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Prosecutor dropped failure-to-report cases against Phillips Exeter deans

New Hampshire Union Leader

November 14. 2017 3:18PM
Rockingham County Attorney Patricia Conway said Tuesday that New Hampshire State Police had conducted an investigation into the two Phillips Exeter Academy deans and their compliance with a state law that requires anyone to report suspected child abuse. 

Two Phillips Exeter Academy deans escaped criminal prosecution for failing to report a possible sexual assault on a 17-year-old student, a decision the prosecutor in the case defended on Tuesday.

Rockingham County Attorney Patricia Conway said New Hampshire State Police had conducted an investigation into the two deans and their compliance with a state law that requires anyone to report suspected child abuse.

Conway said she didn't believe she could prove the case in court, so she did not bring forth charges.

"Part of it was witness cooperating issues, and part of it was the strength of the evidence," Conway said. "There's still some sensitive issues there in terms of prosecuting the case."

Conway spoke the day that the New York Times reported about Conway's decision not to prosecute Phillips Exeter deans Arthur J. Cosgrove and Melissa D. Mischke.

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 wishes in 2015. Ikpeazu was eventually charged with misdemeanor sexual assault, but prosecutors dropped charges against him in June.

The Times reported that a state police trooper had gone as far as drafting arrest warrants for the two deans on charges of failure to report; the trooper then turned the drafts over to Conway’s office.

Conway said the decision was also made in the context of an agreement reached earlier this year by Exeter police and Phillips Exeter Academy. The agreement requires any suspected sexual abuse, whether of a child or adult, be reported to Exeter police.

Had such an agreement been in effect, Conway said, it would have helped the state prove the two deans knowingly failed to report abuse.

The agreement addressed issues that arose from a year-long investigation of sexual assaults at the preparatory school, some decades old. Before the agreement, it appears Phillips Exeter would conduct an internal investigation and often stop at that, Conway said.

"The first thing they need to do, first and foremost, is report it," Conway said.

The reporting agreement also calls for all Phillips Exeter employees to be trained about child sexual abuse.

Phillips Exeter issued this joint statement by Cosgrove and Mischke Tuesday evening: "In our respective capacities of Dean of Students and Dean of Residential Life at Phillips Exeter Academy over a number of years, we have repeatedly reported possible cases of sexual abuse and misconduct to the New Hampshire Division of Youth, Children and Family Services and the Exeter Police Department.

"Based on the information reported to us in October of 2015, we did not believe, in good faith, that a reportable offence had occurred. If we had, we would have reported it as we had always done and continue to do to this day."

Cosgrove and Mischke's statement, as well as a letter sent to school alumni, can be viewed below:

Conway stressed that Exeter police handled the investigation into a possible sexual assault; state police investigated Cosgrove and Mischke and the potential mandatory reporting violation. The Union Leader has filed Right-to-Know requests with both Conway and state police for the investigation into Cosgrove and Mischke. Conway said it is a public record, but she would need time to comply with the request.

State police Col. Christopher Wagner said he has received requests from several media for his agency's investigation. A lawyer for state police estimated it would take 30 days to fulfill the request.

In June, Conway's office dropped a misdemeanor sexual assault charge against Ikpeazu. He had been accused of fondling the girl's breasts in the basement of the campus church.

According to the Boston Globe, the girl initially didn't report the incident to police and instead agreed to a proposal by the school's minister, the Rev. Robert Thompson, to meet with Ikpeazu to resolve the allegation.

The Globe reported that Thompson urged Ikpeazu to agree to an "act of penance" that involved baking bread for the teen for the remainder of the school year. The continuous bread deliveries created stress for the girl as she continued to face Ikpeazu, the paper reported.

The teen eventually reported the incident to Exeter police and the Rockingham County Attorney's Office.

Ikpeazu's lawyer has maintained his client's innocence, and prosecutors dropped the charges after Ikpeazu promised to follow some conditions. Conway's office did not disclose the conditions when then-prosecutor Patricia LaFrance dropped the charges.

Crime, law and justice Education Public Safety Exeter

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