Local man indicted in rape of mentally disabled woman

A Haverhill man with a history of sexual abuse has been indicted on charges of rape and indecent sexual assault of a mentally disabled woman.

Joseph Gagnon, 50, whose last known address was 177 Liberty St., Haverhill, was indicted by the Essex County grand jury on charges of rape, indecent assault and battery and permitting the abuse of a disabled person, according to court papers released last week.

He is now scheduled for arraignment on June 19 in Salem Superior Court, where the case will now be moved. The penalties Gagnon faces in superior court, if convicted, could be more severe.

Police previously said Gagnon raped the woman, who is in her 30s, while was in the care of him and his now-estranged wife. The couple received money monthly through MassHealth to take care of the woman in their home.

It's unclear how long Gagnon was involved in the woman's care. However, in March 2010 he pleaded guilty to an assault and battery charge associated with an inappropriate touching case in Groveland.

The woman was placed in the home by an adult foster care agency. As a child, she was removed from her biological family's home due to neglect and abuse, police said.

As an adult, the woman suffers from mental illness, including post-traumatic stress disorder, according to police.

Police said Gagnon coerced the victim into sexual encounters by telling her he loved her and hated his wife. And he threatened to have the woman, whom he called "his girl," removed from his home if she told anyone what they were doing, police said.

At his March arraignment in Haverhill District Court, bail was set at $5,000 which was later posted.

Gagnon was ordered to have no contact with the woman, to wear a GPS tracking bracelet, stay out of the city of Haverhill and to surrender his passport. His estranged wife also obtained a restraining order against him.

In 2009, Gagnon was charged with inappropriately touching a teenage girl at a Groveland tanning salon. According to court reports, he asked the girl to remove her shirt so he could apply lotion to her back and on another occasion, he asked her to remove her shirt while he removed his own clothing, touched himself and touched the girl inappropriately.

In that case, under a plea agreement approved by a judge, Gagnon pleaded guilty to assault and battery and received a one-year jail sentence that was suspended by 18 months.

As a condition of probation, Gagnon was ordered to stay away from the victim.

Staff reporter Julie Manganis contributed to this story.

— Jill Harmacinski


Judge eases bail conditions for teen accused of rape

A judge has eased conditions of release for John S. Michitson of Haverhill to allow him to attend Haverhill High School graduation rehearsals and commencement exercises. Although he remains under house arrest, the teen will also be allowed to attend a college orientation under the supervision of his parents.

Michitson, who is accused of sexual assault, appeared in Lawrence Juvenile Court last week for a scheduled continuation of his pretrial hearing.

According to the Essex district attorney's office, Essex County Juvenile Court Judge Jose Sanchez allowed a motion by Michitson's defense lawyer requesting that his house arrest be lifted to allow him to participate in graduation rehearsals and ceremony and to attend a college orientation under the supervision of his parents.

The commonwealth objected to the motion, according to Carrie Kimball Monahan, a spokeswoman for Essex County District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett. She said the case was continued to July 10.

Michitson is the son of Haverhill City Council President John Michitson.

Haverhill High School's graduation is scheduled for June 2 at 6 p.m. at Trinity Stadium.

When asked if he was making any special arrangements for graduation in light of young Michitson's legal situation, School Superintendent James Scully said he would not comment on the specifics of any student in the school system.

"School Department employees cannot comment on the personal matters of any child's life," Scully said. "If a court has made such a ruling, any young man or woman would be treated like any other young man or woman."

This is the second time Sanchez has allowed exceptions to young Michitson's house arrest rules.

The first time was at a pretrial hearing on March 27 when Sanchez agreed to modify the pretrial conditions of release for the Haverhill teen to make it possible him to attend two college orientations out of state in April.

At that hearing, Sanchez said that while the younger Michitson must continue to abide by strict conditions of release that were previously ordered, including GPS monitoring, he can attend the orientations just as long as he is with a parent at all times.

Sanchez said he was approving the request because Michitson is presumed innocent until proven guilty and that he has so far followed all conditions of his pretrial probation.

Michitson's defense lawyer, William Korman of Boston, told the judge that Michitson's father was to accompany his son to the orientations.

