Law enforcement investigating vandalism targeting NHPR reporters’ homes

Editor’s Note: In accordance with company policy regarding reporting on NHPR or its personnel, this story was independently reported and edited by reporters who are not employed by NHPR. NHPR staff provided no editorial input.

The Middlesex County District Attorney and police in four cities are investigating multiple incidents of vandalism at the homes of two New Hampshire Public Radio reporters, including graffiti that appeared to threaten further attacks.

On Thursday, the Middlesex County prosecutor released this surveillance photo of a man throwing a brick at a reporter’s house in Melrose, Mass. (Courtesy of the Middlesex County Attorney’s Office)

A reporter’s current and former homes in Melrose, Mass., and Hampstead, NH, were vandalized early Saturday morning, May 21, police said. In Melrose, one person spray painted the words “Just the Beginning!” in red on the house, threw a brick through a window and was seen running away.

Earlier in the morning in Hampstead, a vandal spray-painted an obscenity on the garage door and threw a brick at the house, police said.

According to police.

Middlesex County District Attorney Marian Ryan told a news conference on Thursday that investigators were looking into the recent work of the journalist whose home was vandalized.

“Incidents of vandalism would be concerning in themselves. If it is determined that this motive we are looking at is in fact the reason for these attacks, whether it is either retaliation for work she has done or intimidation around work she may be considering , that obviously involves some First Amendment concerns, and is obviously much more disturbing,” Ryan said.

Ryan released surveillance video of a man throwing a brick at Melrose’s home on Lynn Fells Parkway. Police described the suspect as a slender white male, about 5ft 10in tall, wearing a light blue hooded raincoat, khaki pants, black sneakers and a blue-green backpack. Video shows the suspect fleeing past several people towards Lincoln Street.

Anyone with information about the incident is asked to call Melrose Police at 781-665-1212.

After the first incidents in April, Concord deputy chief John Thomas said investigators had leads on potential suspects, whom he declined to identify. Hanover and Hampstead police declined to discuss details of their investigations.

“We are aware of the possible motives for the criminal mischief, but have not determined who is responsible or what the motive is,” Hampstead Deputy Chief Robert Kelley said.

The vandal(s) could face misdemeanor charges of criminal mischief in New Hampshire or felony charges of malicious damage to property in Massachusetts, police said. If multiple people were involved, they could be charged with conspiracy to commit criminal mischief, a felony, or criminal liability for the conduct of others.

The New Hampshire Attorney General did not respond to requests for comment. The FBI also declined to comment.

The vandalism targeted the current or former homes of NHPR news director Dan Barrick and journalist Lauren Cholejian. Chooljian was previously a co-host of “Stranglehold,” a podcast about the New Hampshire presidential primary, and since December 2020 has been reporting issues at Granite Recovery Centers, one of the largest substance abuse disorder treatment providers. of State.

His two most recent articles, published in March, described allegations of sexual misconduct against Eric Spofford, the former CEO of Granite Recovery Centers. The first article quotes a Spofford attorney denying the allegations and threatening legal action against NHPR if the article were published.

“I would definitely think [Spofford] may be questioned by the authorities. He may have information that could support a case. It would be too soon to say he would be a person of interest,” Melrose Police Chief Michael Lyle said Tuesday. “After the article appeared, all these problems started for the journalist or the news agency. At some point [investigators] can have a conversation with him.”

In a statement provided by his lawyers, Spofford denied any role in the vandalism and alleged that NHPR’s coverage of the incidents was part of a “coordinated attack” to dissuade him from filing a libel suit for the previous article. Choljian. He suggested that one of the other people Cholejian spoke to for this article might be behind the vandalism.

“Not only was I totally uninvolved in these incidents of vandalism, but I also don’t support or condone them. I also don’t need to vandalize anyone’s property. I have the truth on my side and I will justify myself by legal means,” Spofford said. “I have no reason to vandalize a reporter’s property months after an article has been written about me, when I’m already spending significant resources to litigate these defamation claims.”

“Many recovering people have credited me with saving their lives,” he continued. “Perhaps one of them felt compelled to do these acts in a misguided attempt to defend me. I would never tolerate that, but I have no control over what the others do.”

Chooljian and Barrick confirmed details of the vandalism incidents, but declined to comment further. NHPR President and CEO Jim Schachter declined to discuss possible suspects.

“This reporting by Lauren and our newsroom is exceptional reporting that no one will stop our newsroom from continuing to carry on, wherever that takes them,” he said. Schachter said the station is “supporting the victims of these gross and senseless attacks in every way possible.”

This story is a production of the New England News Collaborative. It was originally released by New Hampshire Public Radio.