Sexual assault charges against principal are dropped

He wonders why `they put me through all that'

December 30, 2004|By Sara Neufeld and Laura Barnhardt | Sara Neufeld and Laura Barnhardt,SUN STAFF

McCormick Elementary School Principal Kevin M. Lindsey, who was accused of sexually assaulting two former pupils, was driving to the bank yesterday morning to take out a loan for his legal defense when his cell phone rang.

It was his lawyer, calling to say the charges against him had been dropped.

For the 50-year-old Sparks resident and father of three, the news was bittersweet. He is relieved but also incredulous, wanting to know why he was arrested at all.

"Why did they put me through all that?" he asked. He said the impact on his family has been "indescribable."

Three Saturdays ago, at 5:42 a.m., Lindsey, his wife and his teenage daughter were roused by pounding on the front door. A few minutes later, Lindsey recalled, he was taken away in handcuffs while his daughter cried on the stairs. He was charged with sexually assaulting two sisters when he was a teacher at Pine Grove Elementary in Carney in the 1970s.

The charges - two counts of child abuse, two counts of second-degree sex offense and one count of third-degree sex offense - were based on memories that the sisters said they had recently recovered. They reported the alleged abuse to police over the summer.

"There was sufficient evidence to charge," Baltimore County State's Attorney Sandra A. O'Connor said in a telephone interview yesterday. "But we knew it would come down to expert testimony. ... The experts were far apart on the accuracy and validity of recovered memories. We felt we couldn't sustain the burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt."

The county's top prosecutor said the women "spontaneously recovered" memories of the alleged abuse. The memories "weren't induced through therapy or hypnosis," O'Connor said.

Senior prosecutors interviewed the women who made the allegations and found them to be "sincere, articulate and well-educated," O'Connor said, but she added that "we felt it incumbent upon us to consult with experts in the field of psychiatry."

Given that memory experts don't agree about the validity of recovered memories so long after a traumatic event and the "high burden of proof" in a criminal case, O'Connor said, prosecutors dismissed the charges.

She said Jason G. League, chief of the state's attorney's Child Abuse and Sex Offense Division, met Monday with the women who made the allegations. "I don't believe they were angry," she said. "They understood the difficulty in proceeding."

League appeared before a District Court judge yesterday morning to drop the charges, O'Connor said.

She said it would be "inappropriate" to offer an apology to Lindsey, who was put on paid administrative leave in early October after the accusation surfaced.

Lindsey said he hasn't ruled out lawsuits against his accusers but that for now his top priority is returning to work at McCormick, in Rosedale. Ideally, he said, he would like to be back at school Monday, when the children return from the winter break. Lindsey said his contract requires the Baltimore County school district to give him a job as a principal, but he could be transferred to another school. It is important to him to return to McCormick, where he has built a staff he believes in, he said.

Twenty of McCormick's faculty members caroled outside his house last week, Lindsey said.

School system spokesman Charles A. Herndon said he does not know how the district will proceed, given that those responsible for deciding are on vacation this week. Lindsey's attorney, Gerald C. Ruter, said he left several messages with school officials yesterday.

One of the most painful moments during his ordeal, Lindsey said, was seeing a telephone number for additional victims to call flash across the television screen.

"It was ludicrous," Lindsey said. "I truly wish I understood what the Police Department was looking for and why they thought this was necessary." Bill Toohey, a Baltimore County police spokesman, declined to comment, referring questions to the state's attorney's office.

The sisters who made the accusations did not return phone calls yesterday.

Lindsey said he has been overwhelmed by the community support he has received. He and Bettie Karst, the Middle River Middle School English department chair, who married him Nov. 27, are excited to celebrate the new year with friends, he said.

"They'll be coming by the house in droves," he said.

Lindsey said he has this message for his accusers and those who charged him: "They can't take back what they've done to me and my family. The bell has been rung. Now I've got to build relationships with families, with children, with my peers all over again because there are still going to be people who are skeptical."

Sun staff writer Anica Butler contributed to this article.

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