Ex-Canterbury police chief wants access to accuser’s counseling records

Monitor Staff
Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Former Canterbury police chief John LaRoche wants to know what the woman who claims he sexually assaulted her more than a decade ago has been telling a therapist as she prepares to testify against him at trial.

In a hearing Monday in Concord, LaRoche’s attorney, Nick Brodich, said the conversations should be reviewable as they could help prove that the encounters were consensual.

LaRoche has said he plans to argue that the woman, then a teenage cadet at the Boscawen Police Department, took part in the encounters willingly. Though she was over the state’s age of consent, she was still subject to statutory abuse because LaRoche had authority over her at the department. If the case goes to trial, as is expected this summer, jurors will have to determine whether he used that authority coercively.

Conversations between therapists and their clients are normally protected by federal privacy laws, and prosecutors have said that applies in this case. But Brodich claims it’s unique in that the woman apparently began seeing the counselor, Dave Berger of Concord, at the state’s recommendation.

Berger could be grooming her for trial, Brodich argued, a process often undertaken by prosecutors in a more transparent way.

The “trial preparation of this witness is being farmed out to someone who purports to be a therapist,” Brodich said. “And the state is now asserting a privilege in trying to cloak this trial preparation.”

Berger is a physical therapist and somatic psychotherapist who specializes in trauma recovery, both physical and emotional. He holds master’s degrees in physical therapy and psychology, according to his website.

Brodich initially asked for an in-chambers review of Berger’s records, but he said Monday he doesn’t believe Berger has physical records of the sessions. He has asked to depose him instead.

“My concern is that trial prep and witness prep is going on in a constructed black box,” he said.

But Judge McNamara said it would only be trial prep if the counseling was coordinated by the state, and prosecutors insisted Monday it was not. Assistant Attorney General Lisa Wolford further noted that it is common for an alleged victim of sexual assault to seek counseling before a court appearance.

“It’s a frightening prospect for people who aren’t lawyers,” she said of testifying.

“No question about that,” McNamara responded. But he said it still might be best to review what notes are available himself.

“This is a relatively straightforward case, in that the allegations are clear, the defense is clear,” he said. “The communications are relatively recent and we don’t know what’s there. We don’t know what the purpose of the communication was, we don’t know whether it was truly for trial preparation or truly for treatment.”

A decision is expected in the coming days.

LaRoche, who is out on bail, is accused of pressuring the woman to perform oral sex on him during a ride-along around 1999, when he was just starting out in Boscawen and she was a trainee in its Explorer Program. The charges also allege that he touched her sexually while on duty and once directed her to perform a sexual act on herself.

LaRoche resigned as Canterbury police chief in January. He has pleaded not guilty to each of the charges.

(Jeremy Blackman can be reached at 369-3319, jblackman@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @JBlackmanCM.)