Case Dismissed For Ex-Principal in Newport
Newport — The former Newport Middle/High School principal who left the school after he was charged with assaulting a student last year has completed all court-ordered conditions and has seen his case dismissed, authorities said.
Meanwhile, police documents unsealed in the case provide new details of the investigation into the actions of Mark Christensen, whose assault case was placed on file for one year starting in winter 2012: If he avoided committing any new crimes, the charge would be dropped.
The former principal, a New London resident, has met those conditions.
“The case is closed,” Newport Police Chief Jim Burroughs said. “The goal of any arrest is to hold a person accountable for their actions and see their actions aren’t repeated. Certainly, he was held accountable for his actions. ... We gained compliance through this court action.”
In a statement, Christensen said the actions that led to the alleged assault, which occurred weeks after he began his first year as principal at the school, had been misinterpreted. He was charged with simple assault for allegedly shaking a 16-year-old female student in front of two teachers with enough force that she almost knocked over a coffee cup.
“My interaction with the student at Newport was intended to be an enthusiastic and positive gesture,” Christensen said in a prepared statement. “It is unfortunate that it was taken out of context. I have moved on and I wish the best for the community of Newport.”
Christensen declined further comment. His educator’s license is still active, the New Hampshire Department of Education said, though it is not clear where Christensen is working. He declined to offer that information to the Valley News.
His attorney, Tom Colantuono of Concord, declined to comment.
The mother of the student involved did not respond to a message seeking comment. As a general practice, the Valley News does not identify underage victims of alleged crimes.
Meanwhile, Newport police records provide more insight into the events of Sept. 15, 2011.
The 16-year-old student, along with another student and teachers Sarah Fischer and Heather Downey, met in a classroom in the morning to discuss producing a television segment when Christensen allegedly grabbed her by back of her shoulder and jerked her head back and forth, nearly smacking it into her coffee cup.
Teacher Sarah Fisher told police that she was concerned by the incident.
“We were sitting at a group of desks in a classroom,” Fischer said in a written statement. “Dr. Christensen stood up to leave, but was still speaking and started to walk to the door of the classroom we were in. As he passed behind the desk (she) was sitting at, he stopped behind her, put his hand on the back of her neck and pushed her head forward several times. (The student) has been doing some school work while we were talking and was drinking an iced coffee. When the principal pushed her head forward, her face hit the straw of her coffee and nearly knocked it over. The principal left the room and (the student) gave me a confused look. She said, ‘That was weird.’ I replied that it was.”
The student who witnessed the encounter told police in a written statement that she said to the alleged victim, “If that was me, I would have turned around and slapped him,” according to police records.
“It bothered me seeing him do that because like I said, she look (sic) very uncomfortable and kind of nervous. I don’t think a male principle (sic) should be touching a female nor male student in this way,” the student witness continued in her statement.
Newport police declined to release the records last year, saying doing so could prejudice the case against Christensen if the charges against him were ever prosecuted. With the case recently dismissed, Chief Jim Burroughs released the documents to the Valley News.
In an interview, Burroughs said that Christensen’s lack of a prior record was a key factor in police offering to place his charge on file, instead of taking the case to trial or entering into a plea deal requiring him to plead guilty.
During the investigation, Newport police executed a search warrant in the SAU Office, Burroughs said.
“It was a very unfortunate situation,” Burroughs said. “Anytime there’s information that can support a criminal investigation, we go get that information, regardless of where it’s going to be. His position and role with the town did not change how we did this investigation.”
Superintendent Earl Sussman, who took office after Christensen departed, declined to comment on the investigation, saying the school was moving forward.
“It’s been the birth of new beginnings,” he said. “There is no connection with the past. We are looking to the future. This is the first call I have received relating to anything about it.”
Despite the inquiry, Burroughs said his department maintains a strong relationship with the school.
“We have a very good working relationship between the town, Newport Police Department and the school district,” Burroughs said. “You would have thought there would be hostility there, but that wasn’t the case.”
Mark Davis can be reached at email@example.com or 603-727-3304.