Sheriff Brave publicly fights criminal, internal probes: 'It is a blatant attack'

DOVER — Strafford County Sheriff Mark Brave may have the right to remain silent while the New Hampshire attorney general investigates criminal allegations against him, but he has chosen to argue his case in the court of public opinion.

Brave was informed of the investigation on June 2, through a letter from Senior Assistant Attorney General Dan Jimenez, chief of the Public Integrity Unit. The criminal investigation into Brave's work as county sheriff is focused on alleged violations of state law, including theft, falsification of official matters and abuse of office.

Brave said Strafford County commissioners previously hired the consulting firm Municipal Resources Inc. to conduct a separate internal investigation into Brave's truthfulness regarding his whereabouts and actions when his wife was arrested for driving under the influence in December 2022. That report has not been made public and Foster's has not been able to independently verify Brave's statements regarding the findings of the report. Brave told Foster's he would be willing to share the report but, to date, his attorney has declined to do so.

Strafford County Sheriff Mark Brave says he believes racism is behind the investigations he is facing.
Strafford County Sheriff Mark Brave says he believes racism is behind the investigations he is facing.

In a prepared statement released July 7, the Strafford County commissioners accuse Brave of running a publicity campaign, releasing derogatory statements about the commission and the current investigation, which he has called "racially motivated." Brave is the first Black sheriff in New Hampshire. He was first elected in 2020.

Brave, who is a Democrat, as are all three county commissioners, said he believes information on the investigations was leaked intentionally, in an attempt to smear his name. He said he has no intention of staying quiet.

"I was originally going to let it go, let it run its course, because I know I did nothing wrong," Brave said. "I was not even informed about the investigations. I learned about it from one of my deputies. I called (Strafford County Commission Chairman) George Maglaras and he said — 'I have no idea.' I know this started after my wife's driving under the influence arrest. The commissioners said I lied about where I was and if I was driving. Word got put out saying I was home with my kids. I called three people after this happened, after a Christmas party, my chief deputy, my major, and Eddie Edwards (of the state Department of Safety), who I have known for many years. I was in the car. I was intoxicated and was not going to drive. My wife thought she was OK to drive. She was wrong. I took no steps to alter the state police arrest in any way. My wife went to court, was fined, lost her license for a time. But this is where it started."

Brave said Maglaras has been saying he lied to him about the situation, and he denies that. He said because of the allegation of lying, the county began to move against him, recommending he be placed on the exculpatory evidence schedule, a list of New Hampshire law enforcement officers with credibility issues that must be disclosed in court cases in which they are involved. He said he is appealing that decision.

Brave pushes back. County commissioners respond with letter.

The allegations against Brave first surfaced in a Foster's news story after questions were raised about a nonpublic session held by the commissioners on June 8. Maglaras did not attend the meeting because he may be called as a material witness in the investigation, according to multiple sources, including County Attorney Tom Velardi. The other two commissioners, Deanna Rollo and Bob Watson, attended, as did Brave and Velardi.

A Right to Know law request by Foster's for the reason for that meeting was denied by the commissioners, but Brave talked about it openly with a Foster's reporter.

"I went to appeal the commissioners' attempt to have my name placed on the exculpatory evidence schedule," Brave said. "I had a received a letter from County Administrator Ray Bower telling me that was going to be their recommendation, based on allegations I lied about Jaime's (his wife's) situation."

A letter was forwarded to the attorney general's Public Integrity Unit in May, recommending Brave be placed on the exculpatory evidence schedule. County Attorney Tom Velardi wrote a letter to Brave in June, following the June 8 nonpublic session, where Brave appealed the recommendation. Velardi told Brave he failed to provide evidence to sustain his case for not being placed on the list, formerly called the Laurie List, and that the action would proceed.

Brave said the MRI report shows there was no evidence he made any attempt to exert control over the situation his wife was in following the DUI charge.

"I was told that the MRI report was to basically clear the air due to all the rumors circulating not only for social media, but also through individuals throughout the county and the state really regarding Jaime’s DUI and my involvement," Brave said. "The commissioners had no right to launch this investigation against me. They are like sharks circling the waters now, looking for anything they can bring up. I am fighting this, and I will continue to do so. It is a blatant attack on my name and what I have done here."

The list of officers on the exculpatory evidence schedule has been posted online by the New Hampshire Department of Justice, as required by law since 2021. Brave is not yet on the public list but that doesn't mean he will not appear.

In the letter, commissioners confirm the criminal investigation by the attorney general's staff and allege Brave has made multiple public statements about a wholly separate matter involving an internal disciplinary review of a different incident, presumably his actions and statements related to his wife's DUI case.

