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Law enforcement investigating vandalism targeting homes of NHPR journalists

Editor's note: In keeping with company policy about covering news about NHPR or its staff, this story was independently reported and edited by journalists who are not employed by NHPR. NHPR staff did not provide any editorial input.

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

On Thursday, the Middlesex County District Attorney released this surveillance photo of a man throwing a brick at a reporter's home in Melrose, Mass. (Courtesy Middlesex County District Attorney's Offiice)
On Thursday, the Middlesex County District Attorney released this surveillance photo of a man throwing a brick at a reporter's home in Melrose, Mass. (Courtesy Middlesex County District Attorney's Offiice)

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

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

On April 24, a vandal or vandals had spray-painted the same obscenity in red on the same Hampstead residence, as well as homes in Concord and Hanover, N.H., and threw bricks at each house, breaking windows and causing other damage, according to police.

Middlesex County District Attorney Marian Ryan said during a press conference Thursday that investigators are looking at recent work by the reporter whose house was vandalized.

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

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

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

After the initial incidents in April, Concord Deputy Chief John Thomas said investigators had leads on potential suspects, who he declined to identify. Police in Hanover and Hampstead declined to discuss details of their investigations.

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

The vandal or vandals 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 conduct of another.

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

The vandalism targeted current or former homes of NHPR News Director Dan Barrick and reporter Lauren Chooljian. Chooljian was previously a co-host of “Stranglehold,” a podcast about New Hampshire’s presidential primary, and since December 2020 has been reporting on problems at Granite Recovery Centers, one of the state’s largest providers of substance abuse disorder treatment.

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

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“I would certainly think [Spofford] may be interviewed by the authorities. He may have some information that might support a case. It would be too early to say he would be a person of interest,” Melrose Police Chief Michael Lyle said on Tuesday. “After the article came out, all this trouble started for the reporter or the news organization. At some point [investigators] may have a conversation with him."

In a statement provided by his attorneys, Spofford denied any role in the vandalism and alleged that NHPR’s coverage of the incidents is part of a “coordinated attack” to deter him from filing a defamation claim over Chooljian’s previous article. He suggested that one of the other people Chooljian spoke with for that article could be behind the vandalism.

“Not only was I completely uninvolved with these incidents of vandalism, I also do not support or condone them. I also don’t need to vandalize someone’s property. I have truth on my side and I will vindicate myself through lawful means,” Spofford said. “I have no motive to vandalize a reporter’s property months after an article was written about me, when I am already expending significant resources to litigate these defamation claims.”

“Many people in recovery 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 condone it, but I have no control over what other people 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.

“That reporting by Lauren and our newsroom is outstanding reporting that no one is going to intimidate our newsroom from continuing to pursue, wherever it takes them,” he said. Schachter said the station is “supporting in every way possible the victims of these crude, senseless attacks.”

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

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