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Report: Bow Police Chief failed to investigate reported sex assault

  • Sgt. Margaret Lougee of Bow Police Department has been named the new chief of police.

  • Bow police chief Margaret Lougee walks through a police department work area at the new public safety building in Bow on Tuesday, April 25, 2017. Holding cell benches are temporarily stored on the floor. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz

Monitor staff
Published: 2/19/2021 5:35:44 PM

Bow Police Chief Margaret Lougee failed to document or investigate a reported sexual assault against a high school student in 2016, before she was police chief, an outside review by the town has found.

In 2016, while serving as the school resource officer at Bow High School and before she was chief, Lougee received a report of sexual assault by a student at the school but did not document that report or enter any information into the department’s records, according to a 2020 audit by Municipal Resources, Inc. (MRI), presented to the town last year in response to a letter signed by 10 Bow officers expressing a lack of confidence in the chief.

Lougee has since announced she is retiring as chief effective May 1.

The sexual assault was allegedly carried out by a male two years older than the female victim and took place in a house off school grounds. The alleged perpetrator was the son of a former law enforcement officer. The father said Lougee told him the investigation “was not going anywhere,” according to the MRI report. Lougee disputed the father’s account, according to the report.

At the time, the alleged victim said she did not want to go forward with an investigation, and Lougee did not pursue a formal investigation, the audit stated. But Lougee’s decision to not document the report, which would have preserved a record of it, went against best practice for police officers, MRI said.

Lougee’s apparent inaction continued in 2018, the report added. That year, the alleged victim wrote an email to Lougee, who was then the police chief, that she had “decided it is time” to come forward.

A day later, Lougee sent the victim an email connecting the victim to Bow Detective Stacey Edmunds, who is now a Lieutenant. But despite that outreach, Lougee did not prepare a written report relating to the email, nor did she appear to direct Edmunds to investigate, the audit stated.

It wasn’t until 2019, when the alleged victim reached out to the department again, that the investigation began in earnest. By then, Edmunds could not locate a 2016 report and Lougee concluded that she had failed to file one. 

Lougee announced her resignation in late January, after the MRI report was released to the town but before it became public.

Lougee declined to comment for this story, directing a reporter’s questions to Bow Town Manager David Stack.

But in a letter to MRI in response to its investigation, Lougee confirmed that she did not filed the report in 2016 and said she regretted it.

“I am embarrassed about this error and deeply apologize for this mistake,” she wrote. “This was an honest mistake made by me as a sergeant/(school resource officer), not as the chief of police or interim chief.”

In that same letter, she said that she had informed the Merrimack County Attorney’s Office in 2019 as soon as she realized she had not filed a report. She said at the time, in 2016, the victim said she wasn’t ready to come forward. Lougee said that she spoke to the victim and the victim’s father, and that “it was decided by all that the victim would not conduct an advocacy forensic interview and they would contact the Bow Police when they were ready to come forward with the case.”

In addition, the Division for Children, Youth and Families “did not want to file a report,” Lougee said.

Lougee added that she did not believe the failure to file a report would impede the investigation if it went forward.

After speaking to the county attorney’s office, Lougee said, “I was reassured that if the case comes to their office, and I could not remember items or I did not have my notes, they will ‘dispose’ me and interview me themselves.”

The omission of the report in 2016 was criticized by rank and file Bow police members, who added the incident to a list of concerns over Lougee’s leadership.

In interviews with MRI, members of the Bow Police Department “expressed disbelief” that Lougee had not opened an investigation back in 2016, or filed a report, and said that if they had done something similar, they would have been fired, the MRI audit stated.

“The prolonged and repeated nature of Chief Lougee’s negligence has led to a substantial breakdown of employee trust in the executive,” the 2020 report stated.

MRI, a New Hampshire company that conducts internal reviews and audits of local departments, was asked to look into the department after outcry from rank and file police officers about Lougee’s job performance. The firm produced its report at the direction of the Bow Board of Selectmen in 2020 after a number of officers wrote a letter of no confidence against Lougee.

To produce the report, the firm spent months conducting interviews with Bow police officers and Lougee, assessing everything from workplace culture, department polices and specific incidents.

The MRI report was initially kept private by the town, which told the Monitor that it could not release it because it was owned by MRI and not technically a public document. This week, the American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire obtained a redacted copy of the report in response to a right-to-know records request.

Lougee’s response to the sexual assault allegations was one of several areas criticized by Bow police officers, in a lengthy and unusual complaint against their leader.

All but one member of the department signed the no confidence letter.

Concerns from members of the department included that Lougee had put together haphazard department policies and provided few trainings for officers and that she had overridden the ability of sergeants and lieutenants to issue written reprimands against other officers.

The failure to report the sexual assault allegation accompanies other concerns about that incident from officers within the department, the MRI audit said.

Bow officers have alleged that Lougee had made “some kind of deal” with the father of the alleged suspect, who worked in law enforcement, telling him that the case was not going to proceed “and that (redacted) would not be charged,” the report added.

In a 2020 police narrative attached to the MRI report – with names redacted – Lt. Edmunds, who signed the letter of no confidence, recalled the father of the alleged suspect coming in to the the department offices and telling Edmunds that he and Lougee had had a conversation in 2016 in which she “gave him her word this was not going anywhere.”

The father had described the alleged assault as “two kids making poor decisions,” and said that the “accusation is someone’s word against the other.” Edmunds told the father that Lougee was likely simply informing him that the investigation was not going to go forward at that time due to the alleged victim’s decision not to come forward. Edmunds told him that “I only had one side and that I could not tell him what was going to go on with this.”

In her own comments to MRI, Lougee said she couldn’t remember having a conversation with the father of the suspect. But she said if she had told him anything, it would have been with the intention that Edmunds suggested.

“I am not sure why the comment of the suspect’s father was put in the letter,” Lougee wrote. “I cannot honestly remember talking to him, so with him being ‘retired law enforcement’ did not mean anything to me, nor would it. The only thing I can think of was I would have told the suspect’s father ‘the case is not going anywhere at this time.’ I would have never said ‘not be charged.’”

In a conclusion to her letter to MRI responding to its investigation, Lougee said she had done her best to improve the department and treat its employees well.

“I have never ‘retaliated’ against anyone,” she wrote. “I use the words ‘I don’t hold grudges.’ I do not have power struggles. I feel, I give, give, give (maybe too much) and ask for input from everyone. I am a bigger person, adult to not create a ‘hostile work environment,’ and I am hoping the rest of the department can do and say the same.”

She added: “I have attempted to gain more personnel, pay, equipment and sometimes I succeeded and sometime I fell short. However, I put my heart and soul into everything I have done.”

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