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County releases documents in PEA probe Over 100 incidents of misconduct brought to light from 2014 to 2016

Portsmouth Herald - 12/7/2017

EXETER - The Rockingham County attorney's office released more than 900 pages of the state's investigation into Phillips Exeter Academy Wednesday, showing revelations of sexual abuse triggered an avalanche of reports between 2014 and 2016, many detailing alleged sexual misconduct at the preparatory school by both faculty and students.

The investigative documents were obtained by Seacoast Media Group through a Right-to-Know request to County Attorney Patricia Conway, and address misconduct claims dating back to the 1950s. Documents reveal faculty members accused of violating the state's mandatory reporting law and hundreds of interviews with academy staff and students. Pieces of a New Hampshire State Police investigative file were leaked to several media outlets earlier this month, showing a trooper drafted arrest warrants for current deans Melissa Mischke and AJ Cosgrove for alleged failure to report an abuse case, but Conway chose not to pursue criminal charges against the deans, opting instead for a more rigorous memorandum of understanding between the school and the Exeter Police Department.

Law firm Hinckley Allen, representing Phillips Exeter, sent a letter defending Mischke and Cosgrove on Sept. 16, 2016 to then-Deputy County Attorney Patricia LaFrance. The letter stated the school filed in excess of 100 reports between 2014 and 2016 with the state Division of Children, Youth and Families and the Exeter Police Department. It appears past alleged offenses that came to light during that time are included in the reporting.

At least 25 of those reports were filed by Mischke and Cosgrove. The deans had not immediately reported, the state trooper noted, an alleged 2015 assault of a female student in the Phillips Church basement by fellow student Chukwudi Ikpeazu, who was eventually charged. The charges against Ikpeazu were dropped in June 2017 with conditions that were not made public.

The law firm's letter shows the dates of 23 specific reports by school officials, which are mostly labeled as child abuse, sexual assault or statutory rape.

"As this history demonstrates," the letter from the school's legal team reads, "Ms. Mischke and Mr. Cosgrove take their reporting obligations seriously and report incidents without hesitation when presented with information that creates a reason to suspect that a child has been abused or neglected." The letter goes on to argue that the two deans did not believe there was a reasonable suspicion the alleged victim in 2015 had been abused.

Conway previously said she chose not to pursue criminal charges against Mischke and Cosgrove because she did not believe she could prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt.

The documents also reveal the names of more than a dozen former and current faculty members who were deemed suspects of sexual abuse or misconduct over the years up until June 2016. Many have never been charged, but others, such as Arthur Peekel and Lane Bateman, have been convicted or pleaded guilty. The allegations against those never charged with a crime include male faculty members spotted leaving female dorms at early hours of the morning, inappropriate touching and faculty/student intercourse, for example.

Former student offenders were also named, including one who allegedly engaged in sexual molestation of fellow students between 1992 and 1993. A detailed Exeter police report from 2009 outlines a forcible rape case against a then academy senior. The victim did not wish to pursue charges, the report alleges.

One allegation accuses a 1999 graduate of physically abusing dorm mates with a belt. The alleged abuser, the complaint states, was reported to a faculty member at the time.

Sixteen faculty members are suspected to have not reported misconduct by faculty members and/or students, according to a preliminary research memo addressed to Sgt. John Sonia with the state's Major Crime Unit. The accused include former principals, deans and coaches.

In September of this year, the academy announced a memorandum of understanding with the Exeter Police Department and Rockingham County Attorney's office, a document which all faculty members are bound to, outlining protocol for reporting sexual assault, related training and counseling policies. However, the recently released investigation shows the academy already had an MOU of sorts in 2009, signed by then-principal Tom Hassan and former Exeter Police Chief Richard Kane.

The 2009 MOU depicted a chain of command, designating the academy's principal as the only one allowed to make direct contact with the Exeter Police Department when reporting an incident. "As required by law, it is agreed that every school employee who has witnessed, or who has information from the victim of an act of theft, destruction, or violence in a safe school zone shall report such act in writing immediately to a supervisor," the MOU said. "A supervisor receiving such report shall immediately forward the information to the school principal (or his/her designee) who shall file it with the Exeter Police Department. The report shall be made by the principal (or his/her designee) by telephone to the Exeter Police Department immediately and shall be followed within 48 hours by a report in writing."

The newest MOU requires immediate reporting by all faculty members to the DCYF or Exeter Police Department.

Last March, the academy revealed sexual misconduct allegations against five former faculty members, adding to a list of allegations and confirmed sexual misconduct over a period of decades reported at Exeter and many other boarding schools.

Preceding those allegations, prominent ex-faculty member Rick Schubart was barred from campus in 2016 after allegations of sexual misconduct involving two former students arose. Peekel, a former admissions officer who went on to be teacher of the year in Illinois in the 1990s, pleaded guilty in Rockingham Superior Court in May to sexually assaulting a prospective male student at Exeter in the 1970s during an overnight visit. Faculty member Steve Lewis was terminated after admitting to sexual misconduct with a student in the 1980s. In 2013, an allegation of sexual misconduct was made against former teacher Thomas Wood, who was at the academy for two years in the 1960s. He was also accused of misconduct at a school in Pennsylvania where he was headmaster from 1977 to 1987.

 
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