Former Hanover Police Chief Nick Giaccone Has Died

  • Hanover Police Chief Nick Giaccone in his office in Hanover, N.H., on Dec. 3, 2010. (Valley News - Jason Johns) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Lou's waitress Becky Schneider says hello to former Hanover Police Chief Nick Giaccone during her shift at the restaurant in Hanover, N.H., on Sept. 18, 2014. Schneider said she has known Giaccone since he was a beat cop. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Nick Giaccone in his office in Hanover, N.H., on June 30, 1994, after becoming the town's newly-appointed Chief of Police. Giaccone served 19 years as chief and had more than 40 years with the department. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Friday, December 22, 2017

Hanover — Former Hanover Police Chief Nick Giaccone, whose hard-charging approach to law enforcement drew both supporters and detractors, died early Friday morning after declining to be treated for a blood infection.

Giaccone, who was paralyzed during his final years by the combination of a stroke and an aneurysm, dedicated 40 years of his life to battling criminal behaviors that ranged from speeding to underage drinking to murder.

He and Caren Giaccone, his former wife, had two children together, Brian and Erin. Caren remained close to her former husband and visited him regularly at Genesis Health Care in Lebanon.

“We stayed close,” she said. “We did a lot of talking.”

She was among those at his bedside when he died shortly after midnight on Friday morning. Thursday was his 70th birthday.

Ever since he rose to prominence in the Upper Valley, Giaccone was known for having a crusty exterior, a wicked sense of humor and a soft spot, said Town Manager Julia Griffin, who worked with Giaccone for nearly 20 years and also was with him the night he died.

“People would tend to think of him as your typical sort of police chief, but he was actually a total mush. He was always sort of helping waifs and strays,” Griffin said on Friday.

Gr iffin said that she always knew that, on a snowy day, Giaccone would be late to work because he never passed a stranded motorist without stopping to offer help.

“He wasn’t in uniform. He couldn’t not be there to help people,” she said. “These are the things you never hear about. The little things he’s doing. The family he’s helping quietly, because he happens to know there’s a domestic violence in that home.”

Born in 1947, Giaccone graduated from a Catholic high school in his hometown, Shrewsbury, N.J., and met Caren while vacationing in Florida. In the early 1970s, he came to the Upper Valley, working at a convenience store owned by her family, and attending Canaan College, a tiny New Hampshire institution. Giaccone first came into contact with local police officers while delivering beer kegs to Dartmouth College fraternities, and in 1973, he became a patrol officer. Caren Giaccone said the two used to joke that the only time he ever sent her flowers was when he passed the police officer exam.

“He loved what he did,” she said.

Giaccone was promoted to detective in 1977 and detective sergeant in 1987, in which capacity he brought Haile Selassie Girmay to justice for using an ax to murder his fiancee and her roommate, who were both graduate students at Dartmouth. Enfield Police Chief Dick Crate said that neighboring communities came to rely upon Giaccone’s deep network of contacts and knowledge to help solve the region’s crimes.

“He knew all the players — good and bad — in the Upper Valley. He was dialed in everywhere,” Crate said. Crate said that, when Giaccone was a detective sergeant, Crate called him for help when it was discovered that vandals had broken gravestones in an Enfield cemetery. Rather than offer advice over the phone, Giaccone came in person, helped to dust for fingerprints, and quickly helped to identify the two juveniles responsible.

Giaccone was promoted again, to chief, in July 1994, where he oversaw the budding law enforcement career of Mike Evans, who is currently the Thetford police chief.

“He was always available,” Evans remembered on Friday. “At the end of the day, he was always on call. ... There are few guys that have a 40-year run that are still doing it. It’s pretty rare these days.”

Throughout his career, Giaccone became increasingly linked with law enforcement efforts to rein in Dartmouth College students whose exuberance crossed the line into criminal, and dangerous, behavior.

“He wasn’t opposed to mixing things up,” Evans said. “Sometimes that meant he wasn’t really popular with the Dartmouth student body, but he didn’t really care what people thought. He thought he had a job to do, he had a police department to run, and he went about doing that the best way he thought.”

In 1994, shortly after being named chief, Giaccone was one of the visible early enforcers of a state law criminalizing the “internal possession” of alcohol, which allowed for the arrest of underage drinkers even if they had not been caught actually drinking alcohol or having it in their possession.

In the late ’90s, Giaccone hired Al Patterson, one of the only African-American police officers in the Upper Valley and a fellow Harley Davidson motorcycle enthusiast.

“He gave me opportunities that others wouldn’t have,” said Patterson, who visited Giaccone on Thursday. “He truly cared about his officers. ... He didn’t pull any punches with me just because we rode bikes together.”

All along, Giaccone continued to oversee the small and quiet duties of law enforcement; he assisted the secret service in sweeping for bombs and other hazards when presidential candidates came to speak, and sent letters to residents asking them to refrain from speeding through school zones during the hours when young children were arriving and leaving. He investigated and laid rest to rumors that a WWI cannon had been stolen from the Vermont Veterans Home in Bennington and buried beneath Dartmouth’s Memorial Stadium.

