Woman arrested, arraigned after trying to put out fire with garden hose

The woman was charged with interfering with firefighters


Kim Ring
Telegram & Gazette, Worcester, Mass.

LEICESTER, Mass. — A 46-year-old woman who tried to use a garden hose to put out a fire in her house is facing criminal charges.

Kelly O'Brien is charged with interfering with firefighters during a fire in her home in July.

Police lead a screaming Kelly O'Brien away from her burning home on July, 26, 2019. O'Brien was detained and later charged with interfering with a firefighter but her lawyer said she was trying to find a garden hose to battle the flames. (Photo/Telegram & Gazette, Submitted Photo)
Police lead a screaming Kelly O'Brien away from her burning home on July, 26, 2019. O'Brien was detained and later charged with interfering with a firefighter but her lawyer said she was trying to find a garden hose to battle the flames. (Photo/Telegram & Gazette, Submitted Photo)

Her lawyer, James McKenna, of Millbury, says police unnecessarily roughed up his client and left her bruised and banged up after the emotional experience. McKenna said a 14-year veteran police officer also trumped up the charges against O'Brien by asking the court to charge her with interfering with a firefighter, assault and battery on a police officer, disorderly conduct and disturbing the peace.

O'Brien was at home with some of her children at about 5:30 p.m., July 26 when they smelled smoke and realized there was a fire in their house at 330 Henshaw St., said her lawyer.

O'Brien was preparing to shower and was barefoot when the fire broke out, he said. A video from inside the house shows O'Brien hustling her children and several dogs outside to safety as she shouts that there's a fire in the attic.

One of the children had called 911, court records show. In audio from the home security cameras, O'Brien can be heard yelling that she needs another length for her garden hose. McKenna said she was desperately trying to get water on the fire before firefighters arrived.

"She was clearly trying to put the fire out," McKenna said. "What happened to her should never have happened."

The first fire officials who arrived were not aboard fire trucks, and during some of their initial radio transmissions, one of the firefighters excitedly requested that police come to the house: "I've got one going back into the building ... I need a cruiser here immediately."

In audio from the family's video as the events unfolded, someone is heard saying, "I just need her taken care of ... arrest her for a felony," and O'Brien makes remarks about being arrested for putting out the fire. A short time later, she screams.

McKenna said it took just a few seconds for Detective Mathew Brady, who responded to the fire department's request for a cruiser, to begin using "pain compliance" techniques on O'Brien, a 5-foot-5-inch woman of medium build.

In his report, Brady notes that O'Brien, "ignored and outwardly contested verbal commands to move away from the house." He wrote that she started walking, then suddenly changed direction, "trying to dash back towards the house and charging into me in the process."

Brady said he "perceived Ms. O'Brien to be assaultive." He said he tried to use "contact controls" but she resisted and "swatted his hand away."

He said he and Officer James Murphy tried to handcuff O'Brien, and she resisted by stiffening her arms and pulling away.

"I transitioned Ms. O'Brien's right arm into a rear wrist-lock and applied pressure as necessary as a pain compliance technique," Brady wrote, adding that they were able to handcuff O'Brien. McKenna said what Brady did was unnecessary and that O'Brien was doing what anyone in that situation might have done. He said Brady could've used less dramatic methods of dealing with the situation.

"He didn't use the principles of de-escalation," McKenna said. "He was immediately using pain compliance."

Video taken by O'Brien's daughter shows her crying out, telling officers they are hurting her wrist and asking how she can stop resisting when they are hurting her.

Her sobbing daughter tells police to be careful because O'Brien had recently undergone back surgery and she asked them to "let her be with her family."

"The fire's breaking through," the daughter cries, as she followed the officers and her handcuffed mother down their walkway. At that time, firefighters were just arriving and had not yet begun fighting the fire, McKenna said.

O'Brien was arraigned Feb. 13 in Western Worcester District Court in East Brookfield and released on personal recognizance by Judge Maura McCarthy. A clerk magistrate had found probable cause to charge O'Brien with interfering with a firefighter, disorderly conduct and assault and battery on a police officer. The charge of disturbing the peace was not brought forward.

McKenna presented the court with case law on the charge of interfering with a firefighter and contends that what O'Brien allegedly did does not meet the standard because she was not trying to stop firefighters from performing their duties.

"To all the world — including Detective Brady — it was obvious that Mrs. O'Brien did not wish to hinder anyone's effort to put out the fire," he said, adding that Brady's testimony was in "stark contrast" to what video from the event shows. McKenna said his client has a clean record, has seven children, including three she has adopted, three of her own and one who has lived with her for several years. She runs a dog rescue and is a "good person."

He said he is surprised that police went forward with the charges, especially since O'Brien was released from the back of a police cruiser when Brady's supervisor arrived at the fire. The case won't be settled with a plea agreement, McKenna said.

"I want a jury to hear it," he said.

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©2020 Telegram & Gazette, Worcester, Mass.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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