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N.H. Attorney General’s Office Forms Civil Rights Unit; AG Finishes Probe of Claremont Incident 

  • New Hampshire Attorney General Gordon MacDonald walks into the hallway to review his notes before the start of a news conference in Concord, N.H., announcing a Governor’s Advisory Council on Diversity and Inclusion and the formation of a new Civil Rights Unit at the New Hampshire Department of Justice on Dec. 14, 2017. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu announces an executive order establishing a Governor’s Advisory Council on Diversity and Inclusion and the formation of a new Civil Rights Unit in Concord, N.H., on Dec. 14, 2017. With him are Assistant Attorney General Elizabeth Lahey, left, Attorney General Gordon MacDonald and New Hampshire NAACP State Coordinator Rogers Johnson. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu greets Gloria Timmons, the President of the Greater Nashua Area Branch NAACP, on Dec. 14, 2017, at the New Hampshire State House in Concord, N.H. With them is New Hampshire NAACP State Coordinator Rogers Johnson. Sununu had just announced a Governor’s Advisory Council on Diversity and Inclusion, and the formation of a new Civil Rights Unit at the New Hampshire Department of Justice. (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
Thursday, December 14, 2017

Concord — New Hampshire Attorney General Gordon MacDonald said his office plans to release a “detailed report” on a racially charged incident in Claremont and that prosecutors will be as transparent as possible in the case, which involved an 8-year-old biracial boy who wound up hanging with a rope around his neck earlier this year after joining some older children as they played in a backyard.

He made his comments on Thursday beside Gov. Chris Sununu as they announced the creation of a new civil rights unit within the state Attorney General’s Office that will lead enforcement of the state’s anti-discrimination and civil rights laws, educate the public about rights and responsibilities under those laws, provide resources regarding compliance and develop training programs for state and local officials, they said.

“Within my department, the Department of Justice, there is an opportunity to improve our very important role with respect to ensuring our civil rights of our residents and our visitors,” MacDonald said in the Executive Council chambers at the Statehouse during the announcement on Thursday morning.

New Hampshire is the last state in New England to create a civil rights unit.

Sununu also signed an executive order establishing the Governor’s Advisory Council on Diversity and Inclusion, a group that will work alongside the state Commission for Human Rights, among other entities, to evaluate laws, regulations and policies and recommend ways to combat discrimination and promote diversity and inclusion, the first-term Republican said.

“Today is an important day,” Sununu said. “In New Hampshire, we do pride ourselves on being a leader. The ‘Live Free or Die’ state, not just a few words on a license plate, but an obligation that we take very, very seriously. If we want to live by those words ... we must ensure that New Hampshire is a place where every person, regardless of their background, has an equal and full opportunity to pursue their dreams and make a better life for themselves and their families.”

Rogers Johnson, president of the Seacoast NAACP, has been appointed chairman of the council.

“Make no mistake, this effort that is required to bring the idea of diversity and inclusion across New Hampshire ... will not be simple, but the result will have a profound effect on continued economic growth of our state,” Johnson said. “Furthermore, racial diversity and equity will improve the educational growth of minority and majority students alike, and this action will cause other states to take pause to note what is actually happening here in New Hampshire.”

Both MacDonald and Sununu said there were a number of issues or incidents in New Hampshire that spurred their formation of a civil rights unit and council, including concerns for more than 60 Indonesians who fled religious persecution in their country but faced possible deportation by federal officials.

And MacDonald specifically addressed the Claremont investigation “because of the intense public interest” in the case.

The family of Quincy Chivers, a now 9-year-old biracial boy from Claremont, said this summer that he was taunted with racial epithets by a group of young teenagers and then intentionally pushed off a picnic table with a rope around his neck in the backyard of a home near Barnes Park in August.

His family has characterized the incident as a “lynching” and a “hate crime,” while the parents of a teenager involved called it a “backyard accident.”

The incident prompted hundreds of activists, clergy and concerned residents to gather in the city, and the Claremont Police Department became involved.

The state Attorney General’s Office took over the investigation in late summer, and MacDonald said on Thursday the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the FBI also were involved.

He didn’t have a precise timetable for when the report would be released, but said that although the investigation is complete, the case remains open, so he could not comment in depth now.

“However, as soon as the law permits, our office will be releasing a detailed report of our investigation, the facts that we found and the legal conclusions that are supported by those facts,” MacDonald said. “Of course we will be prepared at that time to respond to questions as the law permits.”

Although state officials are limited in what they can disclose about criminal cases involving juveniles, MacDonald said that, “It is important to be transparent about this matter and we intend to be as transparent as the law will allow us. Looking ahead, the civil rights unit … will continue to ensure that in New Hampshire, equitable treatment of all of our residents and visitors will be the norm and not the exception.”

Sununu also indicated he was intently following the case, saying the attorney general will be able to disclose more information when the case is concluded.

“There are minors involved, as well, which brings up a whole separate level,” Sununu said.

The former president of that NAACP chapter, Fred Ross, attended Thursday’s announcement and applauded the launching of the civil rights unit and diversity and inclusion council.

“I am so proud of what you are doing,” said Ross, a retired high school teacher. “My feeling is this, education is the solution.”

The council will have 18 members, including two members of the public, and it will start its work by traveling the state hosting forums. The council will put together a report for June 1.

Assistant Attorney General Elizabeth Lahey will serve as chief of the civil rights unit.

Under the current, or old model, a person who felt they had been discriminated against because of their age, sex, race, color, marital status, physical or mental disability, religious creed, national origin, or sexual orientation had to hire a private attorney or the state brought enforcement actions against a place or employer.

Now, that person can make a claim directly to the civil rights unit.

“This would be an additional mechanism,” Lahey said.

In addition to enforcing laws and engaging in civil rights outreach, the unit will focus on education about such issues as bias.

“(We) will work with state officials and law enforcement and the council to develop and revise existing training programs to insure they address and promote cultural competence and the identification and elimination of the effects of implicit bias,” Lahey said.

Asked whether minorities are treated differently by police in New Hampshire, Johnson, a former Republican lawmaker who is African-American, said “some” officers do. In certain cases, those officers may not even know they are doing it, he added.

“Our main goal is to eliminate it as much as possible,” he said, something that can be done through education and “conversation.”

Jordan Cuddemi can be reached at jcuddemi@vnews.com or 603-727-3248.