Concord police investigating report of sexual assault at St. Paul’s School

  • St. Paul's School in Concord, Monday, May 22, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Rector Michael Hirschfeld talks about the independent investigation into past sexual misconduct of teachers at St. Paul's School in Concord on Monday, May 22, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • The Schoolhouse building is seen at St. Paul's School in Concord on Monday, May 22, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

Monitor staff
Published: 6/28/2017 5:16:42 PM

Concord police are investigating the report of a sexual assault at St. Paul’s School in the days before graduation.

Police said they opened an investigation June 1 after receiving a call from Dean of Students Aaron Marsh that evening. A student reported to a staff member that she’d been sexually assaulted two weeks earlier, according to the Concord police log. The girl said she had been sexually assaulted by another student, and agreed to go to Concord Hospital for a medical exam, according to police records.

As of Wednesday, the investigation remained open.

St. Paul’s School and Concord police have a memorandum of understanding – last signed in September 2012 – that spells out which crimes school officials must report to local law enforcement, and it gives a 48-hour deadline. The agreement is not iron-clad, and police say disagreements persist over the level of involvement school officials can have when an investigation is pending.

Decades ago, the school didn’t adequately report instances of sexual assault to authorities, but communication has improved recently, police said.

“Any allegation of sexual assault or anything we think that might be sexual assault is reported to Concord police,” St. Paul’s Rector Michael Hirschfeld said.

Hirschfeld said he couldn’t comment on any student disciplinary matters and provided no specifics on the school’s actions since the assault.

“It’d be hard for me to guess what specific investigation you’re talking about,” he said.

He referred all questions about any pending investigation to Concord police.

Multiple sources told the Monitor that St. Paul’s hired an independent investigator just prior to the June 4 commencement ceremony. The school would not say when or why it hired an investigator, but noted that it’s not uncommon for officials to seek outside help as part of the student disciplinary process.

St. Paul’s School made national headlines in 2014 when Owen Labrie, a graduating senior, was arrested and charged with sexually assaulting a 15-year-old freshman as part of a sexual conquest game known as the “Senior Salute.” The high-profile trial ended in August 2015 when a jury convicted Labrie of statutory rape, endangering the welfare of a child and using a computer to lure the girl into the sexual encounter. The case is now before the New Hampshire Supreme Court.

The victim’s family has since filed a civil lawsuit against the school in U.S. District Court in Concord. The case is scheduled for trial in March.

Amanda Grady Sexton, director of public affairs at the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, said in a statement Wednesday: “We sincerely hope the school is appropriately addressing this latest reported sexual assault. The school has recently acknowledged that it has a past history of enabling and covering up sexual assault and misconduct, but it has yet to truly address the fact that there continues to be an unhealthy culture on campus today.”

The Concord police investigation coincides with detectives’ ongoing review into decades-old cases of misconduct at St. Paul’s. Their review was prompted by the elite prep school’s release of an independent report May 22 that substantiated claims of sexual abuse against at least 13 former faculty members between 1948 and 1988.

Investigators found that teachers repeatedly took advantage of the teenagers in their care. Allegations range from boundary violations, such as love letters, to rape.

The Boston-based law firm Casner & Edwards hired by St. Paul’s to conduct the investigation also looked into 21 other claims that were less clear, 11 of which were deemed “unsubstantiated.”

St. Paul’s officials recently acknowledged that the school failed its former students by not adequately investigating reports of sexual abuse by faculty.

That included in 2000, when a group of St. Paul’s graduates got together after a reunion to submit narratives to the school of their teachers’ sexual misconduct in the 1970s. School officials commissioned an attorney to investigate, but not on behalf of the victims or the truth, according to the report.

“The objectives set forth in that plan were to: protect the reputation of SPS; minimize media coverage; compartmentalize the issue as much as possible; and protect individuals’ reputations,” the report states.

St. Paul’s requested a new investigation last year into the allegations from 2000, following news reports about the Rev. Howard “Howdy” White, a former St. Paul’s School teacher who was fired from St. George’s School in Rhode Island for sexual misconduct in 1974. The former Episcopal priest pleaded guilty this spring to sexually assaulting a student during trips to Boston in 1973 while working at St. George’s School. He was sentenced to 18 months in prison.

Concord police confirmed the department opened an investigation Aug. 4, 2016, into alleged sexual misconduct by White. St. Paul’s contacted the department about allegations involving a St. Paul’s graduate, dating back several decades. That investigation remains open; however, Concord police have referred it to authorities in Gloucester, England.

(Alyssa Dandrea can be reached at 369-3319, or on Twitter @_ADandrea.)

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