Written by Kelsey O’Connor and Jolene Almendarez

ITHACA, N.Y. — Ithaca police say the suspect apprehended Tuesday on Route 13 was arrested as a result of a carefully planned operation. Unfortunately, the operation unfolded in front of a number of students on the tennis courts at Ithaca High School. Seeing guns drawn and flash-bangs made for an alarming scene for nearby students, several teens said.

The suspect arrested, Kimani A. House was charged with drugs and weapons charges, and has previously been charged with similar crimes. He is expected to go to trial in a few weeks on charges from July. While being taken into custody by police Tuesday, House nearly choked on bags of drugs, according to court records.

Police said House was apprehended on Route 13 North at about 1:40 p.m. Tuesday. When the traffic stop began, a gym class was on the tennis courts, about 200 feet from Route 13. Cayuga Street runs between the tennis courts and Route 13.

Students, who asked to remain anonymous for this story, described the scene as “terrifying” to witness. At first, they thought there was a small accident, but quickly realized it was a police operation when they saw armed officers leave a white van, heard flash-bangs and saw smoke.

Flash-bangs, or noise flash diversionary devices, are about 170 decibels of sound and used to disorient people. For comparison, a rock concert or chainsaw is typically around 110 decibels.

A passerby in their car said their ears were still ringing long afterward.

Read more: Ithaca man apprehended on Route 13 with heroin, cocaine and cash, police say

While the operation was underway, students hid behind benches at the tennis courts, located on the side of the tennis courts farthest from the road. But shortly after the flash-bangs were used, the students ran inside to the gym and “sheltered in place” for a few minutes.

For hours after the incident Tuesday, rumors were flying around about what happened, including speculation that there had been a shooting near the high school or a car explosion. Parents did not receive any notification about the shelter in place, and police did not release much information until a statement around 7:15 p.m. Tuesday.

Superintendent Luvelle Brown said there was no contact with parents because they did not have any information to share, and said the incident took place outside school grounds. Students were asked to shelter in place for a few minutes after the district received reports of a loud bang from a car accident on Route 13, Brown said.

Brown said he was learning about the incident as parents were. Because “shelter in place” incidents are not usually serious, he said the district does not typically notify parents. He said district officials would likely notify parents if there was an incident taking place on school grounds or if there was a full lockdown.

Acting Police Chief Pete Tyler said it was unfortunate timing that the operation took place in front of the school when students were outside, but he said he is certain they were never in any danger. Tyler said he knows the flash-bangs can be alarming, but were used for a tactical advantage in this case.

Tyler said there were a number of reasons to have a “mobile takedown” of House rather than at his home. Officers did not plan to stop in front of the school, but because of the situation they were in with speed limits increasing, they chose to initiate the stop there.

Tyler said the arrest of House was a very well-planned, well-rehearsed operation, and overall a success.

“From an operational and tactical standpoint, it was done professionally and I’m extremely pleased with how officers handled it,” Tyler said.

The operation involved cooperation between the Ithaca Police Department SWAT team, the IPD Investigations Division and the Tompkins County Sheriff’s Office. As a result of the operation, House was charged with the felonies of third-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance and tampering with physical evidence. He was also charged fourth-degree criminal possession of a weapon, a misdemeanor.

Court records state that House resisted arrest as officers tried to take him into custody Tuesday.

While police searched House after he was handcuffed, officers said they found what appeared to be a large item concealed in his mouth and he was choking on it. Police say they ordered him multiple times to produce whatever he was concealing, and investigators had to forcibly extract the items. Investigators said they found a clear plastic sandwich bag with two separate individually wrapped packages inside. The packages contained a “tan powdery substance and a white chunky substance,” court records state.

Police said they also found a ripped baggie with a white powdery substance in it.

Officers tested the substances with a Narco Pouch System and reported that the white substances tested positive for cocaine and the tan substance tested positive for heroin. The total weight of the drugs was 14.83 grams, records state.

In a later search of House’s home at 209 S. Plain St., police said they found a 12-gauge pistol grip pump-action shotgun in the attic of the home.

House has previously been charged and convicted of drug offenses in Ithaca.

In 1997, House was convicted of three felonies, including fifth-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance, records show.

He was also arrested during one of two large-scale drug busts in Ithaca on July 1, 2016. His case is slated to go to trial May 8.

Related — 5 charged in 2 Tompkins drug busts, police find heroin and crack

In that case, he has been charged with a misdemeanor of second-degree obstructing governmental administration and felonies of third-degree criminal possession of a weapon, second-degree criminal possession of a weapon, fifth-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance, third-degree criminal possession of a narcotic substance and fourth-degree criminal possession of stolen property.

House had been out on bail from the charges in July and is being held without bail now. House was arraigned and pleaded not guilty before Judge Richard Wallace in Ithaca City Court.

Kelsey O'Connor

Kelsey O'Connor is the managing editor for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact her at koconnor@ithacavoice.com and follow her on Twitter @bykelseyoconnor.