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After sex assault, treatment center unsettles Concord neighborhood

  • 42-year-old David Mandigo of Concord was arrested May 10, 2013, on charges that he broke into a Concord home overnight and touched an 11-year-old girl while she was sleeping.

    42-year-old David Mandigo of Concord was arrested May 10, 2013, on charges that he broke into a Concord home overnight and touched an 11-year-old girl while she was sleeping.

  • 42-year-old David Mandigo of Concord was arrested May 10, 2013, on charges that he broke into a Concord home overnight and touched an 11-year-old girl while she was sleeping.

    42-year-old David Mandigo of Concord was arrested May 10, 2013, on charges that he broke into a Concord home overnight and touched an 11-year-old girl while she was sleeping.

  • 42-year-old David Mandigo of Concord was arrested May 10, 2013, on charges that he broke into a Concord home overnight and touched an 11-year-old girl while she was sleeping.
  • 42-year-old David Mandigo of Concord was arrested May 10, 2013, on charges that he broke into a Concord home overnight and touched an 11-year-old girl while she was sleeping.

A month after an 11-year-old girl was sexually assaulted while sleeping in her bedroom, her family struggles to feel safe at home. That’s because there’s a sex offender counseling center in the neighborhood.

David Mandigo, the 42-year-old man charged with the assault, attended sex offender counseling at the center near the family’s home, a prosecutor said in court last month. RTT Associates, which offers sex offender treatment, has been on Beacon Street since 2005. The brick building that houses the center is visible from the family’s North State Street home.

“Our lives have changed because of this, of course,” said the 11-year-old’s mother. “Especially knowing that they’re still there. And obviously whatever they’re doing – in my estimation – didn’t work for this man.”

The girl’s parents aren’t alone in their concerns. Ward 4 City Councilor Amanda Grady Sexton said she’s heard from many neighbors in the past month who don’t think the counseling center should be in a residential area.

She has asked City Manager Tom Aspell and the city’s legal department to “see if there is an appropriate course of action that the city can take.”

RTT’s location violated the city’s zoning ordinance until two years ago, when the zoning administrator learned it was there and the property owner applied to permit a social service center in the office building. The zoning board approved a special exception at a July 2011 meeting.

David Ossoff, who owns the 2½ Beacon St. building, said RTT is an “outstanding tenant” and a professionally run counseling business. He said last week that he’s aware of Mandigo’s arrest, but hasn’t heard any concerns from neighbors. He purchased the building in 2011, after the zoning board approved the exception.

“An outfit like RTT is beneficial to the community, and it has to exist,” Ossoff said. “And they exist in every community. The question is where. And to me it becomes a city of Concord decision.”

Grady Sexton said some residents weren’t aware that RTT counsels sex offenders and other criminals until last month.

“It is important that offenders have access to treatment options, but I do not believe that RTT’s current location in a residential neighborhood is an appropriate place to provide these services,” said Grady Sexton, who lives on Beacon Street and works for the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence.

Safety shattered

The 11-year-old’s parents, who are not being named by the Monitor to protect their daughter’s identity, purchased their North State Street home in 2011 and live there with their three children. The mother said she knew RTT was in the neighborhood, but she felt safe until May 10, when she heard a noise at 4 a.m. She walked into her daughter’s bedroom and found a man kneeling at the girl’s bed with both hands on her buttocks beneath the sheets, according to a police affidavit.

Mandigo was arrested later that day, based on the description that the mother provided to the police. A police dog tracked his scent to the parking lot of RTT’s building at 2½ Beacon St., and the police later said they did not believe Mandigo targeted the home at random.

He is facing felony charges of sexual assault and burglary, and is being held at the Merrimack County jail on $100,000 cash bail.

For the past month, the mother said she and her daughter have slept elsewhere. Her daughter doesn’t want to be at home after dark. To reach her bus stop on Washington Street, the girl used to walk by RTT’s building. Now, her mother drives her to and from school.

“She does (play outside), but not without me watching her,” the mother said. “Which at 11, I don’t have to. She’s not going to run into the road or anything like that, but I definitely don’t feel safe there anymore, which I always had. Even the police said, ‘You know, this is a safe neighborhood.’ And I always felt that way. But I think it would help if (RTT) weren’t there, to get some feeling of peace.”

The police are also investigating a similar incident in March. A block away on Washington Street, a woman found her 15-year-old daughter’s bedroom window open at 4:45 a.m. and saw a person dressed in black outside the home. The person fled when the mother approached to get a better look.

The police are investigating Mandigo in that case, Concord police Lt. Timothy O’Malley said last week, but “it is still a very much open investigation.”

Kristyn Van Ostern of Tremont Street didn’t know RTT’s purpose until she read about Mandigo’s arrest in the Monitor last month. She’s owned her home since 2005, and her kitchen overlooks RTT’s parking lot. Van Ostern said she and her husband, state Executive Councilor Colin Van Ostern, have a toddler and are worried about their quiet, one-way street, where children often play outside.

