Is the Dartmouth Shooter Getting Special Treatment?

Around 11:30 PM on November 2, 2018, shortly after the 9:45 PM shooting at 1 School Street, Lebanon Police detained Gage Young and 17-year-old Hector Correa, both of Lebanon NH, in a black Ford Fusion hatchback following a pursuit northward on Route 10. The pursuit ended around 60 Oak Ridge Road, West Lebanon NH, which is a few houses away from the Gage Young’s parents’ house. Both suspects also allegedly fired shots near Dartmouth Printing on Lyme Road, Hanover, and at Estabrook Circle and Boston Lot, Lebanon.

In the immediate aftermath of the shooting, some have questioned why the Hanover Police Department has only charged the alleged shooter, Gage Young, with second degree assault. The Dartmouth Review has received information from a wide variety of sources confirming that Gage Young is the son of retired Lebanon Police Sergeant David A. Young, a fact that was also reported by Valley News. Sgt. Young is deeply connected in both the law enforcement and prosecutorial communities in the Upper Valley.

At a press conference held on Saturday afternoon shortly following the formal arrest of Young by Hanover Police at 2:47 PM, Hanover Police chief Charles B. Dennis said that Young had been charged only with Second Degree Assault under RSA 631:2 of the New Hampshire Criminal Code, which is a Class B felony. The statute, titled “Second Degree Assault,” refers to the suspect “recklessly caus[ing] bodily injury to another by means of a deadly weapon; or recklessly caus[ing] bodily injury to another under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life.”

However, Hanover Police chief Charles B. Dennis reiterated at the press conference that while the shooting was an isolated incident, Young shot a Taurus 9mm handgun out of the window of a car, which was being driven by Correa.

As Valley News reported, one of the affidavits quotes Correa stating, “Young said he was just going to scare the group and he shot once,” making it seem likely that the firearm was discharged purposively at them. If that truly did occur, the crimes committed by Gage Young may qualify with the First Degree Assault under RSA 631:1 of the New Hampshire Criminal Code.  This statute pertains to a suspect “purposely or knowingly caus[ing] bodily injury to another by means of a deadly weapon.” Local criminal lawyer Jonathan Cohen of Cohen & Winters noted that, “intent will be one important determining factor when it comes to which charges to prosecute. There are several however.”

On top of this, other actions taken by both Gage Young and Hector Correa may warrant additional criminal charges under the New Hampshire Criminal Code. For starters, Young notably fired several shots before being taken in by Lebanon Police Department. These actions resemble the wording laid out within the Unauthorized Use of Firearms statute under RSA 644:13 of the New Hampshire Criminal Code. According to this statute,  “A person is guilty of a violation if, within the compact part of a town or city, such person fires or discharges any… gun… except by written permission of the chief of police or governing body”.

The State of New Hampshire Department of Justice gave prosecutors guidelines for “enhancing” the sentences of alleged criminals. Among these was the suggestion that crimes where the “deadly weapon” was a firearm be prosecuted under RSA 651:2, and that all crimes where there existed “offense against law enforcement officer[s]” be tried under RSA 651:6, both statutes wherein the suggested sentence is longer than otherwise.

According to a press release issued by Lebanon Police Department chief Richard D. Mello on Nov. 3, when Sgt. Rich Norris spotted the suspects’ vehicle, which was “consistent with the description of a possible suspect vehicle” inside the Boston Lot Lake parking lot, he tried to investigate. In response, the duo attempted to avoid Sgt. Norris, resulting in a short police chase before the suspects crashed on Oak Ridge Road off Route 10. Furthermore, the Valley News reports that Young “attempted to discard the pistol after the vehicle had crashed,” according to Lebanon police.

Considering the harm that this pair caused to a college student, it would be reasonable to expect that the police would bring down the full force of the law on the two alleged criminals. In Young’s case, one must ask whether he is being under-charged. Mr. Cohen emphasized that while additional charges may be appropriate based upon the facts of the case, prosecutors are reserved a “tremendous amount of prosecutorial discretion” when it comes to deciding which charges can be proved beyond a reasonable doubt. Mr. Cohen also noted that further investigation may lead the prosecutor to pursue additional charges based upon newly acquired facts.

The suspect’s father, Sgt. David A. Young, is a former Law Enforcement Specialist and Sergeant of the United States Air Force. He served during the first Gulf War and received an honorable discharge shortly after on request. In 1992, after graduating from the 97th NH Police Academy, he joined the City of Claremont Police Department, NH, as a Patrol Officer and Detective. He moved to the Lebanon Police Department (NH) in 1998, where he was a Corporal and then a Detective Division Supervisor. He finally retired in June 2016 as a Sergeant in the Uniform Patrol Division.