Michitson was arraigned Feb. 6 in Essex County Juvenile Court in Lawrence following his indictment by an Essex County grand jury on Dec. 1 on three counts of rape and one count of strangulation or suffocation.

— Mike LaBella


City offers free trees to residents

If you live in the inner city and would like a free tree planted in your yard, the city can help make that happen through a state-funded program called "Greening the Gateway Cities."

Now in its second year of a three-year program, the city will be planting 600 to 800 trees throughout what the state calls the "Environmental Justice" community, in particular the Mount Washington and Lower Acre neighborhoods.

Mayor James Fiorentini recently kicked off this year's program by helping to plant the first tree of the season at 513 Washington St., the home of former Mayor Albert Leroy Bartlett from a century ago.

Participating in the planting was DCR Forester Nathan Tobey and his crew, along with Urban Kindness head Keith Boucher, a Mount Washington resident.

Boucher said one problem with finding locations for trees in his neighborhood is that 60 percent or more of Mount Washington homes are not owner-occupied.

"They can still get trees, but they have to work with the owner of the property to make sure it's OK," Boucher said.

The state is providing $1.5 million to plant 2,400 trees over a three year period and also provides support from the Massachusetts Division of Conservation and Recreation. The program’s DCR staff, located in Haverhill, are planting free new trees every year for three years.

Fiorentini said DCR staff work out of the Highway Department office on Primrose Street and that they will be knocking on doors asking residents if they would like trees in their yards.

Under this program, property owners in the Mount Washington and Lower Acre can receive trees professionally planted for free on their private property in their front, back or side yards. The city is also planting 160 additional street trees along streets through this program and another 200 along streets through its own budget.

"This is an awesome grant that will beautify and improve our urban neighborhoods,” Fiorentini said. "Residents have the opportunity to get free trees planted for them on their own properties. Hopefully we can reverse decades of tree loss in the city though this program.”

Fiorentini said the goals of the program are to provide energy savings, expand street tree canopies, reduce "heat island" effects and to incease shade, oxygen and property values.

"I found that the biggest problem in planting trees along streets is finding locations," Fiorentini said, noting concerns such as sidewalks that aren't wide enough and a lack of a tree planting strips.

"This year we'll try something new," he said. "We will be getting help from the environmental group Groundwork Lawrence in finding suitable locations for street trees."

Fiorentini also plans to name a Tree Committee that will be charged with helping to find 200 locations where street trees can be planted this year.

Residents in the Mount Washington and Lower Acre who are interested in receiving free trees planted around their homes should contact the city by calling 311.

"I encourage everyone in Mount Washington and Lower Acre to consider taking advantage of getting these beautiful free trees planted," the mayor said. "And if anyone has an area in front of their home where they want a street tree, on city property, please let us know and we'll put it on our tree planting list."

— Mike LaBella

Police look for hit-and-run driver who injured Haverhill man

State police are trying to find the driver who hit and severely injured a Haverhill man on Lafayette Road on Wednesday of last week, leaving him unconscious in the street with a compound fracture of one leg and a head injury.

Lt. John Hennessey of N.H. State Police Troop A said in a press release that a Seabrook police officer was told just after 11 p.m. last Wednesday by a passing motorist about an "unconscious male, lying in the street" in the area of 105 Lafayette Road, Hampton Falls. The officer responded and found the man, as well as debris consistent with a car crash in the area. The officer contacted Hampton Falls police, who responded and called for help from the state police.

The crash remains under investigation by Trooper Thomas Conlon. Anyone with information pertaining to this collision is asked to contact Conlon at Thomas.Conlon@dos.NH.gov.

The victim was identified as David Olds, 31, of Haverhill. He was taken to Portsmouth Hospital with serious injuries.

Members of New Hampshire State Police Troop A as well as the New Hampshire State Police Collision Accident Reconstruction Unit responded to the scene to investigate the crash.

Assisting the New Hampshire State Police at the scene was the Hampton Falls Fire Department, Hampton Falls Police and the Seabrook Police.

— Breanna Edelstein


Red-on-red turn eyed to ease traffic

A bothersome traffic sign may be a thing of the past on Laurel Avenue.

