DOVER, N.H. — While running for sheriff of Strafford County in 2020, Mark A. Brave spoke with conviction about the need for transparency, equity, and humanity in policing as he and four other candidates fielded questions during a forum hosted by the local chamber of commerce.
Brave, a Democrat who would go on to win the race and become the first Black sheriff in New Hampshire history, said he began working in law enforcement in 2009, and he claimed to have recently completed a master’s degree in forensic psychology.
“I’m pretty proud of that because it took me about six years to complete, due to three kids,” he said on Zoom at the time, with photographs of his children hanging prominently on the wall behind him.
But an investigation by The Boston Globe found that Brave hasn’t earned any such degree. For years, he has misrepresented his educational background to the voting public. And it’s not the only discrepancy on his resume.
The Globe’s detailed review of Brave’s public statements and resume found several inaccuracies and exaggerations in his academic and work histories, stretching back to well before he was first elected sheriff. He claimed nonexistent degrees and overstated his work experience in law enforcement. The Globe reviewed Brave’s educational and professional claims after he was arrested in August on felony charges.
Brave, 38, is fighting allegations that he engaged in an extensive pattern of dishonest behavior while in office. He placed himself on paid administrative leave in August after his arrest. The attorney general’s public integrity unit alleges that Brave misused $19,000 in public funds, falsified documentation related to the expenses, and lied to a grand jury.
Brave didn’t step aside until the county commissioners gave him an ultimatum and threatened to initiate a process to remove him against his will. The deal they struck narrowly averted a mass resignation, county officials said, as Brave’s office was engulfed in scandal over his personnel decisions, frequent taxpayer-funded travels, and meet-ups with romantic partners.
The Globe’s review of Brave’s career path involved requests for information from more than a dozen employers and schools. It revealed misrepresentations and exaggerations he made to the public during his rapid and historic rise to the top law enforcement position in Strafford County.
Discrepancies in his education history
As a student at Central Catholic High School in Lawrence, Mass., in the early 2000s, Brave was a star basketball player known as Mark Russell, according to The Eagle-Tribune. He told the Globe that he changed his last name from Russell to Brave to take on his grandparents’ name after they adopted him.
Brave graduated from high school in 2004 then studied at Northern Essex Community College in 2004 and 2005. Although the New Hampshire Union Leader reported in 2020 that he had earned a sociology degree from NECC, that’s not the case, according to a spokesperson for the college. Brave enrolled but didn’t finish a degree program, the spokesperson said.
Brave accurately described his NECC experience in the education section of his public-facing LinkedIn profile, which he recently took offline. But the other two entries in that section inaccurately claimed that he held bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Southern New Hampshire University’s forensic psychology program. Spokespeople for SNHU said no one by Brave’s names and date of birth had even enrolled, let alone completed degrees.
The introductory section of Brave’s profile claimed unambiguously that he had completed the SNHU master’s degree. That same false claim appeared in the Union Leader and Foster’s Daily Democrat in 2020, and it still appears in Brave’s bio on the Dover Democrats website. The sheriff’s office website similarly claims that Brave “completed his graduate degree.”
When interviewed by the Globe on Sept. 2, Brave confirmed that he doesn’t have a master’s or a bachelor’s degree, but he claimed he never lied about his education. He said that, during the 2020 campaign, he honestly believed he had earned the degrees from SNHU and only later learned that he had not.
Brave told the Globe that SNHU notified him of the problem more than two years ago, but he didn’t solve it and made no effort to correct the false claims he had made to voters. He was reelected as sheriff in 2022.
“The public didn’t vote for me based off of a degree,” he said, insisting that he hadn’t intended to deceive anyone. “They voted for me based off of what I offered to bring to the table.”
Even after admitting that he doesn’t actually have any degrees from SNHU, Brave insisted without evidence that he had enrolled.
At first, Brave told the Globe that SNHU was withholding his transcript over an unpaid bill that he hoped to resolve by the end of September, with proceeds from the sale of his home. He said SNHU contacted him after the 2020 candidates forum to let him know that he still owed them money, though he wasn’t sure how much. Later, he told the Globe that there was another reason he hadn’t received the degrees.
“I technically have not completed the coursework,” he said. “I didn’t drop out, but I did not complete the coursework.”
When asked to identify an educator or classmate from SNHU who could vouch for his having participated in any part of the program, Brave said he would review his emails and forward evidence of his academic pursuits. He has furnished no such evidence.
