Once Allies, Two Republicans Face Off In Heated Race For Rockingham County Sheriff | New Hampshire Public Radio

Once Allies, Two Republicans Face Off In Heated Race For Rockingham County Sheriff

Sep 3, 2020

Credit Courtesy Massahos for Sheriff

The two men running for the Republican nomination for Sheriff of Rockingham County used to get along just fine.

“I’ve known Sheriff Massahos for twenty plus years,” says Kevin Coyle, who is currently a Rockingham County Commissioner.

(Editor's note: we highly recommend listening to this piece)

“I worked for 22 years in Londonderry as a police prosecutor, and he owned a garage there, and occasionally I got my car worked on there.” 

But the relationship between Chuck Massahos and Kevin Coyle went beyond brake jobs. 

In the past, Massahos would let Coyle put up election signs at his garage and gas station in Londonderry. In 2018, Coyle returned the favor, putting out signs for Massahos when he first ran for County Sheriff. 

Coyle even endorsed him.

“And that was a mistake, it was an absolute mistake,” says Coyle. “And I cannot in good conscience see him run unopposed.”  

Kevin Coyle, who is running for Sheriff, in his backyard in Portsmouth.
Credit Todd Bookman/NHPR

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Instead of running for County Commissioner again, Coyle is challenging his old acquaintance for the GOP nomination.

Given that Republicans have held the Sheriff’s seat in Rockingham since at least 1970, the furthest back online records go, the winner of the September 8 primary will hold an advantage in November’s general election.

Among their duties, sheriffs are in charge of court security, transporting inmates and serving court papers. County Commissioners, also an elected position, have some oversight over the Sheriff’s finances.

According to Coyle, there is no single reason why he no longer supports Massahos. Instead, it’s been a slow boil that began with questions around spending.

That included a request by Massahos to hire a second-in-command position, and what Coyle sees as expensive requests for new police cruisers. 

“It came to a head over the car issue,” says Coyle.

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According to Coyle, Massahos requested a larger than normal number of new cruisers for this fiscal year, and didn’t appreciate receiving pushback from Coyle as well as Kevin St. James, another Republican member of the County Commission.

“It didn’t make sense to us fiscally, so we questioned it, and as soon as we questioned it, gloves were off, and they came after Kevin St. James,” says Coyle.

What Coyle is referring to - the gloves coming off - are a series of events aimed at embarrassing St. James.

Coyle and St. James allege that one of Massahos’s deputies took a photo of St. James illegally parked in a handicapped spot behind the county jail, and then leaked that photo to a newspaper.

Then there was the meal. 

“I had a ribeye steak for $40 or $44...okay, it was $54. Whatever it was. But I had a steak,” says St. James.

The fancy beef was ordered while St. James attended a work conference at the Mt. Washington Hotel. The bill was under the ‘per diem’ that county employees can spend on food, according to St. James, who defends the steak. 

“It was good, it was good,” he says.

“It’s funny, you’ll sit here and think, oh he’s just making up excuses. I was on a keto diet and I lost 37 pounds. I have since put it back in the last two years, probably stress related. But anyways, I was on a keto diet and I couldn’t have mac and cheese, but even the mac and cheese was $26.”

St. James alleges that someone from the Sheriff’s office then filed an anonymous Right to Know request for a copy of that dinner receipt, perhaps to try and embarrass him.

There have also been accusations that Kevin Coyle may not meet the residency requirement to hold his current job.

But the allegations between the Kevins and the Sheriff go the other way, too.

Last October, Coyle and St. James asked the New Hampshire Attorney General to investigate Massahos for allegedly ‘fixing’ a ticket for a high ranking county employee.

“I knew that that was an extreme ‘no-no’,” says Coyle. “You just can’t do that.”

Ten months later, the AG says it is still investigating.

Fixing tickets, fancy steaks, expensive police cruisers: these may seem like small potatoes. But they certainly aren’t to the folks who make county government run. 

Coyle says the alleged actions by leadership of the Sheriff’s office speak to something larger.

“When you come after two Commissioners in different ways, it says a lot about the mentality of your organization,” says Coyle. “That you are willing to stoop to any level to get what you want.”

Massohos sees it differently. He denied multiple requests for interviews and failed to respond to a list of questions about the allegations.

In a statement to NHPR, Massahos writes that St. James and Coyle have engaged in a “witch hunt” against him. 

“They should reflect on their own actions and deeds, to see if they have anything to offer the citizens of Rockingham County other than controversy and divisiveness,” he writes.

And so, the voters will now decide who they think should be Sheriff of Rockingham County: Kevin Coyle or Chuck Massahos, two men who know each other, and now dislike each other, a great deal.