The commissioners wrote that Brave made public comments about the MRI report that when taken out of context are helpful to himself but misleading to the public.

The commissioners say they are being discreet and allowing the confidential investigation to proceed. They invite Brave to do the same.

"The public should take our silence as an affirmation of our obligation to not disclose what would otherwise be confidential disciplinary records. It should also take our silence about the separate Attorney General criminal probe as our affirmation that the Sheriff is innocent until proven guilty, and thus there is no cause for us to make any comment while that criminal investigation is being conducted by the Attorney General. We would urge everyone to pause and not jump to conclusions about what the confidential disciplinary matter may have entailed. And we will join the public in awaiting the outcome of the Attorney General’s criminal investigation, an investigation over which we have no control or power to direct. We would invite Sheriff Brave to exercise the same professionalism and decorum that should be expected of an elected government official."

Brave continues working but said the commissioners are "messing" with his department. The commissioners have asked Brave to go on paid administrative leave during the investigation, but he has refused. Because he is an elected official, they cannot force him to go on leave.

"They are holding up checks," Brave said. "They tried to take away my department's motorcycle, after they approved the purchase. They are saying I am $140,000 over my budget which is not the truth. We had the Frisbie contract (for security at the hospital), and ICE contract (for transporting U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainees). They say I am abusing the travel budget, also not true. I have $18,000 a year for travel in the budget and I have been using it to travel to other states where the sheriff's departments are more progressive than here, to learn how to better involve us in the community."

County Administrator Ray Bower provided to Foster's a printout of the sheriff's budget to date to support his contention Brave's department is spending in excess of its budget. He said it shows overspending in the first quarter of the year.

The document shows the total budget for the calendar year is $3,227,435. Bower said Brave's department expenditures were $960,323 in the first quarter of 2023 (through March 31), which he stated is about $140,965 over budget for the quarter. Bower said at the close the second quarter at the end of June, Brave's department spending was "a bit more than double what he was over in the first quarter."

Bower said Brave is responsible for the budget being balanced by year's end, adding that's difficult to achieve when being so far over budget halfway through the year.

Brave says racism is reason for investigations

Brave believes he is facing a racist attack.

"In New Hampshire, there is racism, a silent racism," Brave said. "I do not use my skin tone as a crutch, and I will work with anyone. I will not let racism dictate my role here, though.

Brave said the commissioners hate that he is trying to be progressive, that he works to bridge the gap between the community and law enforcement.

"The commissioners like to do things behind the scenes, and they want our office to be only involved in transporting prisoners," Brave said. "They do not like that I want to make positive changes. The only thing I can see I have done wrong is to get elected, twice. I will run again in 2024, too, and keep working to make this department better, more involved."

He explained why he declined to go on leave during the investigation.

"I refuse to be used as a pawn," he said. "That is not how this works, so I will keep my head down, do my job and support my staff. They are very uncomfortable with all this, but they know I didn't do anything wrong."

Brave said Maglaras told him he was "the token Black guy .... but that my time was almost up. That was said behind closed doors in private, but it was said to me, and regardless, I know it was said to me."

Maglaras denied making the comment to Brave.

"The whole situation saddens me for our county," Maglaras said. "His claim of racism is ridiculous and are the actions of a desperate man."

Brave said the county commissioners were not happy when he was reelected in 2022 for a second two-year term.

"I know what direction I was going in after I was reelected, because the whole vibe of the chairman, the commissioners, and administrator changed," Brave said. "I also think they did not think I was going to be reelected successfully, but not only did the wonderful people of Strafford County re-elect me, but I was the top vote getter. I think that aggravated them even more or at least one of them. The remark was, 'You’re a token Black guy to these people and you were elected because of the climate because of what was going on in society at the time (George Floyd, COVID, etc.)"

Brave is still only one to discuss allegations AG is investigating

When Brave first spoke to Foster's about the attorney general's investigation in June, he said he has been accused of misusing county funds to pay for trips to Florida with a woman employed in his department. He said it was "implied" he and the woman were having an affair, and he was accused of spending county money to pay for her housing.

Brave denied all the allegations he stated are being investigated. He said trips are made to other departments "to gain fresh ideas … That is what this was."

Jimenez, of the attorney general's office, has declined to discuss specific allegations.

Prior to becoming sheriff, Brave, a Dover resident, was a lieutenant overseeing standards and training for the Strafford County sheriff's office.

Brave's attorney, Tim Harrington, of Shaheen and Gordon, previously released a statement: "Sheriff Brave is fully cooperating with the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office investigation and he denies any allegation of wrongdoing."

This article originally appeared on Fosters Daily Democrat: Strafford County Sheriff Mark Brave fights criminal, internal probes