Tuesday December 11, 2012

BENNINGTON -- A teacher at the Mountain School in Winhall is facing felony charges alleging that he kissed and touched a 14-year-old student there.

Bryan Love, 37, of Hebron, N.Y., pleaded not guilty to two felony counts of lewd and lascivious conduct with a child. Should he be convicted, each charge carries a minimum of two years in prison and a maximum of 15. Love was released on conditions that he not have contact with the complaining witness, go within 300 feet of her, or go to the Mountain School.

According to the school's Web page, Love teaches Spanish and physical education.

Counselor told

In an affidavit by Bennington Police Detective Anthony Silvestro, who is assigned to the Bennington County Special Victims Unit, on Nov. 15 he received a report that a 14-year-old girl at The Mountain School had reported to her counselor, Kelly Wicker, that she had been in a relationship with Love that involved them kissing, him touching her buttocks, and she touching his crotch.

The girl told police she had developed a "crush" on Love in September of that year and while on a school trip in the later part of that month she told him he was "hot." She said later on the trip some boys had been bothering her and she went to Love about it. According to her, Love said they were bothering her because they liked her and then said "I am not saying you are hot but I'm not saying you're not."

The girl told police that her class went on a hike in October and that while on the hike she asked Love if he would walk in front of her. According to her, he said no and "that I have a better view from back here."

On Oct. 31, according to the girl, she went to see Love as they had not been getting along. She said she apologized to him and they hugged. She said when they broke from the hug, they kissed. She also told police that when she would visit Love's office, he would touch her buttocks. She said before Halloween, Love was walking behind her and she reached back to touch his privates. She said Love asked her why she did that, and her reply was that he had been touching her buttocks. According to her, Love said that was not the same thing, but she disagreed.

According to the affidavit, the girl said Love asked her for photographs of herself and she took four pictures of herself in the nude. She said she showed Love the pictures and he looked at them for about 10 minutes. She said she has since deleted them from the camera's memory card.

The girl described an incident in gym class with Love where she shouted "You're so sexy" to him. She said later he told her the school's Headmaster, Daren Houck, heard what she said and Love told her she needed to be more careful.

The girl said on one occasion she touched Love's stomach not knowing another teacher, Christine Burr, was behind her. She said Burr spoke to her about inappropriate touching and reported the incident to Houck.

No report

Silvestro said he spoke to Burr about this and was told by her she did witness the girl touch Love and spoke to her about it, but said no report was made to administrators. She said she told Love he could not be around the girl at all.

Silvestro wrote that he also spoke to Peter Ahfeld, dean of students, who said on Oct. 6 Love sent him an email saying he should not be mentoring the girl anymore. Later in a telephone interview Ahfeld said Love made the statement in his email "I think the attention/care is often misinterpreted." Ahfeld told police he was not led to believe anything inappropriate was going on. Ahfeld said his response to Love via email was to agree and that Love should not be alone with the girl. He said Love then asked for the girl to no longer be in his classes.

According to the affidavit, Houck told police he was made aware some weeks ago of the girl's affection towards Love, but no touching incident was ever reported to him.

Silvestro said he spoke to Love about the allegations and was put in contact with Love's attorney, Bradley Myerson, of Manchester. Silvestro said Myerson gave a written response to specific questions Silvestro had asked. According to court officials, this document was not part of the public file. According to the affidavit, Love told police he had been put on paid leave by the school.

Emotional issues

According to Silvestro, he spoke to a number of other faculty who had been having meetings to address emotional issues the girl has exhibited. Silvestro said he spoke to a psychologist who had talked with the girl and described her as having an infatuation with Love and being attracted to older males.

Myerson said in an interview his client has denied the allegations against him and an argument had been made Monday for Judge Cortland Corsones to review the charges. Myerson said he expects to file motions to dismiss the charges as the case moves forward. He said a number of parents were present in the courtroom to support Love.

"He loves being a teacher and because of that this has been extremely painful for him," said Myerson.

Houck would not comment on the case but did send a statement to the Banner via email.

"Whenever The Mountain School is confronted with information or a claim of child abuse or neglect, it immediately complies with the statutory mandate to make a report of that possible abuse or neglect to the Vermont Department of Children and Families (the State Agency that receives reports of child abuse or neglect - DCF), and the Mountain School did so in this case. Then, in some situations, as in this one, DCF brings in the police to carry out the investigation," the statement reads.

Ongoing investigation

"The Mountain School has cooperated fully with the authorities in their on-going investigation. Members of our community should understand that the School's involvement with the investigation means that our staff and Trustees are not at liberty to discuss this matter outside the School," it continues.

According to the statement, the school does full background checks on teachers including reference checks before hiring them.

"The Mountain School and the authorities have talked to many staff members, parents and children and have received no indication of any problematic behavior with other students by the teacher who has been charged. Since The Mountain School's report to the DCF, in this instance, the teacher in question has not been at the School and will not be permitted to come to the School," the statement reads.