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Looking back at 2017: Sex conduct cases roil Manchester City Hall, NH schools

New Hampshire Union Leader

December 28. 2017 9:12PM
A 14-year-old student was raped in 2015 in an alcove at Manchester High School West. (DAVID LANE/STAFF)

Editor’s Note: As 2017 comes to a close, the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News take a look back at some of the top stories in a year marked by unspeakable crimes, sex scandals, political milestones and business achievements. This is the fifth in a series spotlighting the year’s leading news events.

Botched prosecutions and a high school rape rocked Manchester City Hall while new tales of sex harassment and improper conduct emerged from the state’s elite prep schools and a private college.

In June, Attorney General Gordon MacDonald issued a wide-ranging critique of domestic violence prosecutions by the Manchester City Solicitor’s office.

MacDonald raised concerns about the litigation skills of domestic violence prosecutor Andrea Muller, the supervision of her work, and her case management skills, including follow-ups on cases in which charges were conditionally dropped.

A day after that critique, veteran City Solicitor Tom Clark announced his retirement. His deputy, Thomas Arnold, announced his retirement a week later.

Former U.S. Attorney Emily Rice agreed to step in as the city’s top prosecutor. By year’s end, Rice’s office moved to reinstate criminal charges in at least 40 cases and make other reforms — including Rice signing off before domestic violence prosecution is dropped in exchange for a suspect going to counseling, treatment or education.

The June sentencing of 10 to 20 years in prison for Bryan Wilson, 17, for the rape of a 14-year-old student in a remote hallway at Manchester High School West unleashed its own fallout.

The conviction was the first time police, prosecutors or school officials had disclosed news of the 2015 attack.

School board members, including Mayor Ted Gatsas, were notified the day of the attack in an email.

David Ryan, the outgoing assistant school superintendent, said Gatsas’ first reaction was to ask the race of the perpetrator.

Gatsas disputed that, saying he asked if there was a racial component to the attack because a racially charged incident was going on at the time at Manchester High School Central.

Gatsas said he wasn’t aware of the severity of the attack and was never told it was a rape.

Joyce Craig frequently cited Gatsas’ handling of the matter during her successful mayoral win over Gatsas. The case also resulted in Gatsas bringing a defamation lawsuit against two Manchester residents, one of them former alderman Bill Cashin, who questioned whether the mayor covered up the rape.

Phillips Exeter

Meanwhile, administrators at Phillips Exeter Academy released more than 1,000 pages of documents about sexual misconduct cases that first had surfaced in 2016.

They identified three current faculty and three former teachers. The conduct ranged from one well-known dean leaving girls’ dormitories early in the morning in 2013 and 2014 to another teacher who leered at a naked student after he caught her in a boy’s room.

Rockingham County Attorney Patricia Conway declined to prosecute deans Arthur J. Cosgrove and Melissa D. Mischke for failing to report a possible sexual assault on a student.

The case involved a 17-year-old Phillips Exeter student who had accused a fellow student, Chukwudi Ikpeazu, who was then 18, of fondling her against her will in 2015. Ikpeazu was eventually charged with misdemeanor sexual assault, but prosecutors dropped charges against him last June.

Conway said she didn’t believe the case against the deans could be proven in court.

Attorney General Gordon J. MacDonald’s office reviewed Conway’s handling of the case and concluded the decision not to prosecute was well within the county attorney’s discretion.

St. Paul’s School

The Attorney General’s office reached a very different conclusion last summer, confirming it was launching a criminal probe into whether St. Paul’s School of Concord engaged in conduct amounting to “endangering the welfare of a child” and potential obstruction of justice.

This resulted from the first of two different reports of sexual assaults by St. Paul’s teachers on their students, along with the student sexual conquest game known as the “senior salute” that led to the trial and conviction of former St. Paul’s student Owen Labrie in 2015.

Former Massachusetts Attorney General L. Scott Harshbarger led a legal team hired by St. Paul’s administrators that produced two reports, including new allegations against five individuals.

The new reports released last fall covered a period from 1956 to 2009. The law firm’s initial report last May was about conduct that ended in 1988.

Rector Michael G. Hirschfeld and Board of Trustees President Archibald Cox said the new disclosures emerged after others came forward once the school issued that initial report last May.

“The experiences described in this and the previous reports are profoundly disturbing and shine light on a part of our history that is painful to see and hear,” Hirschfeld and Cox wrote.

“However, this history must be confronted directly in order to heal. The survivors of sexual abuse and our entire community deserve no less.”

Dartmouth College

State law enforcement officials in October said they were investigating whether allegations of sexual misconduct against three Dartmouth College psychology professors amount to a crime.

State prosecutors had no knowledge of a college internal investigation into “serious misconduct” until it was first reported in the campus newspaper.

Dartmouth President Phil Hanlon stressed that the investigations were ongoing.

“I want to say in the most emphatic way possible that sexual misconduct and harassment are unacceptable and have no place at Dartmouth. Such acts harm us as individuals and as members of the community,” Hanlon said in a statement.

All three professors under this probe, Todd F. Heatherton, Paul J. Whalen and William M. Kelley, are faculty of the college’s Psychological and Brain Sciences Department and all run labs.

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