No criminal charges for mistreatment of autistic boy

Tuesday July 9, 2013


Staff Writer

BENNINGTON -- The police investigation into the treatment of a Bennington Elementary student at school will not result in criminal charges.

The boy's aunt, Jean Pinsonneault, said Monday that she and her sister Joan Reilly had met with Bennington County State's Attorney Erica Marthage, who explained charges would not be pursued following the end of the investigation by Vermont State Police.

Marthage confirmed Monday that charges would not be filed after what she described as a lengthy, detailed investigation. "I can't charge based on emotion," she said.

Joint inquiries by state police and the Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union were launched in March following the public release of audio from a recorder concealed in the backpack of Reilly's then-8-year-old son, Nathan.

Pinsonneault and Reilly told the Banner then that the recorder was used as a last resort to understand why Nathan was acting out at school.

The nine-hour recording revealed mistreatment of Nathan at the hands of two special education paraprofessionals, who left the boy secluded for long periods of time, said he could go "days" without food or water, and told him to clean urine off the floor.

The recording resulted in multiple SVSU staff members being placed on administrative leave, one termination, and the unplanned retirement of the supervisory union's special education director.

The criminal investigation was led by troopers with the Bennington County Special Victims Unit and focused on the two paraprofessionals heard on the recording, according to Marthage.

After receiving word the criminal investigation was complete, Pinsonneault said she called the state's attorney's office to inquire about charges. In a meeting Monday morning, Pinsonneault said she was told that referring to Nathan as a "dumbass boy with autism" was "not a criminal act."

Marthage said the matter could have risen to the criminal level had there been the intent that Nathan heard remarks from the two adults, who were recorded often speaking behind a closed door. "There's nothing in the recording that supports that (intention)," Marthage said, although at one point Nathan is heard telling the adults "I can hear you."

The state's attorney said the decision was made after the recording was independently and completely reviewed by Bennington Police, state police, and her chief deputy attorney.

"Frankly, what it came down to was, it may have presented a situation that was wildly insensitive, but again, I can't file charges based on emotions," Marthage said.

She said a civil court would have "substantially different requirements" should the family pursue a civil suit.

Pinsonneault expressed disappointment by telephone Monday with the outcome. "I wanted them held responsible for what they did to Nathan," she said. "I guess we're not going to get any justice (through the criminal investigation)."

Nathan was previously reported to be back in school at a different elementary building in Bennington, where he is doing better.

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