Former sex assault investigator sues Merrimack County, ex-boss

  • People arrive for the tour of the new Merrimack County Courthouse in back of the former building off of Court Street on Tuesday, October 9, 2018. GEOFF FORESTER

  • Merrimack County Attorney Robin Davis

Monitor staff
Published: 8/7/2019 7:01:47 PM

A lawsuit filed Wednesday by a former Merrimack County sexual assault investigator accuses top prosecutor Robin Davis of creating a hostile working environment and her employer of gender discrimination.

In addition, the suit accuses Davis of being biased against female victims in domestic violence and sexual assault cases and says she is uncooperative with police.

Jennifer Adams named both Davis and Merrimack County as defendants, alleging Davis has targeted her since taking over the office in December, and that conditions are so bad she can no longer effectively do her job.

“I am a strong individual and good employee who does not deserve to be treated this way when I am just trying to do my job,” Adams said in a hostile work complaint filed with the county in June, which is included in the lawsuit. “Robin is purposely abusing her power, and using it to harass me to quit the work I love to do for victims because I don’t fit her political agenda.”

Adams, who was an officer in Northfield before joining the county four years ago, said Davis interrogated her about her work from the outset, routinely interrupted her during meetings and made her fear for her job. Davis told staff attorneys and police officers that she didn’t see the value in employing a sexual assault investigator at the County Attorney’s Office, the lawsuit says.

Davis effectively disbanded the office’s sexual assault unit in December when she chose to eliminate two part-time positions held by veteran assistant county attorneys Susan Larrabee and George Stewart. Soon after, longtime prosecutor David Rotman tendered his resignation, leaving just Adams and a victim-witness coordinator from the specialized unit. Adams said she was deeply affected by the three departures and constantly felt under attack by Davis, whom she believes was trying to force her out.

Adams ultimately filed a formal hostile work environment complaint against Davis in early June. In response, the county hired Drummond Woodsum law firm to investigate as Adams was placed on paid leave. Consultant Penelope Wheeler-Abbott spoke with 11 people who work for or with the office and concluded her investigation weeks later, finding evidence of hostile conduct by Davis. Acting County Administrator Ross Cunningham has declined to say how the county has responded to those findings, calling the situation “a personnel matter.”

Adams maintains she cannot safely or reasonably return to work and feels legal action is her only recourse. She resigned Wednesday, making her the ninth employee to leave the office since Davis took over.

“Although this is tremendously difficult for me and my family, I need to stand up and speak out in order to ensure that no other staff or victims of crime are subjected to this,” she told the Monitor.

Through her attorney Charles Douglas, she brought multiple civil claims against Davis and the county in Merrimack County Superior Court, including intentional infliction of emotional distress, gender discrimination and aiding and abetting unlawful discriminatory practices. Adams is seeking back wages and heath benefit costs, attorneys’ fees and compensatory damages and is asking for a jury trial.

As part of her complaint to human resources, Adams documented several of her interactions with Davis over the course of six months, beginning in mid-December. During an initial meeting, Adams wrote in the lawsuit that Davis glared at her and told her “police officers victimize victims just like the defendant that we were talking about.” Adams said she didn’t understand why Davis would say that to her directly given her position as a sworn officer for the sheriff’s department.

“Bizarrely, Robin would walk up and down the halls in the office and loudly remind everyone that she is the boss, she makes the rules and not to mess with her,” the lawsuit says. “She was very loud and vocal in constantly reminding everyone of her power.”

In her interview with Wheeler-Abbott, Davis acknowledged that she “does raise her voice at times.”

“Ms. Davis indicated that she knows she has a commanding presence and she has actively cultivated that presence in order to effectively do her job, previously as a public defender and presently as the county attorney,” Wheeler-Abbott wrote in her July 3 report to the county.

Davis, who was a public defender for 15 years, was elected county attorney this past November after a successful write-in campaign that ultimately led to her defeat of Concord city prosecutor Paul Halvorsen, who ran as a Republican.

She was recruited to run a write-in campaign in the primary because Halvorsen had no Democratic challenger. She won the general election with support from attorneys in the community, including Executive Councilor Andru Volinsky. Halvorsen had endorsements from the Concord Police Supervisors Association, the New England Police Benevolent Association, the Merrimack County Sheriff’s Employees’ Union and the New Hampshire Trooper’s Association.

Adams reported that after Davis was sworn in she called a meeting in the basement of the downtown office where she “first started laying out her agenda against cops and telling everyone she will fight the cops.”

Davis also questioned the handling of a high profile rape case by police, including decisions about victim interviews, the suspect’s arrest and bail, and publicity surrounding the case, according to Adams’s complaint.

In response to questions last week about staff turnover and concerns from law enforcement, Davis said she believes she has a good working relationship with police and that many chiefs are pleased with the job she is doing.

In the final pages of her lawsuit, Adams cited several examples of comments by Davis about crime victims, specifically in domestic violence and sexual assault cases that she found troubling given Davis’s role as the top prosecutor.

“Robin has expressed her disapproval of the sexual assault statute and the fact that you do not need corroborative evidence to prove this crime,” the lawsuit states. “She says she knows what the statute says, but do you have any evidence?”

Adams also referenced an investigation into a reported sexual assault against an attorney. She said when Davis heard the name of the lawyer, whom she knew, she became angry.

“When Robin finally allowed me to speak, I was able to give only minimal facts before Robin asked me why the victim didn’t fight back, didn’t kick him in the balls and why the victim didn’t jump out of the vehicle,” the lawsuit says.

Adams reported that Davis asked her in another case “why the victim continued to go back and get raped, and strangled.” That case was the subject of a June 7 meeting during which Adams said Davis harassed, humiliated and intimidated her in front of colleagues. Adams said the meeting was the final straw that led her to file a formal complaint with human resources.

In her interview with the Monitor, Davis rejected the notion that she expresses victim-blaming statements. She also said the allegations made against her that she is not going to prosecute sexual assault cases are untrue.

The suit accuses Merrimack County of creating a hostile working environment where women were treated harshly while men in the office were not.

When reached by phone Wednesday night, Davis said she had not yet seen the lawsuit and had no comment. Cunningham also declined to comment.

(Alyssa Dandrea can be reached at 369-3319 at adandrea@cmonitor.com.)



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