Released in June, Cobb May Face More Jail Time

Former Phillips Academy English Department Chair David Cobb faces the possibility of additional jail time after refusing to participate in a sex offender treatment program. At a hearing on Monday in Dover, N.H., the judge said that he will release a decision within the next month on whether or not Cobb will return to jail. Cobb, a former English teacher, Cluster Dean and Dean of Residence who worked at Phillips Academy for 27 years, was arrested in 1995 on one account of attempted sexual assault, 53 charges of exhibiting or displaying child pornography and 267 charges of possessing child pornography. He was convicted on May 6, 1996. Cobb was released from prison on June 22 of this year after serving an 11-year sentence. Cobb was eligible for parole after seven years behind bars but was required to serve his entire sentence after he refused to participate in a sex offender treatment program while in prison. Cobb has refused because the program requires participants to make a statement under a lie detector admitting to being a sex offender. Cobb does not consider himself a sex offender, according to his attorney, Paul Haley of Hillsborough, N.H. Cobb also believes that the program would bring up additional false charges against him, Haley said. Janice Rundles, Strafford County Assistant Attorney General, is trying to put Cobb back in jail for failing to enroll in the treament program. Cobb’s attorney, however, has argued that the program was recommended rather than required of Cobb before his release from jail, and therefore Cobb should not go back to jail. Nicholas Kip ’60, Instructor in Classics at Phillips Academy, said, “[Cobb’s] refusal to take the sex offender course was very characteristic of him. He said ‘It’s a matter of principle and I won’t be treated the way dangerous criminals are.’ He will accept consequences of his decision to stand in his principle. I really feel bad for him; he refuses to play ball with the system and I’m afraid it might get him back in jail.” Cobb, whom the press nicknamed the “Pumpkin Man,” was arrested in Farmington, N.H. on August 22, 1995. The contents of his backpack included a pumpkin mask, child pornography and a sheet with prices for sexual acts entitled “Pay Scale for Helping Pumpkin.” According to media reports, Cobb was with a 12-year-old boy when arrested. Cobb said in statements that he was simply planning to buy the child ice cream. Farmington police identified Cobb as fitting the description of a gray-haired man whose suspicious activity was reported by two children the day before. At his trial, Cathy Green, Cobb’s attorney at the time, believed that the jury would not be convinced of the prosecution’s case – that the pictures in Cobb’s possession were pornography and that he was planning on sexually assaulting a 12-year-old boy. Cobb’s current lawyer, Haley, stated that during the trial a child pornography specialist group from Boston reached the conclusion that the drawings and cut-and-paste collages were not pornography but rather “tasteless art.” Kip said that he thought that the prosecutors in Cobb’s trial were unusually harsh. “It’s pretty clear from the severity of his sentence and the fact that they didn’t let him out for [parole] that the hardliners are out to get him some more,” Kip said. Cobb was fired from Phillips Academy on September 1, 1995, after news of his arrest broke. Head of School Barbara Landis Chase had just finished her first year at Phillips Academy. At a subsequent faculty meeting, several faculty members voiced concerns about the manner of his dismissal, but Chase assured them that the evidence was troubling enough to justify his termination. In an email to The Phillipian this week, Chase wrote, “Looking back, I must say that I do not believe that there is anything I would do differently. It was a highly demanding situation, and as always, the thing that I kept uppermost in my mind was the wellbeing of the students and faculty of the Academy. Every decision I made was made with that in mind.” Added Chase, “The community reacted very well, and we were able to protect students and faculty from unreasonable intrusion by the media after we got ourselves organized to do so. We communicated with all constituencies as fully and openly as the circumstances allowed. One of the hallmarks of Andover is its openness and honesty, and I did my best to uphold those values throughout.” According to Keith Robinson ’96, now an Instructor in Biology and Chemistry at Phillips Academy, students were less aware of the conflict, while faculty members were deeply divided over the issue. Edwin Quattlebaum, Instructor in History, said, “The faculty and students here at the time were stunned to hear of his arrest. “[Seeing Cobb] in handcuffs on TV was a real shock and the allegations were very troubling. We didn’t know what to make of it and could only hope that there was some sort of misunderstanding.” Kip said, “He was always unusual, an almost eccentric person in stylistic things – but I never would have guessed. Nobody would have.” Robinson said, “The general sense was that it was hard to believe. He was just so private so it wasn’t impossible. I don’t think anyone would have said anything beforehand, but no one had a good read on him from the student side.” Carmelo Larose ’96, who was Editor-in-Chief of The Phillipian at the time, said, “It hit the faculty the hardest. Students are [at Andover] for four years and most students have him for only a semester or for a year. Students were compassionate. They idolized him as a teacher, and he had only treated us positively.” While Cobb’s arrest was never formally addressed or reported to students, faculty members discussed the incident informally and in a faculty meeting. The Phillipian, under Larose’s leadership, covered the story and became a platform for students and faculty to express their thoughts and opinions. Larose said, “Faculty members were very open to discussing it and were very kind. They helped us and they definitely let us see we didn’t need to berate him in writing any article.” “The Phillipian was the place to have this dealt with because students and faculty wrote in,” Larose said. “He was a teacher, citizen and member of Andover community and people wanted him to be respected as a faculty member, but [members of the PA community also felt] he had to be treated as someone who had been arrested.” Following the incident, the school send letters to all Phillips Academy alumni reporting Cobb’s arrest and asking alumni to come forward if they knew of any incidents involving Cobb on campus, but there were no responses with definitive evidence. After his release this summer, Cobb moved to South Dennis, Mass., where town officials have urged residents to be cautious. Police have reported that Cobb did register as a sex offender in South Dennis shortly after his release from jail.