Metro

N.H. police wanted to charge Phillips Exeter deans for failing to report abuse

Phillips Exeter Academy.
Jonathan Saltzman/Globe Staff
Phillips Exeter Academy.

A New Hampshire State Police investigator who was looking into allegations that a 17-year-old girl was sexually assaulted by another student at Phillips Exeter Academy found probable cause to charge two deans for failing to report the suspected abuse — but was overruled by prosecutors.

The investigator, Trooper Mallory S. Littman, drafted arrest warrants to charge Arthur J. Cosgrove, the dean of residential life, and Melissa Mischke, dean of students, with failing to report the incident to state authorities, according to a police report obtained by the Globe. The crime is a misdemeanor.

But Rockingham County Attorney Patricia Conway said Tuesday there wasn’t enough evidence to convict the deans at trial.

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“After looking at everything, we didn’t think we could prove it beyond a reasonable doubt, and we decided not to charge the folks involved with the investigation,” Conway said in a telephone interview.

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Problems with potential witnesses and evidence were among the reasons prosecutors did not charge the deans, according to Conway, though she declined to go into further detail about the weaknesses in the case.

She said it is common for investigators to draft arrest warrants when they submit a case to prosecutors for review. The legal threshold for issuing a warrant is much lower than what a prosecutor would have to prove at trial, Conway said.

Cosgrove and Mischke continue to work at the private school, she said. The police document was first reported Tuesday by The New York Times.

The allegations involved Chukwudi “Chudi” Ikpeazu, a student who was accused of groping another student, Michaella Henry, under her shirt on the Exeter, N.H., campus and squeezing her backside as she said “no” over and over again in fall 2015.

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Henry described her encounter with Ikpeazu for a Globe story published last year.

Cosgrove and Mischke were informed of the alleged abuse on Oct. 13, 2015, the police report said.

In a statement issued Tuesday evening by Phillips Exeter, the deans said that they didn’t believe “that a reportable offence [sic] had occurred” when the encounter was reported to them.

“If we had, we would have reported it as we had always done and continue to do to this day,” Cosgrove and Mischke said.

The school also shared a letter sent to parents and alumni in which principal Lisa MacFarlane said the academy found Cosgrove and Mischke acted appropriately.

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“We concluded that based on the information Deans Mischke and Cosgrove had been presented with at the time, their good faith belief that no reportable offense had occurred was justified,” MacFarlane wrote.

Henry, now 19, initially didn’t approach police about the incident, the Globe reported in 2016, under an agreement brokered by the school’s minister in which Ikpeazu delivered bread to her as an “act of penance.”

Mischke, the dean of students, later criticized the arrangement in an e-mail to Henry’s mother, saying that she and Cosgrove were disappointed in the deal, the Globe reported. But school administrators also classified the incident as sexual harassment and not sexual assault, which must be reported to local law enforcement under the academy’s handbook, the Globe reported.

In spring 2016, Henry contacted Exeter police. She also spoke to an investigator for Phillips Exeter, who determined Ikpeazu had violated school policies on sexual harassment and sexual misconduct. The finding meant the school had to report the incident to local law enforcement, the Globe reported.

Henry’s lawyer, Carmen Durso, declined to comment Tuesday.

Ikpeazu was scheduled to go to trial last summer on a charge of misdemeanor sexual assault, but his case didn’t go forward after he reached a deal with prosecutors. Details of the agreement are confidential, Conway said.

The police investigation into the case lasted more than a year, Conway said.

As a result, the school has entered into an agreement to report allegations of sexual assault to state child welfare authorities and police, Conway said. Notifying police goes beyond the reporting requirements spelled out in state law, she said. That agreement also calls on Phillips Exeter to report suspected incidents to law enforcement even if there are questions about whether the encounters meet the legal definition of sexual assault.In her letter, MacFarlane, the principal, said the school also doesn’t initiate internal reviews or disciplinary processes until Exeter police have either concluded an investigation or declined to open one.

The agreement was signed in September and requires staff to be trained on the reporting law, Conway said. The arrangement also mandates training for students on sexual assault and dating violence.

Laura Crimaldi can be reached at laura.crimaldi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @lauracrimaldi.