A New Hampshire State Police investigator sought the arrests last year of two deans at Phillips Exeter Academy, one of the nation’s elite prep schools, on a charge that they failed to report the alleged sexual assault of a student to the authorities, newly obtained records show.
But the deans were not arrested or prosecuted, and a year after that police investigation, they remain in their posts at the school.
The case began more than two years ago, when two female seniors, aged 17 and 18, told the deans that a male classmate had groped them against their will, in separate incidents in the basement of the church on the campus in Exeter, N.H.
In a detailed report by the state police that was obtained by The New York Times, an investigator with the major crime unit wrote, “I determined that there was probable cause to believe that” the two deans committed a misdemeanor by not reporting the accusation by the 17-year-old, who was covered by the state’s mandatory reporting law. The investigator, Trooper Mallory S. Littman, wrote that she drafted arrest warrants for the two administrators and gave them to the Rockingham County attorney’s office in October 2016.
Decisions about whether and how to pursue a case are up to prosecutors, who have wide discretion and are not bound by the views of the police. It was not clear whether prosecutors in the county attorney’s office had ever presented the arrest warrants to a judge for final approval, or had determined on their own not to pursue the matter, but the deans were not arrested or charged.Continue reading the main story
The county attorney’s office did not return calls seeking comment.
The school did not reply to questions about the case, including whether the administration was aware of the trooper’s conclusion. The academy recently entered into an agreement with the police to comply with state reporting requirements, and go beyond them.
Neither of the deans, Arthur J. Cosgrove and Melissa D. Mischke, responded to emails seeking comment.
Like St. Paul’s School in Concord, N.H.; St. George’s School in Middletown, R.I.; Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass.; Choate Rosemary Hall in Wallingford, Conn., and many other prestigious prep schools, Phillips Exeter has been reeling from revelations of sexual misconduct, and questions about whether the school properly handled them.
In most cases, the accusations have involved teachers preying on students. This year, a former Phillips Exeter admissions officer pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting a 14-year-old prospective student in the 1970s, and the academy said that an investigation had revealed credible allegations against three former teachers and a former school psychologist. Last year, the school fired a teacher for sexual misconduct with a student, and revealed that another teacher, after admitting to such misconduct, had been allowed to retire quietly and for years remained a presence on campus, with emeritus status.
While some accused of abuse have been prosecuted, it is rare for school administrators who failed to report misconduct to face any legal penalty.
In the case described in the state police report, Michael W. Jones, an alumnus who has been a leading critic of the academy’s handling of sexual abuse cases, said it was “outrageous” that the two deans still had their administrative positions, and that the school had not addressed the matter in more detail. “There should be transparency and consequences,” he said.
The 17-year-old girl’s lawyer, Carmen Durso, declined to comment.
When The Boston Globe reported last year on the girl’s groping allegation and the way it was handled by the school, the news prompted a strong backlash among alumni, many of whom said they would withhold donations to the academy. In a statement, the academy said that “without question, the situation could and should have been handled in a better way,” but it did not say explicitly what had been done wrong, or by whom. Until now, the police account of the deans’ response to the groping allegation, and the trooper’s desire to charge the deans, had not been publicly known.
The state police report shows that the two female students met in October 2015 with Mr. Cosgrove, dean of residential life; Ms. Mischke, dean of students; and a teacher who was the younger student’s faculty adviser and who had encouraged her to go to the deans. The police report includes the two accusers’ and the faculty adviser’s descriptions of the meeting; the two deans declined to be interviewed by investigators.
The younger accuser said that days before she went to the deans, a popular male senior texted her that it was his 18th birthday, and asked her to meet him in the church basement, a quiet place where students sometimes studied, and which he was assigned to monitor. There, she said, he touched her buttocks and breasts and kissed her, even as she repeatedly told him not to, until she left.
The other accuser recounted a similar incident in the same place with the same male student, who she said put his hands under her shirt and touched her breasts, prompting her to leave.
A state law mandates that anyone in a long list of positions, including school officials, “having reason to suspect” sexual abuse of a person under age 18, which it defines very broadly, must report it to the state Department of Health and Human Services.
The girl said that the month after their first meeting, she asked Mr. Cosgrove what punishment her classmate had received, and he declined to tell her. Several months later, the girl felt unsafe with the male student still on campus, and showed signs of post-traumatic stress disorder, her faculty adviser told investigators. In April 2016, they met again with the two deans.
In both the October and April meetings, the teacher said, when the girl described what had happened to her as an “assault,” Mr. Cosgrove corrected her, saying that it was just harassment.
After the second meeting, the girl went to the police, and prosecutors soon charged the male student, Chukwudi Ikpeazu, with misdemeanor sexual assault. But a year later, in July 2017, as his trial was about to begin, they set aside the charge, and if he meets certain conditions — which have not been made public — prosecutors will drop the case.
In September, Phillips Exeter entered into a memorandum of understanding with the Exeter Police Department, reiterating its legal obligation to report suspected abuse to the state, and vowing to report it to the police, as well. The school also committed to providing sexual assault prevention and reporting training to staff and students.Continue reading the main story