“Obviously because we live in that neighborhood we’re concerned about it, but in general it doesn’t seem like an appropriate place for a treatment program . . . to be,” Van Ostern said.

Zoning history

RTT Associates offers counseling for sex offenders, families, sexual assault victims, substance abuse and anger management, according to its website. The company has offices in Concord, Manchester and Rochester. It opened the 2½ Beacon St. faciliy in 2005, according to city zoning records.

Zoning Administrator Craig Walker said the business did not receive approval to run a social service center in the office building until 2011 because officials “were unaware that they were in that building.”

In 2011, Walker said he received a complaint about RTT and notified the building’s owner. Walker determined that RTT is a social service center and had to appear before the zoning board to remain on Beacon Street.

Though it’s in a residential zoning district, the building can legally hold offices, according to Walker. There are several tenants in the large brick building, which was built as part of the state prison and later became a Buick dealership until it was converted into offices.

To receive a zoning special exception, an applicant must prove the business won’t increase noise or traffic, cause demand for greater fire or police services, or create risks to public safety, health and general welfare. It also can’t be “out of character with the adjacent neighborhood,” according to the city’s zoning ordinance.

At the zoning board hearing about RTT in July 2011, then-property owner Jay Haines said he’d only received one complaint about the business during its five years on Beacon Street. A resident had complained “of a purported cat call” from RTT’s clients, Haines said, and the business owner warned clients to behave.

“As a tenant, they’ve been model,” Haines told the zoning board in 2011.

Haines wrote in a letter to Walker that RTT holds counseling sessions five days a week, including Wednesday evenings.

Representatives at RTT’s Concord office did not return a message left last week. The center’s website notes that safety is a priority.

“We strive to achieve the goal of safety for all by working with people who have been, or have potential to be, harmful to others,” its website states. “Our primary commitment is to the victims of sexual and domestic crimes with the purpose being for offenders to create NO MORE VICTIMS, and to break the cycles of violence within their own family systems.”

Three residents spoke at the July 2011 zoning board hearing. Two neighbors urged the board to deny the request; a third said she had concerns but understood that the center hadn’t caused trouble during its five years in the neighborhood.

The zoning board voted, 4-1, to grant the exception, with members noting that RTT didn’t appear to cause problems in nearly six years on Beacon Street.

City Solicitor Jim Kennedy declined to comment last week about RTT or the zoning exception.

Joe McGahan has lived on Beacon Street for 30 years and spoke against RTT at the 2011 meeting. He was frustrated with the outcome, he said last week, but has grown increasingly upset since the alleged assault last month.

“Well, my first concern certainly was with our neighbors . . . that they get through everything they need to get through,” McGahan said. “Secondly, was honestly a little bit of anger knowing what I did know from two years ago, and spoke against it, and the unthinkable happened with some link to that.”

Glen Schadlick also spoke to the zoning board two years ago, and said he made the initial complaint to the city’s zoning office. He lives on Crosby Street, where he runs NEOPCO Signs.

When the city notified neighboring property owners about RTT’s zoning application, Schadlick said he encouraged his neighbors to attend the hearing. Some weren’t concerned by the center’s presence, he said. Others hadn’t received the city’s notice because they rent apartments, and some didn’t know the nature of RTT’s business.

“I know there’s a lot of people that get down on their luck and go through counseling and they’re successful,” he said. “Again, my only concern was not in my neighborhood, I guess. This type of a place could certainly be in another office building that wasn’t in another residential area.”

Ossoff, who purchased the building from Haines that fall, said he was aware of the zoning board applications. He said RTT is permitted as a tenant because the city “reviewed the situation” two years ago.

“They’re highly professional in their approach to this business; I can tell just by how organized they are as a tenant,” Ossoff said. “So the discussion of the neighborhood and should they be there, I leave that to others to discuss and decide. In terms of are they doing a good job and a beneficial job to the community, I feel that, yes, they are.”

Pia Shea, who lives on Beacon Street, said she’s felt unsettled since she learned about RTT last month. She’s lived there for 15 years and has three young children.

Since last month, she’s been stopped in the grocery store by neighbors and friends to talk about the assault. And she’s changed her own family’s habits. Her kids used to ride their bikes in the parking lot at 2½ Beacon St. when it was empty. Now, she keeps them closer to home.

“And I want to be able to tell them that they’re safe, that the adults are making decisions that are keeping them safe,” she said. “Which feels a little bit like a lie sometimes.”

(Laura McCrystal can be reached at 369-3312 or lmccrystal@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @lmccrystal.)

Legacy Comments1

Nope...the problem is that this man has a long long history of sexual misconduct, and was slapped on the wrist and let go every time, being sent back into the community for us to deal with. I wish the homeowner had shot him dead, and then sued every entity involved in keeping this nutjob out in the community.

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