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Attorney General's office asked to investigate at Phillips Exeter

New Hampshire Union Leader
New Hampshire Sunday News

December 10. 2017 12:17AM
Robert Thompson 

An attorney for the Phillips Exeter Academy chaplain who was disciplined for his intermediary role in a sexual assault case involving two PEA students is calling on the Attorney General's office to investigate sexual misconduct at the private boarding school.

The New Hampshire Sunday News has obtained a Nov. 19 letter sent to Attorney General Gordon MacDonald by Ward Scott, who represents the Rev. Robert H. Thompson.

Thompson has been a minister at the school for more than 30 years but was placed on paid administrative leave after a sexual assault charge was brought against a former PEA student, Chukwudi Ikpeazu, in 2016.

That criminal case was later dropped, but Thompson remains on leave, under a gag order and not allowed to minister to students at the school, according to Scott.

Scott is a former prosecutor for the Attorney General's office and was Grafton County Attorney in 1993-94. In his letter to MacDonald, Scott requested that the Attorney General's office take over "all investigatory duties" from the Rockingham County Attorney's office and launch a new investigation into all sexual misconduct involving students and faculty at the school.

But Scott also asked MacDonald to recuse himself from such an investigation since MacDonald's former law firm, Nixon Peabody, has previously represented the school. Instead, Scott asked MacDonald to appoint a special counsel to handle a PEA investigation.

Last July, MacDonald announced that his office had initiated a criminal investigation into another boarding school, St. Paul's School in Concord. Merrimack County Attorney's office, Concord police and state police are working with the Attorney General's office on that investigation.

In his letter, Scott also said he has "sound reason" to believe that the PEA administration has been "mining" Thompson's school email archive "and digital and physical files of all sorts pertaining to confidential pastoral ("priest-penitent") communications, in complete disregard for religious liberty and privacy." Scott said it remains to be determined whether Nixon Peabody "participated in this."

Robin Giampa, director of communications for PEA, said she had not seen Scott's letter and could not comment on its contents. But if the reference to Thompson's emails meant work emails, she said, "It's pretty standard everywhere that those belong to the place of employment."

Scott wrote that the school's actions against Thompson were intended "to scapegoat him for, and distract from decades of institutional failure to ferret out and discipline faculty sexual predators." He noted that the school's past administrators included Tom Hassan, the husband of the former governor and now U.S. senator, Maggie Hassan.

Chukwudi Ikpeazu (Exeter Police Department)

The Ikpeazu episode was the subject of intense media coverage. Much of that centered on a reconciliation effort that involved Ikpeazu, a track star at the prep school, baking his campus-renowned monkey bread for his accuser.

According to investigatory files released last week, Michaella Henry changed her story significantly. Days after the October 2015 incident, she said Ikpeazu delivered a "somewhat sexual" hug, tried to kiss her and put his hand on her stomach, lower back and toward her chest.

At the time, she wanted no police involvement, and met with Ikpeazu, Rev. Thompson and others to work out the reconciliation.

Six months later, she told police Ikpeazu touched her buttocks and her breasts underneath her clothes. She also felt she could not leave the encounter.

That led to Ikpeazu's arrest on a misdemeanor sexual assault charge in June 2016. Rockingham County Attorney Patricia Conway dropped the charge this past July.

Conway said the woman did not want to testify, but she did not want to go into details out of respect for her.

"Generally speaking, victims sometimes can't or don't want to go forward," Conway said. "That doesn't mean it didn't happen. That doesn't mean they lied."

Scott said Saturday that he has not received "any substantive response" from MacDonald to his letter.

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