No criminal charges after prep school abuse investigation

AP News
|
Posted: Jun 02, 2016 8:51 PM
No criminal charges after prep school abuse investigation

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — A state police investigation into dozens of sexual abuse allegations at a prestigious boarding school has concluded with no criminal charges, authorities announced on Thursday.

Police looked at allegations of abuse of students at St. George's School by seven former faculty members, one current employee and three former students and at allegations that current and prior administrators didn't report abuse to the proper authorities.

Police and the attorney general's office determined they cannot proceed with criminal charges for a variety of reasons, including the statute of limitations and changes in the laws since some of the abuse occurred, as far back as the 1970s. The most recent allegation of abuse police investigated was in 2005, they said.

"Unfortunately for those who came forward, they will not be able to seek justice within the criminal justice system due to the applicable statutes defining conduct and statute of limitations," police said in a statement.

Some of the instances of failing to report abuse happened before 1979, when it wasn't defined as a crime, and in other cases there was a three-year statute of limitations, which had passed.

The Episcopal school, located in Middletown, near Newport, apologized in December for how it handled abuse cases. It said on Thursday it had "cooperated fully" with the state police investigation.

"Our focus remains on efforts to support survivors and on continuing to make the school as safe a place as possible for our current students," it said in a statement.

Anne Scott, who was raped repeatedly by an athletic trainer at the school in the 1970s, when she was a teenager, said the report highlighted the need for reform in the state's statute of limitations laws.

"Without reform to our legal systems, it continues to be hard for survivors to get justice," said Scott, of Charlottesville, Virginia.

Scott now leads a group advocating for abuse survivors, called SGS for Healing.

Police on Thursday didn't release their findings but detailed how the investigation was conducted and why no charges would be brought. The investigation, which began in November, included interviews with approximately 40 witnesses.

Attorney Eric MacLeish, who represents some of the St. George's victims, said the lack of criminal charges wasn't surprising because, even though there's no statute of limitations on rape in Rhode Island, the definition of rape when most of the abuse took place included only vaginal intercourse. That doesn't cover boys who alleged they were raped.

Harry Groome, of Arlington, said he was raped with a broomstick by another student in the 1970s. Groome was 14 at the time.

MacLeish, who represented hundreds of clergy sex abuse victims more than a decade ago, said the St. George's victims plan to lobby for an extension of a three-year statute of limitations on the school's failure to report the abuse to state child protection authorities.

"Mandatory reporters prevent other children from being abused," MacLeish said. "If you're a mandatory reporter and you stay quiet, you get a pass after three years."

The abuse scandal erupted in December, when The Boston Globe reported on what happened to Scott, who was raped by school athletic trainer Al Gibbs as a 15-year-old. The school acknowledged in a report it issued in December that Gibbs engaged in sexual misconduct involving at least 17 students in the 1970s and '80s. Gibbs died in 1996.

St. George's own investigation identified 26 victims of abuse in the 1970s and '80s.

But many victims of abuse and others criticized the school's report for mischaracterizing what happened or omitting more recent allegations of abuse. The school and SGS for Healing ultimately agreed to a new, independent investigation by Boston attorney Martin Murphy. A report on Murphy's investigation is expected to be released this month.

Some alumni have accused St. George's leaders of keeping the abuse quiet to protect the reputation of the school, which was founded in 1896 and counts among its graduates poet Ogden Nash, former Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean and former Republican Connecticut U.S. Sen. Prescott Bush, the father and grandfather of the Bush presidents.

The $58,000-per-year school has about 370 high school-age students and an endowment of more than $140 million.

___

Lavoie reported from Boston.