A fair question but politically charged
It’s reasonable to ask whether a 24-year-old Nashua man accused of beating his girlfriend of two years was charged with only misdemeanors by Nashua police because his father is the Hillsborough County attorney.
Reasonable to ask, but impossible to say for sure.
Instead of facing felony charges that carry the potential for multiyear prison terms, Austin Hogan was charged with 19 Class A misdemeanors, each with a maximum penalty of up to a year in jail.
Nine of the misdemeanors are for simple assault, nine others allege domestic violence, and one is a theft charge.
The charges stem from an incident in a Broad Street parking lot in which the female victim told police that H o g a n p u n c h e d her repeatedly with a closed fist, pushed her to the ground multiple times, slammed her head into the ground, dragged her across the pavement and grabbed her around the neck. When she tried to flee on her bicycle, Hogan ripped it out from under her, according to the complaint.
She was treated at a local hospital for a fractured nose, among other things.
Hogan’s father is Hillsborough County Attorney Dennis Hogan, whose office would ordinarily present any evidence to a grand jury for possible felony indictment and prosecute any felony charges brought against someone in Superior Court.
Nashua police had the option of bringing felony charges but chose not to, and people are going to wonder whether police gave Austin Hogan special treatment.
Nashua police prosecutor Capt. Jeffrey Bukunt, speaking generally about how charges are brought but not specifically about Hogan’s case, said it’s not uncommon for a charge or charges to be upgraded or downgraded as investigators continue to compile new information or evidence in a given case.
He also said police take into account the circumstances of each incident in order to make that determination.
People may wonder if that includes whether the accused is related to the county attorney.
It’s a fair question, but it’s also worth noting that one of the differences between misdemeanor simple assault and felony second-degree assault hinges on the word "serious."
The law says that one of the elements of simple assault is when a person "purposely or knowingly causes bodily injury or unprivileged physical contact to another."
That contact becomes a felony when a person "knowingly or recklessly causes serious bodily injury to another."
The law defines "serious bodily injury" as "any harm to the body which causes severe, permanent or protracted loss of or impairment to the health or of the function of any part of the body."
Police determined that the nature of the victim’s injuries best fit the misdemeanor definition. If circumstances warrant, they can bring more serious charges later, but for now, they seem to have gotten this one right.
Austin Hogan is entitled to a presumption of innocence unless he is convicted. His relationship to the county attorney should result in neither greater nor lesser charges than the evidence supports.
At the same time, the public is entitled to know that police aren’t influenced by political and familial factors when they decide what charges to bring.
There is no evidence to suggest anything amiss in the Hogan case.
This is an instance where it’s reasonable to ask the hard questions, but equally reasonable to trust the judgment of police absent a reason not to.