State to oversee St. Paul’s

CONCORD – New Hampshire Attorney General Gordon McDonald announced an unprecedented agreement Thursday between the state and St. Paul’s School, allowing the school and members of its leadership to avoid criminal charges in exchange for state oversight for up to five years.

“In this case, parents entrusted their child’s safety and welfare to St. Paul’s School. That school violated their trust,” MacDonald said. “And based on the evidence gathered over the past year, we could have charged the school.”

MacDonald made the announcement in the New Hampshire Department of Justice building in Concord, capping thousands of hours of investigative work by the AG’s office, as well as state and local police. The agreement, signed just hours before the announcement, will provide transparency and accountability at the Episcopalian private school dogged by sexual assault scandals for the past few years.

MacDonald said his office was prepared to seek indictments against the school itself, and school officials. However, under New Hampshire law, these indictments would be for misdemeanor crimes that would result in monetary fines as punishment at best. That’s when the AG’s office started working on the agreement, he said.

“Rather, we pursued a course of comprehensive reform,” MacDonald said.

Lyn Schollett, the executive director of the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, said the agreement represents a monumental change in the way victims will be treated, and the way institutions such as St. Paul’s will be held to account.

“After decades of perpetuating the abuse of children, the standard formula for an institution’s “accountability” can no longer be taking a hit in the media, offering an apology, and writing a check,” she said.

Instead, under the agreement, St. Paul’s will have a compliance overseer on campus for at least five years making sure the school adheres to the agreement, and to create policies and procedures to protect students. The school will pay the salary and benefits for the compliance overseer, but the person will be selected by the AG’s office, and report to the AG and the public.

Additionally, teachers, staff and leaders will undergo training on responding to victims and trauma, while school officials must report any sexual abuse to law enforcement before conducting any internal school investigation. The school will also sure students have access to a crisis advocate 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The state’s ongoing investigation of St. Paul’s began in the wake of the Owen Labrie rape case. Labrie was found guilty in August 2015 of luring an underage student into a sexual encounter while he was an upperclassman. He was convicted on sexual assault and child endangerment counts. Labrie appealed his case to the New Hampshire Supreme Court on Thursday.

The Labrie case brought to light the widespread practice of upperclassmen targeting younger students for sex. Since, former students have come forward to accuse school officials and teachers of sexually inappropriate conduct.

The school is also now the subject to two lawsuits, one in which a recent female student alleges she was sexually assaulted and harassed by other students, and another lawsuit filed by two former students from the 1960s and 1970s, alleging sexual misconduct by faculty.

During the course of the investigation, the state arrested and charged former teacher David Pook with conspiracy to lie to the grand jury about his relationship with a student. Pook was fired from St. Paul in 2008 for his relationship with a then 18-year-old student at the school, Stephanie O’Connell. Though he was fired, St. Paul officials gave Pook a good recommendation when he went to teach at the Derryfield School in 2009. Pook, 47, is currently serving a jail sentence after he entered into a plea agreement last month.

The grand jury investigation to the school produced thousand of documents, and hundreds of hours of testimony. MacDonald said the AG’s office will petition the superior court in Concord to release the grand jury testimony, and part of that will be used for a final report on the investigation. That report will be made public in the coming months, he said.

Damien Fisher can be reached at 594-1245 or dfisher@nashuatelegraph.com or @Telegraph_DF.

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