False ac­cu­sa­tions bill stalled

Glenside News - - OPINION - By Linda Finarelli

Abing­ton res­i­dent Michael F. Gal­lagher is on a mis­sion. Not an all-con­sum­ing mis­sion, but one he has not given up on in the last 14 years.

It’s a bill that has been in­tro­duced sev­eral times in the state House, first by the late state Rep. Ellen Bard, R-153, and more re­cently by state Rep. Tom Murt, R-152. The bill has never got­ten out of the House Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee.

H.B. 1506 would make it a third-de­gree felony to know­ingly file a false re­port with po­lice ac­cus­ing an­other per­son of a felony. It is cur­rently a mis­de­meanor.

Gal­lagher’s story be­gan in De­cem­ber 1997 when po­lice came to his door to tell him a com­plaint had been filed against him and he needed to come to the po­lice sta­tion. An el­e­men­tary school teacher in the Abing­ton School Dis­trict for 25 years, Gal­lagher said he was told a stu­dent he had taught in fifth grade 13 years be­fore ac­cused him of rap­ing her more than 20 times dur­ing the 1985-86 school year. He later learned the girl had moved to Chel­tenham in sixth grade and ac­cused a teacher there of the same thing, he said.

The girl, who was al­most 23 when she made the ac­cu­sa­tion against Gal­lagher, al­legedly had “re­pressed mem­o­ries” of the al­leged sex­ual as­saults, Gal­lagher said.

Gal­lagher was ar­rested in Jan­uary 1998 and sus­pended from his job with­out pay, and for the next 10 months “I won­dered why this was hap­pen­ing to me,” he said.

“The woman who had ac­cused me kept chang­ing her story,” Gal­lagher said, and in Oc­to­ber of that year he was ex­on­er­ated and the charges dropped.

He said he was told the woman failed a poly­graph test and “then the DA [then Michael Marino] got wor­ried. He knew if it went to trial he would lose the case.”

In­sur­ance paid for the bulk of his le­gal bills, but it still cost him $10,000 plus an­other $600 to have his name ex­punged from his ar­rest record, he said.

He was of­fered his job back, “but I re­tired,” Gal­lagher said. “I was 60 years old. It was too scary.”

The Abing­ton Town­ship po­lice chief said his ac­cuser should be ar­rested, but she wasn’t, Gal­lagher said. In­stead the DA’s of­fice took the case to a grand jury, “where they de­ter­mined that my false ac­cuser ‘didn’t re­ally mean to lie to the po­lice,’” he said.

Af­ter he was ex­on­er­ated Rep. Bard ap­proached him and sug­gested sub­mit­ting a bill to make fil­ing false in­for­ma­tion a felony of­fense, he said.

“These are se­ri­ous crimes,” Gal­lagher said. “My fam­ily was dev­as­tated over this.”

His story sub­se­quently ap­peared in a prom­i­nent ed­u­ca­tional jour­nal and “well over 50 teach­ers, at the time, con­tacted me with their own false ac­cu­sa­tion sto­ries and how they were suf­fer­ing as a re­sult,” he said. “Not one ac­cuser was ever pun­ished.”

Bard’s bill never moved out of com­mit­tee and Murt agreed to rein­tro­duce it, Gal­lagher said.

“The bill is straight­for­ward,” Murt said. “I’ve reached out to ju­di­ciary [com­mit­tee] and they are de­cid­ing if and when to run it.”

The bill would in­crease the penalty from 2.5 to 5 years to 3.5 to 7 years, Murt said. With lit­tle time re­main­ing in the cur­rent ses­sion, he said he would in­tro­duce it again in the next ses­sion if nec­es­sary.

“I feel the bill is rea­son­able. I don’t think peo­ple should be able to file false charges ar­bi­trar­ily,” the leg­is­la­tor said. “[Gal­lagher’s] life was turned up­side down. His [story] is a good ex­am­ple of false charges.”

Murt said he didn’t know why the bill had never moved out of com­mit­tee.

“I pe­ri­od­i­cally reach out to [ju­di­ciary]; most re­cently was yes­ter­day,” he said July 26. Per­haps some leg­is­la­tors might want to make it a F1 or F2 count, he said.

“A great deal of time and re­sources goes into in­ves­ti­gat­ing false charges that could be put to other cases,” Murt said. “I think it’s an is­sue and needs to be ad­dressed.”

Last month for­mer Lans­dale Catholic High School lacrosse coach Tim Udin­ski was charged with stalk­ing and harass­ment af­ter he al­legedly de­lib­er­ately made false ac­cu­sa­tions of sex­ual mis­con­duct against two other coaches at the school and ac­cused the prin­ci­pal of fail­ing to take ac­tion re­gard­ing the al­leged mis­con­duct.

A press re­lease from Mont­gomery County Dis­trict At­tor­ney Risa Fer­man an­nounc­ing Udin­ski’s ar­rest noted that 12 county de­tec­tives and staff had in­ves­ti­gated the al­le­ga­tions against the two coaches, in­ter­view­ing 97 peo­ple and ex­e­cut­ing 10 court or­ders and search war­rants. The in­ves­ti­ga­tion, which cost an es­ti­mated $8,250, con­cluded that the al­le­ga­tions against both coaches were false and un­founded, the re­lease says, adding, “The cost to the men sub­jected to the false ac­cu­sa­tions is im­pos­si­ble to mea­sure.”

From left are Meals on Wheels vol­un­teers Maryellen Hall, Bob Kreisich and Ayal Fein­berg as they bag meals for de­liv­ery.

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