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Top N.H. Senate Democrat Jeff Woodburn arrested on domestic violence charges

  • Sen. Jeff Woodburn, D-Whitefield, was arrested Thursday on domestic violence charges.



Monitor staff
Friday, August 03, 2018

New Hampshire’s top-ranking Democratic Senator was arrested by Concord police Thursday on domestic violence charges, including four counts of simple assault, the attorney general’s office announced.

Senate Democratic Leader Jeff Woodburn, 53, of Whitefield was charged with four counts of simple assault, two counts of domestic violence, two counts of criminal mischief and one count of criminal trespassing, the office said.

In a two-page release, the attorney general’s office laid out a string of charges involving abusive behavior directed at an “adult female victim” spanning from August 2017 to June 2018.

The charges allege that Woodburn struck, bit and threw objects at the victim, and forced his way through a locked door and into her residence.

Woodburn was processed at the Concord Police Department and released Thursday evening on $500 cash bail and $10,000 personal recognizance, according to Senior Assistant Attorney General Geoffrey Ward.

His arraignment is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Aug. 20 at the Lancaster 1st Circuit Court District Division, the office said. Charging documents related to the arrest will be filed in that court sometime Friday, Ward said. As part of his bail conditions, Woodburn will not be permitted direct or indirect contact with the victim, Ward added.

The arrest set off shockwaves among members of both parties, prompting immediate calls for Woodburn’s resignation.

In a statement sent out 16 minutes ahead of the attorney general’s announcement, Democratic Party Chairman Ray Buckley called on the ranking Democratic senator to “resign immediately.”

“The New Hampshire Democratic Party stands firm in our belief that any form of sexual harassment, sexual assault, or domestic violence is completely unacceptable behavior for anyone, let alone our public officials who should all be held to a higher standard,” Buckley said. “We take these accusations against Senator Jeff Woodburn very seriously and stand with his accuser and support her during this unimaginably painful time. We are asking Senator Woodburn to resign from office immediately.”

Buckley declined to comment further and did not make himself available to reporters at a Democratic candidate forum in the 1st Congressional District race on Thursday evening.

Gov. Chris Sununu echoed the call to resign.

“This morally reprehensible, violent behavior has no place in public service, or anywhere else. Domestic violence will not be tolerated in New Hampshire,” Sununu said after the announcement. “Senator Woodburn must resign. Immediately.”

The behavior outlined in the charges dates back to Aug. 10, 2017, when Woodburn allegedly threw a cup of water in the victim’s face, threw the empty cup at her and struck her in the stomach with his hand, according to the attorney general’s office. That day he also broke the door off her clothes dryer with his foot, the charges allege.

On Dec. 15, Woodburn allegedly bit the victim in her hand, resulting in bruising, the office said.

On Dec. 24, he kicked in the locked door of her residence, resulting in a charge of criminal mischief and a charge of criminal trespass, according to the attorney general.

And around June 9 and 10, 2018, he allegedly bit the victim in her arm, resulting in further bruising, the attorney general said.

The investigation was carried out solely by the attorney general’s office, said Ward, who declined to say how long it had proceeded ahead of the arrest.

The office obtained a criminal warrant Wednesday evening, Ward said. Woodburn was served that warrant sometime Thursday, and chose to turn himself in to Concord police at 3:30 p.m.

The investigation remains ongoing, Ward added.

Numerous Democratic officials released statements calling for a resignation Thursday, including gubernatorial candidates Molly Kelly and Steve Marchand, the state’s full Congressional delegation and eight out of the remaining nine Senate Democratic caucus members.

Republicans also condemned the alleged behavior, with state party chairman Wayne MacDonald and Senate President Chuck Morse urging resignations.

Woodburn, a third-term senator, represents 58 towns in the North Country and has led the Democratic Senate caucus since 2014.

The Democrat has no primary challengers but does face a Republican opponent in the general election: David Starr of Franconia.

It was not immediately clear Thursday whether Woodburn would continue his campaign.

In a statement following the announcement, the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence expressed support for the victim.

“These charges are serious,” said Lyn Schollett, executive director for the coalition. “New Hampshire communities expect elected officials to uphold the laws they pass. We stand by this victim and all survivors in accessing resources and support and seeking justice.”

Anyone with information to for the attorney general’s investigation is encouraged to contact Investigator Todd Flanagan at 271-1208 or todd.flanagan@doj.nh.gov, the office said Thursday.

(Ethan DeWitt can be reached at edewitt@cmonitor.com, or on Twitter at @edewittNH.)