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Criminal investigation to be launched into St. Paul's School

Criminal investigation to be launched into St. Paul's School

By Danny McDonald
http://www.bostonglobe.com/
July 13, 2017

Following new reports of sexual misconduct at St. Paul's School, authorities in New Hampshire Thursday announced a criminal investigation into the elite boarding school.

New Hampshire Attorney General Gordon J. MacDonald's office, Concord police, and New Hampshire State Police will conduct the investigation, authorities said in a statement released Thursday night.

The investigation will initially focus on whether the school engaged in conduct that endangered the welfare of a child, the attorney general's office said in the statement. That office will also investigate whether the school violated a law that prohibits obstructing criminal investigations.

"Protection of children is a paramount priority for law enforcement," said MacDonald in the statement. "I am confident that an institution such as St. Paul's School will be fully cooperative with this investigation as it has pledged that '[t]he safety and well-being of all students remains [its] highest priority."

MacDonald's statement cited several recent disclosures at the school, including a 2017 report of past sexual assaults by St. Paul's teachers on their students and more recent allegations of "sexual conquest rituals'' involving students.

St. Paul's Rector Michael G. Hirschfeld said Thursday night that the school would "fully cooperate.''

"We have been in close contact with local law enforcement regarding recent incidents of concern, and we will continue to fully cooperate with any inquiries we receive,'' Hirschfeld said in a statement. "We also intend to work closely with the attorney general's office to answer any and all questions regarding the independent report issued last month. Our goal is and always will be the health, safety, and well-being of our students. We will work tirelessly to meet that goal and strengthen the public's faith in St. Paul's School."

The announcement by the New Hampshire attorney general comes just two weeks after the school said it had hired its own outside investigator when "students came forward and alerted (St. Paul's School) faculty to behaviors that were concerning to them."

The Concord Monitor had reported that eight boys in a dormitory competed in a "game of sexual conquest" where the winners would get their names on a crown. The newspaper's account broadly mirrors the "senior salute" sexual contest among St. Paul students that played a role in the sexual assault case against former student Owen Labrie.

Labrie was acquitted in 2015 of raping Chessy Prout -- who was 15 years old at the time -- but convicted of misdemeanor sexual assault and child endangerment and was sentenced to a year in prison.

Amanda Grady Sexton, a spokeswoman for the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, welcomed the attorney general's announcement.

"They are right to shine a light on the darkness that continues to surround this school," she said in a statement.

Sexton said the school administration's practice of hiring outside investigators to probe possible criminal activity "points to a culture that places the school's reputation far above the health and safety of the children entrusted to its care."

She said the new investigation was "an opportunity for the school to assess the reality of sexual misconduct on their campus and take the proper steps to craft model policies, establish a prevention plan, train faculty, and connect students to support services."

Eric MacLeish, a Boston attorney who has represented hundreds of sexual abuse victims, also applauded the attorney general's announcement, saying the school had lost the moral authority to police itself. He said the school has a history of "not preventing foreseeable sexual assaults."

"There have been too many horrific mistakes that have been made," he said.

According to a report released in May, 13 former faculty and staff members at the school engaged in sexual misconduct with students over four decades. The report faulted administrators for being more interested in preserving the school's reputation than protecting students.

Several prep schools have investigated claims of misconduct following a 2016 Boston Globe Spotlight story that reported on allegations of abuse by about 200 victims at 67 New England private schools.

*****

Press release from the N.H. attorney general on St. Paul's School

Authorities in New Hampshire Thursday announced a criminal investigation into the elite boarding school

Date: July 13,2017

Contact: Jane E. Young, Associate Attorney General, (603) 271-3671

Attorney General Gordon J. MacDonald announces that his office, in conjunction with the Merrimack County Attorney's Office, the Concord Police Department, and the New Hampshire State Police has initiated a criminal investigation into St. Paul's School, a coeducational residential high school in Concord, New Hampshire.

The investigation has been initiated as the result of a 2017 report concerning sexual assaults by St. Paul's teachers on their students; earlier information about student sexual conquest rituals such as the "senior salute," a practice which led to the highly publicized arrest, trial, and conviction of a St. Paul's student in 2015; and allegations of a similar ritual reported in June of this year.

The investigation by the Attorney General's Office will focus initially on the issue of whether the School engaged in conduct constituting endangering the welfare of a child, contrary to RSA 639:3; and violations of RSA ch. 642, the Obstructing Governmental Operations chapter of the criminal code. This office will investigate any other crimes as dictated by the evidence.

In announcing this investigation, Attorney General MacDonald stated, "Protection of children is a paramount priority for law enforcement. I am confident that an institution such as St. Paul's School will be fully cooperative with this investigation as it has pledged that '[t]he safety and well-being of all students remains [its] highest priority. "-1-

Any person with information regarding criminal conduct at the school is urged to contact Investigator Mark Myrdek at 271-1263 or e-mail Mark.Myrdek@doj.nh.gov.

END

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