Elite St. Paul’s School Spared Criminal Charges in Sexual-Abuse Probe
The New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office reached an ‘unprecedented’ settlement with the elite boarding school on Thursday after a 14-month investigation.
After a 14-month criminal investigation into alleged sexual misconduct at St. Paul’s School—where a student was once accused of sexually assaulting a freshman during the so-called “Senior Salute”—the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office announced an “unprecedented” agreement with the elite institution.
Attorney General Gordon MacDonald said at a news conference Thursday that while he “could have charged the school with endangering the welfare of children,” his office opted to pursue an agreement with St. Paul’s that would further protect students.
“We would not be here without the courage of St. Paul’s students...Their courage and strength inspired and motivated our work. We hope they will draw strength from this agreement,” MacDonald said.
The agreement includes “five years of an independent compliance oversight by the New Hampshire Department of Justice” and will “emphasize accountability, oversight transparency, and training” at the prep school, the attorney general explained.
“The School is working with the state to identify an Independent Compliance Overseer, as required in the agreement, who will serve for a period of up to five years, regularly reporting on the School’s work in this area,” Amy Richards, interim rector at St. Paul’s, wrote in a letter obtained by The Daily Beast. “The board and the administration view this partnership as an opportunity to assess and update its current policies.”
Archibald Cox, the school’s president, told The Daily Beast Thursday that St. Paul’s has been working with the attorney general for more than a year, and both parties have been focusing on the settlement for the past six weeks.
“We are happy a settlement has been reach and we hope this further enhances the wellbeing of the students,” Cox said.
Hours before McDonald’s announcement, Owen Labrie, the former St. Paul’s student who was convicted of misdemeanor statutory rape in 2015, appealed his case to the New Hampshire Supreme Court.
The court heard oral arguments on Labrie’s appeal for a new trial, a request that was previously denied by a lower court judge. “We are hopeful we will win and Owen’s convictions will be reversed,” Jayne Rancourt, Labrie’s attorney, told The Daily Beast.
In 2015, Labrie was accused of sexually assaulting then-15-year-old Chessy Proust during the school’s so-called “Senior Salute,” an unofficial tradition in which upperclassmen allegedly attempt to hook up with younger students before graduating.
Following a high-profile trial, Labrie was acquitted of felony sexual-assault charges, but found guilty of three misdemeanor counts of sexual assault and a felony charge of using a computer to entice a minor. The now-22-year-old was sentenced to a year in jail and required to register as a sex offender.
Labrie’s case and a 71-page report on alleged sexual abuse at the Concord prep school prompted the attorney general to open an investigation into St. Paul’s in July 2017. The report accused at least 13 former staff members of sexually abusing students over the span of six decades.
“Over the past fourteen months the investigation by the Attorney General’s office focused on the issue of whether St. Paul’s School engaged in conduct constituting endangering the welfare of a child ... [and] obstructing governmental operations,” the agency said in a statement to The Daily Beast prior to Thursday’s press conference.
Following the initial report, St. Paul’s released two more reports that included new allegations against former faculty members who had worked at the school as recently as 2008.
A former teacher named in one of the reports, David Pook, was sentenced to four months in jail last month after pleading guilty to conspiracy to commit false swearing and contempt of court.
Warner, who left St. Paul’s under “suspicious circumstances” only to be hired at a nearby prep school, allegedly had a relationship with a female student and encouraged the student to lie under oath after a grand jury was convened.
“The state was investigating St. Paul’s School for actions of students. The conduct of this defendant and the co-conspirator sidetracked the investigation for months because of their concerted effort to lie, bold-faced and repeatedly,” Jane Young, a senior assistant attorney general, told The Daily Beast.
So far, Warner is the only individual who’s faced charges in connection with the probe since it was launched.
Lyn Schollett, chairperson of the New Hampshire Coalition against Domestic and Sexual Violence, said the agreement with St. Paul’s is an important step in marking the end of sexual abuse at the school.
“Today marks a change. After decades of perpetuating the abuse of children, the standard formula for an institution’s ‘accountability’ can no longer be taking a hit in the media, offering an apology, or writing a check,” she said at the press conference.