NH therapist’s sexual abuse case reveals dark past and ethical concerns – NBC Boston
Two years after accusing her former therapist of sexual abuse, she lazily plugged her address into an online directory and came across an unknown pseudonym. A search of that name turned up decades-old newspaper reports about the death of a 10-year-old girl.
“What does that have to do with Peter?” she wondered.
A pair of obituaries she later found pointed closer to a connection. But she was still skirting the perimeter of the truth when she sat down at a public library computer in January 2020. On a newspaper archive site, she scrolled through several small, blurry photos until a larger appears.
“Bingo,” she thought. “It’s him.”
His next thought?
New Hampshire is one of 10 states that allow people to change their names while incarcerated, though their criminal records remain accessible to police and employers conducting criminal background checks. But the public has no way of knowing someone’s previous identity unless they go to the county courthouse where the change was approved or do some serious research.
This allowed Peter Dushame to become Peter Stone, who faces new charges more than 30 years after being sent to prison under his old name. What happened in the meantime raises complex questions about the right to forge a new life after incarceration and what patients can or should know about a mental health provider’s past.
There is another question with no simple answer: who is Peter Stone?
He was 33, drunk, and called Peter Dushame when he rammed his Pontiac into a motorcycle parked next to the FE Everett Turnpike in Nashua, New Hampshire on Oct. 1, 1989. Lacey Packer, a fourth-grader on her way back to Massachusetts from a Toys for Tots benefit with her father, died two days later.
It was his third fatal accident, although the first involving alcohol. At 17, he pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of a pedestrian accident after killing a former high school classmate. Aged 22, he was acquitted of driving homicide after a crash that killed a 61-year-old woman.
Because he held a valid driver’s license despite five previous drunk driving convictions, the 1989 accident became a flashpoint. Both Massachusetts and New Hampshire enacted new laws in response, and Dushame became the first person in New Hampshire to be convicted of manslaughter for a drunk driving death. The Boston Globe called him “the most notorious drunk driver in New England history”.
But over time, he dedicated himself to helping people in recovery from drug addiction, earning a master’s degree in counseling psychology from behind bars, and running treatment programs for other inmates.
“I have a gift,” he told Boston Globe Magazine in 1996. “I can look at a person and feel their pain.”
Two years later, he legally changed his name from Peter Dushame to Peter Stone. He was released from prison in 2002 and eventually settled down as a licensed drug and alcohol counselor in North Conway.
‘I am proof that people can change,’ Stone wrote to state regulators in 2013, telling them that contrary to their concerns, his background had helped clients gain perspective on the dangers of state driving. drunk.
“They respect my sincerity and honesty,” he said.
Then, last July, he was accused of sexually assaulting a client who said he was anything but honest.
In a recent interview with The Associated Press, the 61-year-old said she developed romantic feelings for Stone about six months after he began treating her for anxiety, depression and alcohol abuse in June. 2013. Despite immediately telling her a relationship would be unethical, he eventually initiated sexual contact in February 2016, she said.
“‘It crossed the line,'” the woman recalled after pulling up her pants. “‘When do I see you again?'”
“It was almost comedic,” she told the AP, which doesn’t usually name people who allege sexual assault. “Except it was terrible.”
Name change laws differ across the country. While 26 states have no restrictions on name changes after felony convictions, 15 have temporary bans or waiting periods for those convicted of certain crimes, according to the ACLU of Illinois, which has one of the most restrictive laws.
New Hampshire does not prohibit felons from becoming therapists, and Stone appropriately disclosed his criminal record on license applications and other documents, according to a review of records obtained by the AP.
And so, despite “an erroneous sense that it’s somehow wrong,” it’s not a legal issue, said Albert “Buzz” Scherr, a professor at Franklin Pierce Law School. the University of New Hampshire.
“The deeper question is how much do we want to tar someone for the rest of their life?” Scherr said. “Should every therapist be required to tell any incoming patient that they have been convicted of a crime? Of certain crimes?”
Gary Goodnough is a Plymouth State University professor who teaches ethics to aspiring mental health counselors. It’s not unusual, he said, for people in recovery to become counselors and use their experiences to develop greater empathy and support for clients.
Disclosure is not mandatory, but he believes customers have a right to know in certain scenarios.
“One of the principles that underpins the counseling profession is the notion of truthfulness,” he said. “We should be telling the truth. Especially with something as serious as a murder or homicide while driving a vehicle. In my opinion, that would be something that should be disclosed.”
Stone’s former client said finding out about her past made her angry, both at Stone and at the state, which she says shouldn’t have licensed her as a therapist under her new name. .
“I think in his ability to become a therapist, that was wrong, because it’s a position of trust,” she said. “If he were to be a car mechanic, it would be different. Because when I go to my mechanic, he doesn’t get into my head and pull strings.”
The woman described Stone as an unorthodox, blunt and arrogant counselor with a tendency to swear. She said he told her that he used to drink vodka and beer first thing in the morning, that he had been homeless before and that he didn’t drive because he suffered from PTSD since he was in the military. In fact, as she later learned, her driver’s license had been permanently revoked after her conviction.
After their first sexual encounter, she said, she got up to leave and found her office door locked when it had never been locked before.
“I felt cheated, because in my head I thought it was spontaneous,” she said. “But I knew it was planned.”
Stone, who declined to be interviewed by the AP, faces five counts of aggravated sexual assault under a law that criminalizes any sexual contact between patients and their therapists or health care providers. Such behavior is also prohibited by the American Psychological Association’s Code of Ethical Conduct.
According to court documents, he told investigators that the woman fondled him on one occasion, but he did not know how her DNA ended up on his shirt. The state issued an emergency order suspending his counseling license in December 2017, and he voluntarily returned it four months later while denying the allegations.
A hearing to determine Stone’s fitness to stand trial is scheduled for September. His attorney did not respond to requests for comment, and the prosecutor declined to comment on any aspect of the case.
But Scherr, the law professor, said if the case goes to trial, Stone’s previous convictions or name change are unlikely to be used against him.
Previous convictions, Scherr said, generally cannot be used to prove a defendant’s guilt, although they can sometimes be used to attack a defendant’s credibility if they testify. And while that might make him look sneaky or cunning, Stone had a legitimate reason to change his name, Scherr said.
“You don’t want to wear this in public for the rest of your life,” he said. “I’m inclined to say that doesn’t tell you anything about him committing the crimes he’s charged with.”
Although Stone changed his name in 1998, records of his 2001 parole hearing refer to him as Dushame, suggesting that authorities only used his original name in public and, possibly unwittingly, facilitated his efforts to start fresh. Several parole board members from that year have since died; two others recently told the AP they could not recall the specific case or how the council handled the name changes.
But Gordon and Donna Packer haven’t forgotten the man who killed their daughter. In a recent interview, Donna Packer said they would have objected to her name change but were only told by the state after the fact.
She and her husband, who became leading campaigners for tougher drunk driving laws, also knew Stone worked as a counselor but were unaware of his arrest until they are contacted by the AP.
“As soon as I heard about it, I was disappointed,” she said. “I know it sounds strange, but Gordon and I are Christians and we believe in forgiveness.”
Gordon Packer offered forgiveness to Stone years ago in a letter. Donna Packer said she responded by asking for help to get out of jail early, which the couple felt was manipulative.
Still, she hoped that after all he had done, after causing so much pain to so many people, he had changed.
“I hate that he keeps victimizing people,” she said. “It didn’t have to be like this.”