Does your school have a policy on reporting crime to civil authorities, especially sexual assault? Is it part of a memorandum of understanding with those authorities? Does it include misdemeanors as well as felonies?
St. Paul’s School (Episcopal) and the Concord, NH police signed a memorandum of understanding in 2012. The school had a history of not reporting sex crimes. The MOU spells out the school’s obligation to report on-campus crime, and, in particular, sexual assault, to the police. The parties have taken note of an MOU recently signed between Phillips Exeter Academy and Exeter police.
There are two related developments. The New Hampshire Supreme Court has accepted a request for review from Owen Labrie, a former student at the school. And the school has asked for a delay in the civil trial surrounding charges against the school by Labrie’s victim.
Both St. Paul’s and Phillips Exeter made national headlines in recent years for their handling of sexual misconduct allegations against students and former teachers. The boarding schools also independently hired law firms to investigate claims brought by students against former faculty and staff spanning decades.
The latest memorandum of understanding (MOU) reached between Phillips Exeter and Exeter police incorporates reporting requirements set forth in three statutes: the Child Protection Act, the Safe Schools Act, and the Student Hazing law. In contrast, the current MOU between St. Paul’s and Concord police cites just the Safe Schools Act, which law enforcement officials and advocates say has “a glaring omission.”
Under New Hampshire’s Safe Schools Act, schools are not legally required to report misdemeanor-level sexual assault to police; the law only references felony-level sex crimes. However, the act is in direct conflict with the state’s Child Protection Act, which mandates the reporting of suspected instances of child abuse and neglect.
The MOU between Phillips Exeter and Exeter police closes that gap. “The MOU outlines the duty of all adults, and underscores PEA’s commitment to immediately report any act of sexual assault, regardless of the possible legal classification of the act or the time the act occurred,” officials wrote, using the acronym for Phillips Exeter Academy.
Hirschfeld [head of school at St. Paul’s] previously told the Monitor that “anything we think that might be sexual assault is reported to Concord police.”
St. Paul’s School graduate Owen Labrie will have his argument for a new trial reviewed by the state’s highest court.
Labrie maintains that his high-profile defense team, funded by St. Paul’s alumni, erred by not conducting basic legal research, by not impeaching certain witnesses and by not challenging the sole felony computer charge. The legal team was led by Boston-based attorney J.W. Carney, who testified about the defense’s trial strategy during a three-day evidentiary hearing in late February.
Carney told the court that throughout the August 2015 trial, his biggest fear was jurors hearing from the three girls whom the victim had confided in. The victim spoke to those friends immediately after her encounter with Labrie, and told them she had not given her consent.
The report of another person’s words by a witness is considered hearsay and usually not allowed as evidence in court. However, if Carney or his co-counsel did not walk a tight rope, numerous witnesses could have been permitted to testify that Labrie forced himself on the girl, which would have corroborated her story, he said.
St. Paul’s School says next March is too soon for a civil trial in the lawsuit filed by the family of Chessy Prout now that the institution is also the subject of a criminal probe led by New Hampshire’s attorney general.
The attorney general’s office launched its investigation into the elite boarding school’s handling of sexual assault and misconduct claims in early July. At that time, authorities said the investigation will initially focus on issues of possible child endangerment and obstruction of justice, but could expand if the evidence warrants such action.
Chessy Prout was sexually assaulted as a freshman by senior Owen Labrie in May 2014, a Merrimack County jury found. She chose to shed her anonymity less than a month after St. Paul’s objected to her family’s use of pseudonyms in the civil lawsuit….
The Prout family has objected, in part, to the school’s request to extend deadlines, arguing that St. Paul’s is seeking “far more than mere logistical accommodations.” Alex and Susan Prout, the parents of former St. Paul’s student Chessy Prout, filed their lawsuit against the school in spring 2016, but note in their partial objection that not a single witness has given sworn out-of-court testimony, also known as a deposition.