August 02, 2018ALEXANDRIA — Police Chief Donald Sullivan has scheduled a public forum at the Alexandria Town Hall on Thursday, Aug. 9, to reassure the public that there are "true professionals out there who will treat victims with respect and support them."
The meeting is in response to a public outcry — with Sullivan's voice being among the loudest — over testimony by Shelly Philbrick in support of a convicted child rapist.
Philbrick, a guidance counselor at Newfound Regional High School, was among several former colleagues of Kristie Torbick who argued for leniency during the sentencing phase of Torbick's trial.
Torbick formerly worked in the Newfound Area School District, and she was working as a guidance counselor in the Exeter School District when she became romantically involved with a 14-year-old freshman at the school. She pleaded guilty in July to four counts of felonious sexual assault.
Philbrick testified that "to incarcerate Mrs. Torbick as part of any plea bargain would be a sad injustice to her own three children, one of which is only 3 years of age."
Sullivan expressed his dismay on Facebook, writing "I've worked in Law Enforcement for over twenty years and have worked with some of the most honorable men and women you could ever meet. I want everyone to know that If any of them were to get convicted of raping a child, I will NOT testify to their character or plead for leniency. I will support the victim in the case with all of my heart and energy."
Newfound graduate Nicholas Crosby, who had served as a student representative to the Newfound Area School Board, said in a letter to local newspapers, "I am disgusted to see Mrs. Philbrick supporting Torbick as the crime that was committed is serious and sick. This wasn't just a quick 'in-the-moment' incident, which still wouldn't have been okay — this was hatched out and premeditated. … I've known Mrs. Philbrick not just when I attended NRHS, but when I was around 4 years old attending Bridgewater-Hebron Village School. I am deeply disappointed and ashamed to see Mrs. Philbrick's recent judgment and actions. And for Mrs. Philbrick to use her judgment and voice like this ... she should really reconsider her current job as a guidance counselor."
School Administrative Unit 4 Superintendent Stacy Buckley sent a letter to district parents last week, acknowledging that she had received a number of complaints and calls for Philbrick's dismissal, as well as requests for a special school board meeting to discuss the matter.
"I have been public stating that I do not support her testimony," Buckley said. "I was not notified that she would be testifying, nor did I grant approval for her to testify. Ms. Philbrick acted on her own, not as a representative or with authorization of the school district. That being said, Ms. Philbrick has the right to speak on this matter as a member of the public."
Buckley referred to district policy, saying she cannot talk about personnel matters, and that a special school board meeting "will likely end up in frustration on both parties, as it is a personnel matter and cannot be discussed in public."
The Newfound Area School Board is scheduled to meet next on Monday, Aug. 13. Chair Jeff Levesque said, "While the board has not yet had any discussions on the matter, the public can be sure the board is in agreement with the position of the superintendent and that the matter is being handled according to policy and applicable laws. The board's course of action is clearly defined and as such there will be no public discussion of personnel matters at our next meeting; however, it will be discussed in non-public [session] which has been extended to give the board ample time. Currently, the public portion of the meeting is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m."
"Unfortunately, [Philbrick] was just one of many who spoke up in support of the convicted child rapist, in front of the victim, sending a very dangerous message out to victims of sexual assault, especially young victims, that the 'system' is protecting perpetrators and not victims," said Sullivan.
At Torbick's trial, the prosecution had asked for a five- to 10-year prison sentence, but after hearing her colleagues' calls for leniency, Rockingham County Superior Court Judge Andrew Schulman sentenced her to two and a half to five years in prison with a three-and-a-half- to seven-year suspended sentence.
Several personnel from Plymouth State University testified in support of Torbick, including Gary Goodnough, a professor of counselor education who served as Torbick's adviser and internship supervisor. He stated, "no benefit to society would be served by incarcerating her."
Dr. Nancy Strapko, an associate professor emeritus and former graduate school health education coordinator at the university, insisted that Torbick was not a predator.
"Kristie takes full responsibility for her actions with her 'victim.' I put this in [quotes] because I am aware that her 'victim' was truly the pursuer in this case," Strapko wrote.
"That's by far the worst of them all," Sullivan said of Strapko's comment, "to blame a 14-year-old victim for being the pursuer, and that's a whole other battle in sight. I'll be willing to assist in that one, but I have to deal with the one at home first."
Officials from Plymouth State said those remarks do not reflect the university's stance on sexual assault, but in Bedford, School Superintendent Chip McGee ended up resigning because of that district's decision to allow several of its educators to speak in support of leniency for Torbick.
Sullivan said he has spoken with Buckley and other Newfound personnel, and he believes Philbrick's views are not shared by others in the school district.
"It appears that Shelly is standing by herself as far as her comments," Sullivan said. "I am comfortable and confident that the school as a whole has the children's safety in the forefront."
A call seeking comment from Philbrick was not returned.
"The public and the parents are chomping at the bit to be able to speak their minds a little bit and have some outlet to express their concerns," Sullivan said, explaining that the Alexandria forum is aimed at reassuring people and informing them "how we would respond to reported sexual assault or violence that happens in the area."
He said Voices Against Violence, a crisis services agency in Plymouth, was "more than happy" to join with the Alexandria Police Department in holding the forum and letting residents know what resources are available. The New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence also is supporting the upcoming forum, which will begin at 6 p.m. on Aug. 9.
Sullivan also urges those with concerns about their children's safety at school to write to the superintendent, "so they have that to use in their decision-making on that personnel matter."