it relates to active shooters, vehicular attacks on pedestrians at parades, and sniper attacks. 

The department, he said, remains committed to providing a safe and secure environment “for your event in 2023 and the many other events that we are tasked with supporting.”


About this Author

Pat Grossmith

Pat Grossmith is a freelance reporter.