“We need to be sure that there is a good legal process underway that will make sure that the office of sheriff is protected and that the voters of Strafford County will have an opportunity to understand fully what the violations of statute and trust may have been,” Watters said.
Brave’s supposed enrollment at SNHU wasn’t a recent invention. In 2016, when he was hired by the Rochester, N.H., Police Department, local officials were under the impression that he was working on a bachelor’s degree from SNHU, according to public records. In 2019, when he ran for Dover City Council, he wrote an op-ed for Foster’s Daily Democrat in which he claimed he had completed the bachelor’s and would complete a master’s degree “in the near future.”
Articles published by The York Weekly in 2014 and by the Union Leader in 2020 stated that Brave had studied at Adelphi University in New York. But a spokesperson for the university said Brave’s names and date of birth were not associated with any records that would confirm his attendance. Brave told the Globe that he didn’t attend Adelphi University and hadn’t claimed otherwise. He didn’t list the school on his LinkedIn profile.
When he applied to work for the York Police Department in Maine in 2014, the Rochester Police Department in 2016, and the Strafford County Sheriff’s Office in 2017, Brave didn’t claim to have completed any college degree, according to job application materials obtained by the Globe through public records requests. His application for the sheriff’s office job indicated that he was working on a bachelor’s degree from SNHU and expected to graduate in May 2019.
Exaggerations in his work history
The inconsistencies are not limited to Brave’s education. His work history raises questions as well.
Brave’s profile on LinkedIn claimed he had worked as a Maine Capitol Police officer in Augusta for 27 months. And in an interview with the Globe, he claimed to have worked there “for a few years.” But a spokesperson for the agency said Brave worked there just nine months in 2015 as a reserve officer.
When asked about the discrepancy, Brave said he recalled having worked there at least two years. “There is no way I was only there nine months,” he said. But Brave himself had previously confirmed the nine-month stint, when he applied to work for the Rochester Police Department in 2016.
Brave similarly exaggerated the length of his employment at Great Bay Community College. On LinkedIn, he claimed he oversaw safety and security at two campuses for 28 months. But a GBCC spokesperson said Brave worked there for 19 months, beginning in January 2016. His role was part-time for the first year, and campus safety staffers aren’t considered law enforcement officers, so Brave wasn’t required to hold police certification, the spokesperson said.
Although he worked as a reserve officer in Maine in 2014 and 2015, Brave didn’t secure his full-time law enforcement certification until after he was hired by the Rochester Police Department in 2016 — which means, when he became sheriff in January 2021, he had less than five years of work experience as a full-time law enforcement officer.
When he said during the sheriff candidates forum in 2020 that his law enforcement career began in 2009, Brave was referring to an unpaid part-time role with the auxiliary police in Lawrence, Mass. His resume in 2014 indicated that he had volunteered there three years, from 2009 until 2012. The timeline listed on his LinkedIn profile said the role lasted four years. City officials did not respond to requests for confirmation of his role and timeline.
Since the volunteer role in Lawrence didn’t lead to employer-sponsored training at a full-time police academy, Brave sought out an alternative.
“I ended up putting myself through a police academy in Ohio,” he told the Globe.
In 2013, Brave attended the National Ranger Training Institute at Hocking College in Nelsonville, Ohio. In 2016, the New Hampshire Police Standards and Training Council granted him certification as a full-time law enforcement officer based partly on that out-of-state training.
Brave had to undergo a medical exam, pass a fitness test, and complete a subset of coursework known as the “law package” before his New Hampshire certification was finalized, but he didn’t have to complete the state’s full-time police academy in its entirety, according to PSTC records.
When a candidate has completed an out-of-state training program, the PSTC compares that training to New Hampshire’s curriculum, to ensure all topics are covered, according to the PSTC’s Major David G. Parenteau.
Brave worked full-time for the Rochester Police Department from April 2016 until July 2017, when he was hired by the Strafford County Sheriff’s Office, where he worked for three and a half years before winning the 2020 race for sheriff.
Brave’s law enforcement certification was temporarily suspended last month, pending the outcome of his criminal charges. He’s scheduled to be arraigned on Sept. 28.
This story was updated Sept. 18 to include additional information from public records that the Strafford County Sheriff’s Office released to the Globe after this story was published.