The chair of Troy’s Board of Selectmen is standing by the local police chief amid calls for his removal, after he attended President Trump’s “Save America” rally in Washington that devolved into a violent insurrection on the U.S. Capitol and left at least four people dead.
Police Chief David Ellis told NHPR he was present for the president’s recent rally on the National Mall. But he said he was there as a spectator and disavowed the mob that stormed the Capitol, saying those who participated in the rioting there deserve to face criminal charges.
“That wasn’t the way to handle things,” Ellis said when reached by phone Thursday afternoon. “And I’ve said it before, you can’t solve things by violence.”
Fearing the scene in Washington could turn violent after the rally program wrapped up, Ellis said he made his way to Union Station to catch his ride back to New Hampshire as other rallygoers began advancing on Capitol Hill.
“I witnessed the people harassing the riot police that were getting in their gear on Constitution Ave, as I’m walking back to get to the train station at Union Station,” said Ellis, who has served as Troy’s police chief since 2013. “It was ridiculous, people were giving police such a hard time.”
Ellis’s presence at the rally was first noted by New York Magazine. After that piece began circulating online, so too did calls for his removal.
By the time Troy’s Board of Selectmen convened for its regularly scheduled meeting Thursday night, Chairman Richard Thackston said the town was asked to weigh in on the matter by “many parties unrelated to the town of Troy, some parties related to the town of Troy.” In a public statement during the meeting, Thackston said he stood by Ellis as an “honest, competent, hardworking public servant” and did not believe his involvement in the rally warranted sanctions.
“I personally find the events that happened yesterday appalling; they brought tears to my eyes, the thought that three people, four people lost their lives in an utterly unnecessary and pointless occurrence is tragic,” Thackston said. “But I believe that any individual, any public servant has the right to participate in political events without fear of loss of employment or having it have any effect.”
Thackston said he hasn’t always seen eye to eye with Ellis, “but by the same token, I think this effort of persons unrelated to effectively dox him, that’s the correct phrase, for events that he may have only been a casual participant in, are totally and completely inappropriate for any public employee.”
“So, Dave Ellis in my book is just fine,” Thackston said, “and the rest of the world needs to go about and mind its own damn business.”
Ellis said he didn’t ask the town’s selectboard, which has oversight of the police department, or any other official for permission before attending the rally. He said he didn’t think he needed to, and said he wanted to attend because “it was going to be a historic thing.” He said he’s supported Trump since 2016, in part because he lost his stepdaughter to an opioid overdose and believed Trump was best equipped to handle the addiction crisis.
“I just believed in a lot of the things he said he could do,” Ellis said. “Where the other politicians didn’t make me feel that way.”
As of Thursday, Ellis is now at home in New Hampshire and quarantining for two weeks, in accordance with the state’s policy on travel outside of New England. He said he’s using personal vacation time to do so.
This isn’t the first time Ellis’s support for Trump has intersected with his role as the local police chief. Shortly after the November election, body camera footage taken by a Troy police officer showed Ellis sitting behind his desk inside the department’s headquarters. Multiple pro-Trump signs are posted on the wall, including a flag proclaiming “Trump 2020--No More Bullshit.”
Images of the flag inside the department prompted the Cheshire County Attorney to advise Ellis to remove the flag, telling him that it violated state statute to have political paraphernalia displayed in a public building. Ellis told NHPR he complied with directions to remove the signs.
“If I realized it was wrong, I definitely wouldn’t have done it to begin with,” he said.
Officials from the New Hampshire Department of Justice didn’t respond to requests for comment about the legality of displaying partisan political materials inside of a law enforcement building.
Despite his public support for Trump and his attendance at a rally promoting distrust of the democratic process, Ellis said he accepts the outcome of November’s election and others should do the same.
“I mean, we have to, we really have to,” he said. “This whole election has been, ‘This one says that, that one said that,’ I don’t know what to believe. So we just have to deal with whatever the people have said, and just go from there.”