Sheriff's Office opens criminal investigation into Catlin Gabel abuse
Washington County sheriff's officials say they've launched a criminal investigation into allegations of sexual abuse at Catlin Gabel private school.
The announcement came Tuesday morning, Jan. 7, following an independent investigative report released by Catlin Gabel the month prior, looking into years of alleged sexual abuse and misconduct from school teachers and employees.
In all, former students and faculty identified 21 different staff members who allegedly engaged in questionable conduct with children over the past 60 years, the report noted.
The Sheriff's Office said it was alerted to the sex abuse allegations before, but never investigated.
"In November 2018, detectives from the Washington County Sheriff's Office were asked to investigate allegations of child sexual abuse involving a specific former faculty member at Catlin Gabel School," a news release stated. "Detectives learned that the suspect had died earlier that year and concluded the investigation. At the time, investigators were not aware of allegations involving any other staff members."
At the center of much of the investigative report commissioned by Catlin Gabel was longtime instructor Richardson "Dick" Shoemaker.
Investigators spoke with 23 students who said they endured abuse from Shoemaker, noting he had touched them inappropriately during school hours, frequently made them sit on his lap during the 1980s and '90s, and, according to one student, tried to kiss her while alone with her in a classroom.
Shoemaker retired from Catlin Gabel in 2001 and died in 2018.
According to the report, the sheriff's office did investigate reports of sexual abuse by Shoemaker in 2000.
"In 2000, the head of school (Lark Palma) was contacted by the Washington County Sheriff's Department, which was investigating a report of historic sexual abuse by Shoemaker that did not involve any current or recent students and did not take place on campus," the report reads. "The school was not involved further in this investigation other than the head of school (Lark Palma) answering a few questions."
Staff members also were interviewed.
"After the employee's death, comments on social media raised other concerns of sexual abuse perpetrated by former Catlin Gabel employees," according to the Sheriff's Office press release. "Catlin Gabel retained an outside investigator, whose work resulted in the identification of 21 staff members alleged to have engaged in questionable conduct with children over the past 60 years."
During his teaching tenure, Shoemaker's conduct was never properly investigated, despite several student complaints, the report found.
The school issued an open letter to the community in conjunction with its investigation, saying the school "failed on multiple accounts — in protecting students and in addressing the abuse."
New policies and avenues for reporting inappropriate behavior have been put in place since the investigation, school officials told the Tribune last month.
Deputies say, since that report was released to the public in December, "additional incidents" have come to light and are actively being investigated, with the cooperation of Catlin Gabel administrators.
Detectives are seeking the public's help to identify potential victims and suspects. Anyone with information is asked to contact Detective Chuck Anderson at 503-846-2704.
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