City officials said Wednesday that the state Department of Transportation will soon allow motorists to turn right onto South Main Street at a red light at the intersection of Laurel Avenue.

The item was placed on the City Council agenda last week by Councilor Mary Ellen Daly O'Brien, who said the No Turn on Red sign was put in place before construction began on the new Hunking School last year.

With the school now open, Daly O'Brien said it is time to fix this traffic hangup.

"When the construction was going on, they ceased right on red and we in the community knew that," said Daly O'Brien. "With the school up and running, the curiosity is 'why can't we do right-on-red, it doesn't make any sense.'"

Because South Main Street doubles as a state highway, Route 125, any traffic-related issues fall under the purview of MassDOT.

Patrick Marvin, a spokesman for MassDOT, said Wednesday the T-intersection is within the city's jurisdiction, adding that the state has not received a request to remove the No Turn on Red sign.

Marvin added that the No Turn on Red sign was installed as part of the federal aid reconstruction project on Rt. 125 completed by the state several years ago.

Since the completion of roadwork on Route 125, Bradford residents have complained about increasingly congested traffic on their side streets connecting to South Main Street due to the addition of traffic lights along the road, which have become cut-through routes for drivers.

"This federal aid project included a Traffic Control Agreement between MassDOT and the city that outlines the various traffic restrictions, including No Turn on Red at this location," Marvin said. "If the City of Haverhill wishes to make changes to the signs or restrictions, they are required to obtain approval from MassDOT and then the agreement will be amended."

Daly O'Brien said that City Engineer John Pettis has been in contact with the state regarding the intersection, which sits in front of the Bradford Fire Station.

On Thursday, Pettis said he had recently spoken to two MassDOT officials about altering the Traffic Control Agreement, which is optimistic will get approved soon.

He likened the process to what the city was able to do in altering the turning lanes from Salem Street onto South Main Street a short drive up from the Laurel Avenue intersection.

Pettis said that request took a few weeks to get approved, but when the Laurel Avenue No Turn on Red sign is removed, he anticipates positive responses from drivers and neighbors.

"It will certainly improve the traffic. I don't have hard data but most drivers exiting Laurel Avenue turn right," said Pettis. "I've spoken to John Gregg (of MassDOT) in Boston and Rick Wilson in our district, and they seem supportive of the request."

While she doesn't know of a timeline for when right turns will be allowed at the intersection, Daly O'Brien is glad to know the state is doing something about the troublesome light.

"It's going to happen, and think the community will be happy," she said.

— Peter Francis


School evacuated for gas leak

School Superintendent James Scully said the evacuation plans that were in place for the Hunking School worked perfectly following an incident in which a contractor digging fence post holes struck an underground gas main on Wednesday of last week.

There was one incident, however, when a cafeteria worker sustained an injury to her arm after tripping on pavement in front of the Bradford Fire Station.

Police and firefighters responded to the Hunking at 480 South Main St. at 12:06 p.m. for a report of a gas leak in the rear of the school property.

Police said the manager of Shawmut Design Company of 560 Harrison Ave., Boston, the general contractor for the new Hunking School, reported that Union Fence Co. of 881 Main St., Pawtucket, Rhode Island, was digging fence holes when workers struck a gas main with an auger.

Students and staff were evacuated to the Wood School, which is nearby on South Spring Street.

Scully said that digging was taking place at the bottom of Kensington Avenue, where it borders city and school property. He said fencing is being installed in that area to prevent students from crossing into wetlands.

He said that after the gas line was damaged, a construction worker walked over to the school yard and asked a staff member to escort children back into the school. When firefighters arrived, they told the principal to evacuate.

The area where the gas main was damaged is about 400 to 500 yards from the new Hunking, Scully said.

Police said National Grid arrived on scene and was able to stop the gas leak. Neighbors from a nearby street were also evacuated. Police said OSHA was contacted and also responded to the scene.

Scully said Hunking's 460 students plus 60 staff members walked to the Wood School, where they were provided with bottled water and other beverages, as well as energy bars and pizza brought in from the high school. Students and staff had the use of the Wood School's restrooms.

The Wood School, located at 25 S. Spring St., serves as the district's day care center and hosts before-school and after-school activities and so is empty in the middle part of the day.

