Report: Policy can be improved at school with abuse history

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — A New Hampshire prep school rocked by sexual abuse claims is doing a better job of addressing complaints but should improve its policies around investigating a crime and assisting victims, according to a report released by the attorney general’s office Thursday.

The report done by a third party is the second of its kind on St. Paul’s after credible evidence emerged of abuse involving 20 former faculty members over several decades. The attorney general’s office found evidence of criminal wrongdoing by the school, but an agreement was reached to put it under government oversight instead of bringing charges.

The agreement involved bringing in an independent person who would ensure the school complied with the agreement in place for at least five years.

In its report, the attorney general’s office said the school should consider several improvements to its procedures, including guidelines for protecting whistleblowers, providing notice to someone accused of committing a crime and setting out conditions that would compel an external investigation. It also said the school had no written protocol in either the student or faculty handbook on guidance to supporting students who are sexually assaulted and lacked a written policy on when the school would share a resulting disciplinary decision with faculty staff and students.

It also found the school “struggles” to retain documents and information related to complaints, making it difficult to show it responded in a timely manner or that “survives administrative or leadership transitions.”

“A strengthened safety net of policies and procedures will serve to more fully develop and balance roles and responsibilities,” according to the report written by Jeff Maher, who was tasked by the attorney general's office to ensure the school complied with the agreement. “This in turn will allow individuals to fulfill their responsibilities to the School free of fear or influence while ensuring best practices across time.”

The report also said the school received 31 incident reports over the last six months of 2019. The incidents, mostly involving sexual or physical assault, occurred on and off the campus. More than half were incidents that happened in the past but the report did not give a time frame.

That is down slightly from the 33 incidents in the first report.

In a letter to the school community, the school's rector, Kathleen Giles, said it would work to address the concerns raised in the report.

“Mr. Maher’s observations and recommendations offer us many opportunities to continue to build and reinforce a healthy school culture and to make sure that our mindset, policies, and practices reflect the priority of student safety and well-being,” she wrote.

The reports follows a mistrial this week in the case of a man who has been accused of sexually assaulting two children on the campus of St. Paul's in the 1970s.

Benjamin Baker, of Falls Church, Virginia, was arrested in February and charged with being a fugitive after Concord police issued a warrant charging him with a dozen sex crimes, including aggravated sexual assault.

He was accused of sexually assaulting two brothers who were the sons of Baker's faculty advisor when he was a student at St. Paul's.

The judge declared a mistrial, and the jury was deadlocked, the Concord Monitor reported. The case focused on the alleged assaults of the older brother.

The older brother took the stand Monday and described the two times he said Baker assaulted him.

He said the first time was when Baker visited their family on a break from college when the boy was in eighth grade. The second time was the following year when Baker was visiting campus and assaulted him during his first year at St. Paul's.

Police began investigating Baker in June 2017 when school administrators first learned of the allegations and reported them.

The victims did not report the abuse for decades because of their fear of humiliation and potential retribution by Baker, prosecutors said.

Baker's attorney Christine List declined to comment on the mistrial. She told the Monitor the Merrimack County Attorney's Office will decide if the case will be tried again.

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