Op-ed: Why is Ayotte stonewalling?

By Kathleen Sullivan

April 22, 2024

Republican gubernatorial candidate Kelly Ayotte portrays herself as a strong former attorney general who will keep New Hampshire safe. However, her politically expedient behavior with respect to the recently revealed scandal involving her supporter, Republican state representative Jonathan Stone, renders that claim questionable.

In 2006, Stone was a police officer in Claremont. His chief suspended him for five days when an investigation found his relationship with a 15-year-old girl at Stevens High School was “inappropriate.” According to another internal investigation, Stone then threatened to retaliate by raping the chief’s wife and children, murdering the chief, and carrying out a mass shooting at the police station. More than 12 officers, including the current Sullivan County Sheriff, reported hearing the threats.

The Claremont Police Department terminated Stone and reported the matter to the New Hampshire Police Standards and Training Council (PSTC), which is responsible for certifying police officers. Although the council had the obligation to revoke the certification of an officer found to lack “moral character,” it did nothing about Stone.

I will be circling back to that.

Stone appealed his termination and as a result of a mediation, Stone and Claremont entered into a confidential agreement changing his personnel records. Stone was no longer “terminated”; he had merely resigned. In addition, the investigatory reports were sealed. Neither the city nor the PSTC ever released any information to the public about the threats, or the investigation, or the results of the investigation, or Stone’s termination. He opened a gun store and entered local politics, eventually being elected to the New Hampshire House of Representatives.

However, a tenacious reporter, Damien Fisher, filed a Right-to-Know request, beginning a years-long effort by Stone to block the release of any information about the matter. This year, the state Supreme Court ruled against Stone.

What, you may ask, does this have to do with Kelly Ayotte? It turns out, a lot.

Stone has endorsed Ayotte. Ayotte campaigned at his gun store, posting her picture with Stone, boasting that he had put her sign up outside the gun store.

Now, to be fair, at the time of the post, the court had not ordered the public release of the documents. But here’s the thing (or one of the things): Even after the court ordered the release of the Claremont investigatory documents, making public the extent of Stone’s wrongdoing, including the threats of rape and murder, Ayotte did not disavow Stone’s endorsement. She did not pull down the picture.

She acts as if posing at a gun store with a person who threatened a mass shooting is not newsworthy. Maybe that is because Stone is a big deal in New Hampshire Trump World, serving as one of his state regional directors. Ayotte has jumped through hoops to win the support of Trump and the MAGA faithful; disavowing Stone might hurt that effort.

You might say, OK, maybe she should not put political expediency ahead of right and wrong, but it was a long time ago, it does not really have anything to do with Ayotte and her pledge to keep the public safe.

Well, here is where we circle back to the other thing: the referral to the New Hampshire Police Standards and Training Council, which did nothing to penalize Stone. The council did nothing to alert the Claremont public to the presence of someone described by fellow officers as “crazy” and for whom “stability is a day to day thing.” They never revoked Stone’s police certification, even though an administrative rule required revocation of certification when an officer showed lack of moral character. That would have at least alerted the Claremont community that something wrong had happened involving Stone, even if the details were kept quiet as a “personnel matter.”

No one seemed to think that it was a matter of safety and security to alert the public of threats to shoot up the police station. Instead, Stone was allowed to eventually surrender his certification quietly. And who was a member of the Police Standards and Training Council at the time? Attorney General Kelly Ayotte.

Stone’s endorsement remains on her website. Moreover, Ayotte refuses to answer press inquiries regarding the council’s failure to act, or any role she played in that decision, which begs another question: Why is she stonewalling?

This op-ed originally ran in the New Hampshire Union Leader.

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