MANCHESTER, NH – Lack of transparency from city officials over the 2015 rape of a 14-year-old female student on school grounds by a then 17-year-old male student has placed Mayor Ted Gatsas in the hot seat, after a former alderman on Wednesday accused Gatsas of violating the city charter.
The undertone of the accusation is that there were political motivations on Gatsas’ part.
The rape at West High School, which coincided with the final weeks of the 2015 mayoral campaign, only became public knowledge last week, after a sentencing hearing for the rapist. Since then, questions have been raised about whose responsibility it was to disseminate information publicly, and why that didn’t happen until now.
Gatsas on Thursday fired back at William Cashin, a former alderman, but also held Joyce Craig, his opponent in the upcoming mayoral race, accountable for what he says is a “shameful” political attack. Cashin served as a campaign manager for Craig’s 2015 mayoral bid.
On June 27, Cashin filed a complaint with the city clerk’s office [see below] accusing Gatsas of ethics violations in a two-page letter. Cashin cites Gatsas’ failure to inform the Board of Aldermen and Board of School Committee at the time the crime was committed. He also faulted Gatsas for making “false statements” as recently as this week, after the sentencing of the rapist became public knowledge via a press release issued by County Attorney Dennis Hogan.
According to City Clerk Matt Normand, a mayor has never been investigated by the Conduct Board.
Normand explained that the Conduct Board has authority to issue advisory opinions regarding the actions of city officials if requested to do so by the Board of Mayor and Aldermen.
“As with past written allegations of this nature, the matter requires a formal referral to the Conduct Board by the Board of Mayor and Aldermen. I expect the letter from former Alderman Cashin will appear on the next scheduled agenda on July 18th for consideration. This issue is out of the Mayor’s hands and rests with the aldermen to decide whether to refer the item to the Conduct Board or not.”
According to Normand, the Conduct Board was created under the July 1, 1997 city charter. Since that time, it has only had two investigations: one for the Welfare Commissioner in 2001, and one for a School Board member in 2004-2005.
Gatsas issued the following response after a request by Manchester Ink Link:
“It is appalling that the former campaign co-chairman for Joyce Craig would use this as a political tool. It is shameful and beneath the dignity of the office for which Craig is seeking. It is clear by this action that Joyce Craig will stop at nothing to win the corner office and it is imperative that everyone remember there is an innocent victim involved and privacy be respected.
After the incident occurred the Manchester Police Department offered to work with the administration of the Manchester School District to draft a release and the leadership at the MPD was informed it was under control.
Past precedence and the policy set forth by the Manchester School District is clear that these sort of releases shall come from the superintendent’s office, not the Mayor’s office. The notion of a cover-up is a patently false political attack and does not take into consideration the privacy of the victim. I will co-operate fully with any inquiry involving this issue as a matter of public transparency but maintain that this is nothing more than a political stunt by Joyce Craig and her allies.
I call on Joyce Craig to immediately cease using this as a campaign tool and to condemn her former campaign co-chairman’s disgusting politicization of this event.” – Ted Gatsas
Craig issued a statement on Thursday regarding the incident at West, and Mayor Gatsas’ response:
“I want to share my thoughts about the 2015 West High incident as a mother. It has been extremely difficult to watch this story unfold, and I believe we – as a community – need to have an honest discussion about what happened after the incident occurred.
I am deeply sorry that a young girl was the victim of this terrible assault in one of our schools. I continue to feel outrage as more facts come to light about the response to the incident. I am still angry and I want to share why, as a mother of two daughters, I find the Mayor’s words so dangerous and upsetting.
What lingers in my mind and what I want to talk about is the Mayor’s minimization and dismissal of sexual assault.
Here is exactly what Mayor Gatsas said to a reporter in response to the story earlier this week: “At no point did anyone tell me of the severity of it. It could be a minor thing, a sexual harassment. It could have been someone forcing a kiss on someone or someone touching someone.”
To take the Mayor at his word means that he does not recall being informed that the incident that occurred was rape despite reputable sources who insist that they told him a rape occurred. He received an email that stated a sexual assault occurred in a school. He further contends that had he known of the “severity” of what happened, he may have responded differently.
It infuriates me that the Mayor wants to be let off the hook by claiming that he didn’t know the full extent of the crime. He received an email stating that a sexual assault occurred and had four subsequent conversations about this with public officials giving him ample opportunity to find out what happened at West High School. Mayor Gatsas doesn’t deserve a pass on this because he should have known that any sexual assault is serious.
That is what really bothers me about his response. What Mayor Ted Gatsas described as a “minor thing” – “forcing a kiss or someone, touching someone” – might not be rape, but it is still sexual assault. And it is severe.
Sexual assault is severe, sexual harassment is severe, and sexual violence against children is absolutely sickening. Our Mayor should have immediately understood that this was a severe incident.
A rape occurred in one of our schools. But even if it hadn’t, any degree of sexual assault could never be a “minor thing.” In Ted Gatsas’ attempt to clear himself of mishandling this situation, he basically said that for sexual assault at a school to warrant his attention, it has to rise to his personal definition of severe.
Comments like Mayor Gatsas made are why so many sexual assault survivors don’t come forward with their stories. They are afraid that for someone to care, for someone to pay attention, the crime has to be rape. They are afraid being held down and groped or that being overpowered and forced to kiss someone isn’t enough of an assault to come forward.
This is why the Mayor’s comments are so dangerous. We must do better to ensure that comments minimizing sexual assault have no place in our community.” – Joyce Craig