Overseer to work with St. Paul’s after criminal investigation
CONCORD, N.H. — St. Paul’s School, facing the threat of criminal proceedings over allegations that it failed to protect students from sexual abuse, agreed Thursday to put the New Hampshire attorney general’s office in control of handling reports of possible child abuse on campus.
New Hampshire Attorney General Gordon J. MacDonald called the agreement unprecedented at a news conference announcing the deal with the elite boarding school in Concord, which must follow the terms for up to five years or face possible criminal prosecution for child endangerment.
“Parents entrusted their child’s safety and welfare to St. Paul’s School. That school violated their trust,” MacDonald said. “The school’s primary focus was protecting its reputation — protecting itself rather than protecting the children entrusted to its care.”
A 14-month investigation found the school violated New Hampshire’s child endangerment law in its handling of two abuse cases involving former faculty members, David Pook and William Faulkner, Deputy Attorney General Jane Young said.
Pook is serving a jail sentence for conspiring with a former student to lie about their relationship to a grand jury.
Faulkner, a former math teacher, was convicted in 2010 of simple assault for touching a student’s shoulder while making comments about her dress.
St. Paul’s has been under intense public scrutiny since 2014 over the sexual assault of a freshman girl during a sordid ritual known as “senior salute.” Since then, a separate, independent investigation of sexual misconduct at the school has substantiated abuse claims against 20 former faculty and staff members who worked at St. Paul’s between 1947 and 1999.
Prosecutors informed St. Paul’s of the latest findings this spring, but pursued the oversight agreement after concluding criminal proceedings only had the potential to generate misdemeanor convictions and fines for the school, MacDonald said.
Under the terms, a compliance officer will be appointed to implement the agreement, which includes requirements for training, reporting possible cases of abuse to police, record keeping, and providing victim support services.
St. Paul’s will reimburse the state about $50,000 to cover the cost of the investigation and pay for all costs related to the agreement, including the compliance officer’s salary and benefits, MacDonald said. The officer will report to the attorney general’s office.
“We pursued a course of comprehensive reform with the objectives of achieving immediate and meaningful measures,” MacDonald said. “The agreement will assure a system of accountability, transparency, and oversight by this office and it will facilitate the protection of children to a far greater extent than a criminal proceeding would.”
The school has waived confidentiality in the grand jury proceedings, and a report on the findings will be issued at a later date, he said.
In 2002, the leader of the Catholic Church in New Hampshire entered into a similar agreement with prosecutors to settle an investigation into whether the Diocese of Manchester failed to protect children from abusive priests.
St. Paul’s School officials said they welcomed the settlement announced Thursday, though Archibald Cox Jr., chairman of the board of trustees, said he doesn’t believe the school acted criminally.
“We don’t believe that’s true, but we’re not going to debate that point,” he said in an interview on campus. “It’s in the interest of both parties that this thing get settled.”
In earlier years, Cox said, the school neglected its duty to protect students, but he insisted that’s no longer the case. “I absolutely do not think that’s true in recent years,” he said.
Cox and Amy Richards, the school’s interim rector, announced the settlement in a letter to the school community.
The school said it hopes to provide the attorney general’s office with the names of three possible candidates for the compliance officer position by Friday and has already set aside office space for that person and a victim advocate.
The agreement states that the compliance officer cannot be a St. Paul’s employee or former employee.
The school also plans to complete some of the required trainings within a month, said Theresa Ferns, vice rector for school life.
The agreement was unveiled hours after New Hampshire’s highest court heard arguments from a lawyer for St. Paul’s graduate Owen LaBrie, 22, who was convicted in 2015 of sexually assaulting a classmate, Chessy Prout, during the campus tradition known as senior salute.
LaBrie was acquitted of raping Prout when she was 15 at St. Paul’s, but convicted of misdemeanor sexual assault, child endangerment, and a computer charge. He is seeking a new trial.
Prout’s parents, Alex and Susan, attended Thursday’s news conference in Concord and praised the settlement.
“This was a really courageous decision,” Alex Prout said. “This has some real substance in terms of bringing some real change versus doing the sort of window dressing that St. Paul’s [has been] trying to put forth over the last several years while denying that there’s an issue or problem at the school.”
Attorney Eric MacLeish, who represents seven former male students who say they were sexually assaulted by staff between the late 1960s and 1984, said the agreement has the potential to serve as a blueprint for government intervention at private schools that have gone unregulated despite evidence of child abuse.
“These schools are unregulated,” he said. “They’ve been allowed to exist on their own and now we having this damaging report that says it wasn’t safe. It’s not safe.”