An extensive search of Sgt. Young’s professional profiles show deep-seated connections and interactions with both law enforcement and prosecutorial authorities across New Hampshire. During his 24-year-long police career, Sgt. Young focused extensively on investigations and often worked closely with prosecutors in cases that went all the way up to the New Hampshire Supreme Court.

He was also extensively involved with the local police association, serving as its Vice President, and with the New Hampshire Police Association (NHPA). From June 2012 through June 2013, he served as the President of the NHPA, following which he was appointed as one of the Association’s directors. Prior to that, Sgt. Young had been a member of the Legislature Board to the NHPA starting 2005, and the following year he was elected to a seat on their Executive Board and later the Board of Directors, which he continued to serve on until his retirement in 2016. In 2008, he was also appointed the NHPA’s Sergeant-At-Arms. In the Fall of 2016, shortly after his retirement from both the NHPA and Lebanon Police Department, his daughter was awarded the NHPA scholarship in a year in which they awarded 25 instead of the usual 10 scholarships.

The prosecutor for Grafton County, Lara Joan Saffo, has been in office since at least 2010, and so may have worked with Sgt. Young given his distinguished career as an officer of the law. Since the Grafton County Attorney’s Office, which Saffo leads, is prosecuting Young, her relationship with his father is certainly relevant to the case and to the people of Grafton County.

Lebanon Police Department charged shooter Gage Young with “reckless conduct” and “falsifying physical evidence,” in addition to the charges from the Hanover Police, to which Young has pleaded “Not Guilty.”. Sgt. Richard Norris, who served for years with Sgt. Young, was the arresting officer. The earliest mention of Norris as a Sergeant at the Lebanon Police Department we found is from April 2015, which overlaps with Sgt. Young’s tenure by at least 15 months. He was a member of the same division as Sgt. Young — the Patrol Bureau. In a small department like Lebanon Police Department, which has only four Sergeants, it is almost certain that the two officers worked with each other in the past and knew each other well. Sgt. Norris has also worked extensively with the Hanover Police Department in the past, as recently as March 2018, on a case involving an online shooting threat directed at Hanover High School.

Gage Young, the son of Sgt. Young, grew up in Lebanon, New Hampshire, and attended Lebanon High School, where he played basketball as a senior as a forward. After graduating, Young worked in the town of Hanover, in close proximity to the location of the shooting, for a significant amount of time. Hector Correa, the 17-year-old Lebanon High School student who was driving the car at the time of the incident, was arrested by Lebanon Police Department at the end of the chase along with Young. However, he was only charged by Lebanon Police Department with “disobeying a police officer,” a misdemeanor, and was “summoned to appear in Lebanon Circuit Court” on December 17.

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Hanover Police Department confirmed that Correa was driving at the time that Young allegedly fired 4–6 shots near Rhonda Dowling’s house near Fountain St. in Lebanon.  By Correa’s own admission, he was shooting and driving at the same time; the only difference being that he did not injure anybody. Lebanon Police Department’s dispatch records show that Rhonda Dowling called 911 about shots being fired in the vicinity of her house, which resulted in Lebanon Police Department attempting to stop and search the car in which Correa was driving with Young.

Correa’s speeding away from the police seem to embody the wording laid out in Hindering Apprehension or Prosecution under 642:3 of the New Hampshire Criminal Code. Under this statute, a person is guilty of an offense if: “with a purpose to hinder, prevent or delay the discovery, apprehension, prosecution, conviction or punishment of another for the commission of a crime, he provides such person … transportation for avoiding discovery or apprehension.”

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When contacted for comment, Hanover Police Department chief Charles Dennis declined, citing the ongoing nature of the investigation. Lebanon Police Department promised to return our request for comment, but at the time of publication we have not heard from them.

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Why was Young not charged with first degree assault nor any of the sentence-enhancing charges that can be used in a firearm related case? Why was Correa not charged with additional crimes? Is it related to Sgt. Young’s deep connections in the law enforcement and prosecutorial communities in the Upper Valley? Will related individuals who know Sgt. Young well recuse themselves from his son’s case?

These questions we aim to raise with this article are questions of accountability. At the end of the day, it is imperative that Dartmouth is safe from criminal violence of any kind. While we respect our police departments and the sacrifices they regularly make to keep us safe, it is also important to fulfill our civic duty and our responsibilities as members of the journalistic fourth estate to ensure our institutions are wholly uncorrupted.

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Jonathan Cohen is a practicing trial attorney based out of Concord, NH, and a former New Hampshire Public Defender. He previously taught at the Law School at Franklin Pierce University. His firm, Cohen & Winters, can be found here: www.cohenwinters.com

This article was written by the staff of The Dartmouth Review, but represents only the knowledge and views of those staff members who contributed to its creation. Not all staff members concur with this article.