Therapist sex abuse case reveals dark past, ethical concerns
CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — Two years after accusing her former therapist of sexual abuse, she plugged his address into an online directory and came across an unfamiliar alias. A search of that name turned up newspaper articles about the death of a 10-year-old girl.
“What’s that got to do with Peter?” she wondered.
A pair of obituaries she found next pointed closer to a connection. Sitting at a public library computer in January 2020, she scrolled past several small, blurry photos on a newspaper archive site until a larger one popped up.
“Bingo,” she thought. “That’s him.”
Her next thought?
New Hampshire is one of 10 states that allow people to change their names while incarcerated, but the public has no way of knowing someone’s earlier identity unless they go to the courthouse where the change was approved, or do some serious sleuthing. It was the latter that led to the discovery that Peter Stone was once Peter Dushame, a drunken driver convicted of manslaughter more than 30 years ago.
What happened in between raises complicated 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.
“To what extent do we want to tar somebody for the rest of their life?” said Albert “Buzz” Scherr, a professor at the University of New Hampshire Franklin Pierce School of Law. “Should every therapist be forced to reveal to any incoming patient that they’ve been convicted of a crime?”
Stone, then named Peter Dushame, was 33 years old and drunk when he plowed into a parked motorcycle in Nashua, New Hampshire, on Oct. 1, 1989. Lacey Packer, a fourth grader on her way home to Massachusetts with her father, died two days later.
He held a valid driver’s license despite five previous drunken driving convictions, and it was his third fatal crash — though the others didn’t involve alcohol. Both Massachusetts and New Hampshire responded with new laws, and The Boston Globe called him “the most notorious drunk driver in New England history.”
But over time, he dedicated himself to helping people recovering from addiction, earning a master’s degree in counseling psychology and leading treatment programs from behind bars.
Two years later, he legally changed his name to Peter Stone. He was released from prison in 2002 and eventually set up shop as a licensed drug and alcohol counselor in North Conway.
“I stand as evidence that people can change,” Stone wrote to state regulators in 2013.
Last July, he was charged with five counts of aggravated felonious sexual assault under a law that criminalizes any sexual contact between patients and their therapists or health care providers. Such behavior also is prohibited by the American Psychological Association’s ethical code of conduct.
In a recent interview with The Associated Press, the 61-year-old woman said she developed romantic feelings for Stone about six months after he began treating her for anxiety, depression and alcohol abuse in June 2013. Though he told her a relationship would be unethical, he eventually initiated sexual contact in February 2016, she said.
“‘That crossed the line,'” the woman remembers him saying after he pulled up his pants. “‘When am I seeing you again?'”
While about half the states have no restrictions on name changes after felony convictions, 15 have bans or temporary waiting periods for those convicted of certain crimes, according to the ACLU in Illinois, which has one of the most restrictive laws.
Stone appropriately disclosed his criminal record on licensing applications and other documents, according to a review of records obtained by the AP. Disclosure to clients isn’t mandatory, said Gary Goodnough, who teaches counseling ethics at Plymouth State University. But he believes clients have a right to know about some convictions, including vehicular homicide.
“One of the principles that underlies the counseling profession is the notion of veracity,” he said. “We should tell the truth.”
According to court documents, Stone told investigators that the woman fondled him once, but that he didn’t know how his DNA ended up on her shirt. The state suspended his counseling license in December 2017, and he voluntarily surrendered it four months later.
Stone declined to be interviewed by the AP, and his attorney did not respond to requests for comment. The prosecutor declined to comment on any aspect of the case. A hearing to determine Stone’s competency to stand trial is scheduled for September.
Donna and Gordon Packer, who became advocates for tougher drunken driving laws after their daughter’s death, were notified by the state of Stone’s name change but learned of his recent arrest only when contacted by the AP.
Donna Packer said after her husband offered forgiveness in a letter years ago, Stone responded by asking for help getting out of prison early. That struck the couple as manipulative, she said, even so, she had hoped he had changed.
“I hate that he’s still victimizing people,” she said. “It didn’t need to be this way.”