Prosecutor Suspended Soon After Controversial Plea in Hillsborough County

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Embattled Hillsborough County Attorney Michael Conlon

By NANCY WEST, InDepthNH.org

MANCHESTER – The prosecutor who negotiated the recent plea deal for the father of a toddler who died from a cocaine overdose that infuriated Manchester police was suspended with pay soon after, according to Hillsborough County Attorney Michael Conlon.

Conlon said members of the Attorney General’s Office, including Deputy Attorney General Jane Young, were aware that Conlon had suspended Assistant County Attorney Don Topham because Conlon had the same concerns they and Manchester police had over the communication breakdown.

“It’s a personnel issue,” Conlon said. “I can say there was a breakdown in communication in that case that upset the Manchester police and me as well. I sympathize and agree”  it should have been communicated, Conlon said, adding Topham was suspended with pay the next business day.

There is an ongoing investigation to determine if Topham should be fired, he said.

Young said she cannot discuss personnel matters when asked about Conlon’s comments. “That’s not our role,” Young said.

When asked why she continues to criticize Conlon if he suspended Topham, she mentioned the other two cases that Conlon should have known about, but didn’t.

“How many times does this have to happen? He was also unaware of the Ahern case and the Seace case. The buck stops with him,” Young said.

Attorney General Gordon MacDonald had written a letter to Conlon in March criticizing a secret agreement his office made to dismiss stalking charges against a former Franklin police prosecutor.

The Seace case referred to the July 23 beating death of Jennifer Burpee, 45, in Manchester in which Damien Seace was charged. He had previously been charged with domestic violence crimes against Burpee, but Conlon’s office dropped them when the victim recanted.

The latest criticism of Conlon came in the recent plea bargain of Joshua Garvey, the father of 20-month-old Tayden Garvey who died of a cocaine overdose in May 2018.

According to a Sept. 6 report in the Union Leader, Manchester police were upset when Assistant Hillsborough County Attorney Don Topham agreed to a plea deal in which Garvey received a five-year prison sentence and two years of drug treatment.

Young said she was also aware of Topham’s concerns about presentations about strangulation to the grand juries in Hillsborough County.

“Yes, I am aware because I was copied on the email,” Young said.

Young said she hasn’t seen the presentations, but said it is legal to provide information to grand juries about the law.

“It’s not unusual to inform grand jurors and jurors about the law,” Young said.

Topham had sent an email detailing his concerns about the presentations to Superior Court Chief Justice Tina Nadeau, Young, and Randy Hawkes of the Public Defender’s Office under the heading “Possible Grand Jury Irregularities,” according to a copy obtained by InDepthNH.org.

Topham said in the email he learned in April that Hillsborough County investigator Mark Putney had been giving presentations  on strangulation to the grand jurors that had been prepared by Victim Witness Advocate Merril Beauchamp “to ‘educate’ Grand Jurors after previous Grand Juries had returned No True Bills on a number of Strangulation Indictments.”

“I immediately conferred with other senior Prosecutors who agreed with me that this was, at best, improper, and possibly illegal as it could violate the Grand Jury’s impartiality,” Topham wrote.

Conlon said it was a non-issue because he had conferred with the Attorney General’s Office and been told it was not improper.

On Wednesday, Young held a news conference to rebuff allegations that politics is motivating Attorney General Gordon MacDonald’s decision to appoint former Manchester Police Chief David Mara to take over the prosecutorial work of Hillsborough County.

Young said the circumstances in the Hillsborough County Attorney’s Office are “dire.”

Conlon, who continues as the elected county attorney, said he found it “interesting” that the takeover occurred after the Manchester police, fire chief and Mayor Joyce Craig had criticized the state’s Doorway drug treatment program.

“We really need to be working together,” Conlon said to solve the problems in the office. ” When they attack me, it’s not helpful.”

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