The Wood School has a much smaller capacity than the Hunking. Most students congregated in the school yard.

Scully said that as part of the evacuation plan, a few air-conditioned MVRTA buses were parked at the Wood School for students who have respiratory problems or other issues. MVRTA staff members were on hand, Scully said.

A number of police officers were stationed in the area, as was a Trinity ambulance, he said.

The new Hunking School is located off Route 125 behind the Bradford Fire Station and houses students in grades 6 through 8. The school opened the week leading up to Christmas.

"There was one incident, where a cafeteria worker tripped on the sidewalk outside the fire station and was taken to Holy Family in Haverhill with an arm injury," Scully said.

Scully said students were dismissed at their normal time, but if a parent wanted their child dismissed early, it was allowed.

"I owe a tremendous thanks to the principal and her staff, as they made this happen without incident," Scully said, adding that students are expected to return to school on Thursday at their normal start time.

— Mike LaBella


Protecting computer systems remains priority for city

Almost a year ago, Haverhill City Council President John Michitson stressed the importance of improving the security on city computers to protect the personal information of residents.

Now, after the ransomware virus WannaCry froze hundreds of thousands of computers demanding payment in over 150 countries last week, the city is glad it took the necessary precautions to ensure its data stays safe and sound.

When constructing the budget for the 2017 fiscal year, the city set aside $566,260 for its Municipal Information Systems Department, according to Peter Karlson, the city's Information technology director.

Mayor James Fiorentini said the city's IT budget "will go up" in the upcoming budget, but added he was unsure whether it would go up "by a lot or a little."

Karlson said after Michitson proposed the city investigate its tech security last year, the council approved an audit and an IT security committee, composed of city department heads, was created.

The committee rewrote the technology security policy. Another IT consultant, Frances Alexander, served as the adviser.

"Last year, the city set aside about $7,500 for the audit, and we took a portion of the IT budget to write the policy," Karlson said. "The audit didn't find any glaring weaknesses. Overall, our infrastructure is airtight."

In all, Karlson said the audit, which he said was conducted last year by Marcum, LLP., recommended only minor adjustments to the system's security settings.

While the city employs only one IT professional, Edward English, it hires out external consultants from firms like Karlson's, NeuEon, and others, including Boston Systems and Solutions, to man the city's IT help desk, provide strategic advice, and wire the city's computer network.

The city's total IT budget is dedicated to salaries and software licensing, an expensive, but necessary, proposition.

In its FY17 budget, the city set aside $138,000 for software licensing and $120,000 for system support, a figure that Fiorentini cut back $67,000 from the amount requested.

"Licensing fees can exceed $40,000 a year per program, and that's just to maintain what you've got," Karlson said, adding that the IT department is not looking for a large increase in its share of the budget this fiscal year.

"There aren't a lot of things we're looking to do, mostly replacing hardware and swapping out software to save some money," he said.

Fiorentini said the city has paid for two system back-up programs, as well as an imaging program that maps the city's IT network every day.

In addition, the city has switched its email server to a cloud-based system and has begun moving its back-up systems offsite to protect them from physical fires, which Fiorentini said has wiped out IT networks in other cities around the state.

As the rest of the world continues to grapple with the WannaCry attack, Karlson said Haverhill pays Boston Systems and Solutions to keep its systems proactively updated and patched across the board. He said the city spent $30,000 last year on backing up its entire system.

And in a city which operates around 500 computers in its network, that is no small task.

Karlson said he recalled a past NeuEon client that saw its system become infected with a similar ransomware virus after two employees clicked on a link in the same email.

"It downed their entire system for 48 hours," said Karlson, adding the lost productivity cost the company between $300,000 to $400,000.

While the city can take every security precaution money can buy with its system, Fiorentini said the biggest issue for tech security has been and will likely always be human error.

Fiorentini said that he has learned a lot about cyber security through working with Karlson and Alexander. He said he has also spoken with Police Chief Alan DeNaro about ways to improve cyber security.

"We've been going through a lot of training with our employees. But the big, big issue, 24/7, is human error," said the mayor. "We tell them unless you're positive the email you're receiving is legitimate, do not open it and tell Ed (English) or Peter Karlson."

— Peter Francis


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