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Jim Kenyon: Jails Filled With Too Many Nonviolent Offenders

  • Valley News columnist Jim Kenyon in West Lebanon, N.H., on September 15, 2016. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Geoff Hansen

Published: 1/24/2017 11:37:42 PM
Modified: 1/31/2017 1:59:54 PM

Tom Mauzy began serving a 30-day sentence in the Sullivan County jail last week for disorderly conduct. Keeping Mauzy, who had no previous criminal record, behind bars for a month will cost taxpayers roughly $2,500.

That’s about $100 more than the cost of a student’s tuition for a semester at River Valley Community College in Claremont.

New Hampshire, like many states, would rather spend tax dollars on locking up nonviolent offenders than higher education. But that’s a topic for another day.

This column is about Mauzy, who has been in the news recently, and New Hampshire’s criminal justice system, which is bent on incarcerating as many people as it can.

According to court records, here’s what happened:

In December 2015, a neighbor complained to Sunapee police that Mauzy had repeatedly exposed himself through his bedroom window while she walked to her designated parking space early in the morning at their apartment complex.

The sixth time it happened during an 11-day stretch, the woman used her cellphone’s video camera to document it. The next morning, a male co-worker who joined her in the parking lot also saw Mauzy unclothed through his bedroom window.

On Dec. 18, 2015, the woman took her videotape to the Sunapee police station. The woman said she didn’t know Mauzy, 45, and hadn’t spoken to him about what had occurred.

Sunapee, a wealthy resort community with 3,400 residents, has five full-time police officers, including Chief David Cahill.

The sensible thing — at least in my way of thinking — would have been for police to knock on Mauzy’s apartment door to advise him to start lowering his bedroom blinds.

But proving once again that cops watch too much TV, Sunapee police jumped into overdrive. Sgts. Timothy Puchtler and Neill Cobb set up a stakeout. Hiding in the nearby woods, they waited on three mornings to catch Mauzy in action, so to speak. The stakeout was needed to “obtain the best possible evidence,” Cahill told me.

Except it didn’t produce any evidence at all. “At no time was it observed that Mauzy ever turned on his bedroom light or came to the bedroom window,” Puchtler wrote in his report.

Later, the two officers showed up at Mauzy’s door. He denied “doing anything,” Puchtler wrote. “When asked if he had shades on his bedroom windows, he said yes and he would take care of it.”

End of story?

Nope. Sunapee police arrested Mauzy, which led to a trial on misdemeanor charges in Newport District Court last spring.

“He did nothing more than get dressed for work in his own bedroom,” his attorney, Richard Guerriero, of Keene, argued in court documents.

The prosecution countered that the repetitiveness “renders it less likely the behavior was inadvertent.”

The judge found Mauzy guilty of indecent exposure and lewdness. He received a 12-month suspended sentence.

Mauzy filed an appeal for a jury trial in New Hampshire Superior Court. Since he was in his bedroom — and not in a public place — I’m guessing a jury would have sided with him.

But the stakes were probably too high for Mauzy to take that risk. If he’d lost again in court, he likely would have had to register as a sex offender for at least 10 years. Good luck finding a decent job with that on your record.

Earlier this month, Mauzy accepted a plea deal that erased his conviction. In return, he pleaded no contest to disorderly conduct, which, most importantly, doesn’t require him to register as a sex offender.

A disorderly conduct conviction, particularly for first-time offenders, rarely involves jail time. But Sunapee police, Sullivan County Attorney Marc Hathaway and Deputy County Attorney Justin Hersh, who handled the case, wanted to extract their pound of flesh.

“He should be held accountable for his actions,” Cahill told me.

OK, let’s suppose Mauzy’s behavior was intentional. Should he be incarcerated — or helped with counseling?

Hathaway, who has served as Sullivan County’s elected top prosecutor for 30 years, is a big believer in incarceration as a deterrent. With New Hampshire’s recidivism rate at more than 40 percent, I don’t buy it.

Putting Mauzy behind bars is another notch in prosecutors’ belts. Hathaway, who is always willing to talk even though we disagree on just about everything but the color of the sky, pointed out that the District Court judge had ruled “this was not an accident. It was an intentional act.”

Mauzy’s arrest had already cost him his job as a guidance counselor in the Newport school system. “Many families in this community have benefited from his effort working in public schools,” Guerriero told the judge. “He is a good person.” Some parents also wrote letters of support.

But apparently it didn’t hold much weight with Sullivan Superior Court Judge Brian Tucker. He still sentenced Mauzy to jail. I’m not surprised. Judges often throw the book at people who exercise their constitutional right to a trial — as Mauzy did in District Court — and lose. Trials take time. And that’s something New Hampshire’s courts don’t have an abundance of, largely because of overzealous policing and prosecutors who overcharge to force more people into plea deals.

There’s a decent chance that Mauzy won’t have to serve his entire sentence. With good behavior, he could be out in 20 days, which would drop the cost of his stay to taxpayers to under $2,000, or the cost of three courses at River Valley Community College.

But New Hampshire’s cops, prosecutors and judges don’t look at it that way.

They’re too busy filling up the state’s jails with guys such as Mauzy who have no business being there.




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