CONCORD — Deputy Attorney General Jane Young says complaints from police departments and the public, not politics, led her office to take over prosecutorial duties at the Hillsborough County Attorney’s office this week.
After two days interviewing staff and reviewing case files, Young didn’t hold back when asked to describe the situation.
“Dire would be the word,” she said. “I have spent more time running the Hillsborough County Attorney’s office the last several months than the county attorney has.”
Young, Senior Assistant Attorney General Ben Agati, and Assistant Attorney General Erin Fitzgerald held a news conference in Concord on Wednesday to update reporters on what they’ve found since taking over prosecutorial duties from Hillsborough County Attorney Michael Conlon on Monday.
Young said the Attorney General’s office began a review of the office in August 2018 after concerns were raised by law enforcement personnel, when former county attorney Dennis Hogan was still in office. That review ended in March 2019, Young said, after Conlon was elected.
“We immediately began a dialogue with County Attorney Conlon,” said Young. “We have continued to hear complaints and concerns from law enforcement. We have tried working through those with skill and poise, and here we are. There’s a new county attorney, and we gave him time and ability to straighten the situation out. He simply failed to do so.”
Attorney General Gordon MacDonald announced last Friday he was sending attorneys to oversee the Hillsborough County Attorney’s office after “repeated failures” by Conlon to improve oversight of his staff and communication with local police departments.
Conlon was notified of the changes in a letter sent to his office Friday.
“This office, the Attorney General’s office, was assuming the control, direction and supervision of all criminal prosecutions in Hillsborough County,” MacDonald said.
Former Manchester police chief and current drug czar for the state, David Mara, was designated an assistant attorney general and charged with taking over operations at the county attorney’s office, MacDonald said last week. Mara’s appointment must be approved by the Executive Council.
Young, Agati and Fitzgerald took charge of the office this week, pending approval, which could come as soon as next week; council members meet Sept. 18.
On Wednesday, Young said public safety, not politics, is the only reason why she and her staff are on site.
“We are not politicians and we do not do things for political reasons,” Young said. “We do this job for one reason — to protect the people of the state of New Hampshire. To say that, it’s an insult to us that we are asked that question. We need it to stop. We’re in there for one reason, to protect the safety of people.”
Young said she isn’t concerned the takeover could drag into the 2020 political season, when Conlon will be up for reelection.
“My concern is protecting the people that need the protection the most,” said Young. “That has always been my concern. That is the concern of the Attorney General and if that wasn’t our concern, we better find new jobs.”
Young said she and her team of prosecutors are concerned by the backlog of cases and a lack of procedures in place.
“In the next two weeks, that backlog will clear up,” Young said. “County Attorney Conlon has been in that position since January. I’m not even sure he was aware of that (backlog).”
Conlon could not be reached for comment Wednesday night.
State prosecutors moved into the office after public outcry from police and members of the public of the handling of a number of cases by Conlon.
Those cases included light sentences against a couple accused of dealing narcotics following the death of 20-month-old Tayden Garvey, who ingested cocaine last year inside a Manchester apartment. The father of the child, Joshua Garvey, of Manchester, pleaded guilty to negligent homicide and received a 44-month sentence. Christen Gelinas, Garvey’s mother, received an 8- to 17-year sentence on drug trafficking and common nuisance charges.
Conlon said he had no knowledge of the plea deal and blamed police for their handling of the case, saying Gelinas had contacted them about Garvey’s drug activities in the home, but officers failed to act.
Young said after Garvey and Gelinas were sentenced she received calls from Manchester Police Chief Carlo Capano and Assistant Chief Ryan Grant upset because they were unable to locate Conlon at the time.
“Through discussions we learned that, yet again, he was unaware of the dispositions of that case,” said Young. “It was a child that dies in that case, and yet he saw fit to go to Merrimack to request cases where there were issues with dog deaths.”
Police also pointed to the death of Jennifer Burpee of Manchester, a domestic violence victim. Damien Seace of Manchester was charged in connection with her death earlier this year. According to the AG, Conlon’s office had an indictment against Seace on accusations he strangled Burpee in 2018, but all the charges — including a criminal threatening-terrorize charge, in which Seace is alleged to have told Burpee he was going to murder and bury her — were dropped in February.
Burpee was killed in mid-July and Seace was arrested and charged with murder.
“I called the county attorney myself and again was told he was unaware of the dispositions of that case,” Young said.
A third case involves part-time Franklin police officer and prosecutor Christopher Ahern of Epsom, who was arrested and charged with stalking a former intimate partner in Concord as well as trespassing and receiving stolen property. Due to a potential conflict of interest, the case was tried in Hillsborough County instead of Merrimack County. The charges were dropped in February.
“This has to stop,” Young said. “There has to be policies and procedures.”
Young said she didn’t necessarily agree with critics who say Mara has little experience as a prosecutor. She said she spent a number of years prosecuting drug cases in Manchester District Court, where Mara was handling probable cause hearings for felony cases.
“He certainly knows his way around the courtroom,” said Young. “He’s also a manager who can go in and look at processes.”