Giaccone came to the attention of the nation in 2001, when Dartmouth professors Half and Susanne Zantop were stabbed to death in their home in Etna. Giaccone oversaw the crime scene, and helped procure evidence that led to the successful convictions and sentencing of teens Robert Tulloch and James Parker in 2002.

During the last several years of his career, Giaccone’s focus on Dartmouth’s drinking culture became more prominent, fueled by the frequent examples of irresponsible and dangerous drinking. In early 2005, a drunken freshman threw himself out of a fraternity house window, and needed to be taken to the hospital. In late 2005, another Dartmouth student was lost while trying to swim the Connecticut River naked, and needed to be taken to the morgue. Things heated up in 2010, when 15 students were hospitalized for drinking in the span of two months.

That year, Giaccone brought felony charges against a fraternity after a teen from an out-of-state high school was rushed to the hospital for alcohol poisoning, and also announced that he would begin a sting operation against fraternities, using undercover informants to bring underage drinkers to justice.

The approach brought a wave of criticism from the fraternities.

“Seriously dude youre [sic] up against a bunch of drunk teenagers not the mafia,” read one typical comment on a message board.

Giaccone backed off his plans to infiltrate the fraternity houses, but he helped spark a series of aggressive steps within the Dartmouth community to curb underage drinking. Former Dartmouth President Jim Kim formed the Student and Presidential Committee for 
Alcohol Harm Reduction and began requiring fraternities to check partygoers for ID.

Griffin said that, behind the tough-guy image, Giaccone was taking a more holistic approach to addressing the needs of underage drinkers.

“I know he spent a lot of time counseling students and their families. Parents would often come to him because they were worried about their students,” she said. “Over the years, he shared with me lots of emails from grateful parents saying ‘thank you so much for helping me to figure this out.’”

One morning, Griffin said, Giaccone showed up at a Rotary Club pancake breakfast with six students from an out-of-town college who had spent the night locked up for intoxication.

“The breakfast was $5 apiece. He bought blueberry pancakes for all the kids, and said, ‘we ought to give them a meal before we put them back on the road.’ They didn’t know what to think,” Griffin said.

Griffin said she got to know Giaccone as a church supper hound — he would drive throughout the Twin States, ferreting out the best church suppers he could find with a group of like-minded rovers.

One day in May 2010, Giaccone was, as usual, on call, when someone called 911 to report that one of the town custodians, Neal Augustyn, was on the ground and unresponsive. Giaccone and Patterson were the first to arrive, and Giaccone dropped to his knees to administer CPR, while yelling to Patterson to grab the defibrillator. After the shock, a weak pulse returned and Augustyn began breathing shallowly and blinking his eyes. He lived for years afterward.

“Neal and Nick became really good friends,” Griffin said. “They had this connection.”

Giaccone continued his pursuit of criminals, and of tougher restrictions on drinking. In 2011, he arrested a graduate student on a charge of manufacturing meth, and in 2012, after a successful sting operation, he arrested a couple for allegedly stealing 22 laptops from the Baker-Berry Library.

2013 was the year Giaccone publicly argued for the preservation of “blue laws” that prohibit the sale of alcohol on Sundays.

It also was the year that he spoke out against a raffle held by the New Hampshire Association of Chiefs of Police in which ticket purchasers stood a chance to win one of several guns, including an AR-15-style assault rifle of the type that had been used the previous month in the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

It was also the year a stroke caused him to lose the use of much of the left half of his body, which forced him to retire. He was 65.

For more than a year, Giaccone aggressively pursued a physical recovery. He could no longer ride his beloved Harley. But he recovered enough to ride a three-wheel motorcycle and was making plans to build a home in Florida when he suffered a setback.

“Two years ago he had an aneurysm in his neck,” Griffin said. “The diagnosis was very challenging. It didn’t present itself in the usual way. By the time they discovered it, he had paralysis. ... He couldn’t feel his legs. Couldn’t walk. Had very limited use of his right arm.”

Though his body was virtually useless, Giaccone’s mind was as sharp as ever. He read the news constantly, and texted messages to friends and family members. But life had gotten much harder. The flow of visitors to his bedside lessened, even as his pain levels grew. When the blood infection threatened his vital organs, he made a decision.

“He was ready to go,” Caren Giaccone said.

Giaccone’s legacy lives on in the law enforcement community, and in the progress made toward encouraging safer behavior within Hanover. It also lives on in the United States’ congressional record, thanks to a tribute entered by U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte at the time of his retirement in November 2013.

“Chief Giaccone has worked tirelessly with community leaders, New Hampshire’s Legislature, and other public officials, to better the administration of justice and promote public safety,” she said. “As Chief Nicholas Giaccone celebrates his retirement, I want to commend him on a job well done.”

Calling hours are from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 28 at the Rand-Wilson Funeral Home in Hanover. The funeral will take place at 11 a.m. on Friday, Dec. 29 at Saint Denis Church in Hanover.

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling can be reached at mhonghet@vnews.com or 603-727-3211. Valley News Staff Writer Jim Kenyon contributed to this report.