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Danville selectman accused of assaulting teen claims 'use of force'

BRENTWOOD - A Danville selectman accused of grabbing a 13-year-old boy by the back of the neck and forcing his head into a table wants to claim at trial he was legally protecting equipment used for the town's movie night under the state's "use of force" law.

Russell Harding, 35, notified the court of his defense claim roughly three months after being charged in Rockingham County Superior Court with two counts of simple assault for the Aug. 18 incident. No trial date has been set, but Harding is due to appear Tuesday in superior court for a brief hearing.

Harding allegedly assaulted the boy at Day Field in Danville on Aug. 18 just prior to the town's movie night. Defense lawyer Raymond Mello did not provide a detailed account of his client's defense in the March 26 court filing. He said in court papers that Harding was attempting to prevent what "appears to be an unlawful taking of his property or criminal mischief."

Mello cited the use-of-force law regarding property offenses (RSA 627:8) in his notice to the court.

Prosecutors have yet to respond to the defense claim but could ask a judge to bar Harding from using that theory at trial. Harding has denied any wrongdoing in the case and has refused to step down from his seat on the board of selectmen. He later informed the board he would not attend selectmen's meetings and was taking an unpaid leave.

State police charged Harding Sept. 6 after being called in by Danville police to investigate the altercation. The teenage boy's mother called Danville police Aug.19, which set off the investigation. Harding admitted during a Sept. 4 selectmen's meeting that he "made a mistake" in handling the incident.

Prosecutors have informed the court that they intend to seek Class A misdemeanors against Harding. A conviction is punishable by up to a year in jail and a $2,000 fine.

(Union Leader correspondent Jason Schreiber contributed to this report.)

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