Teacher not guilty of sex abuse charges
Was accused by former students of making sexual advances
A Charles County Circuit Court jury Thursday found a former Henry E. Lackey High School teacher not guilty of charges of sexual abuse brought against him by two former students.
Ronald Wells, 35, of Accokeek, a former biology teacher at Lackey, was originally charged with two counts of sexual abuse involving a minor, and two counts of fourth-degree sexual offense, according to court
documents. Two male students accused the teacher of making sexual comments to them on two separate occasions dating back to 2015. Wells testified in his own defense Wednesday, denying any of the allegations against him.
After a little more than two hours of deliberation, the jury returned to the courtroom at about 11:45 a.m. Thursday morning and delivered the not guilty verdict.
The 12-member jury was selected Tuesday morning, and an estimated total of 35 witnesses were set to take the stand for the defense and the prosecution during the three-day trial.
According to court proceedings, a 17-yearold male told police that on his birthday in April 2016, he went into a classroom looking for a box of doughnuts. He told the court that Wells, the teacher in the classroom at the time, told the student that the doughnuts were in the closet. Once inside the closet, the student said Wells allegedly asked to see his genitals. The student then left.
According to the student, he testified that no more than five other students were in the classroom at the time and that they were either heading out or entering the classroom. The classroom wasn’t completely empty at the time of the alleged incident.
Former Lackey Vice Principal Mark Gladfelter, who was at the school from 2014-2016, said he knew Wells as a teacher.
Gladfelter testified in court on Tuesday that the victim entered his office and informed him of the alleged inappropriate comment that Wells made towards him in the classroom.
According to Gladfelter, the victim was looking for a box of doughnuts which his friend had hidden from him on that day. Shortly after the bell rang for everyone to head back to their regular classes, the student was still searching for the box of doughnuts.
In a statement the student made to Gladfelter, the victim said that Wells told him that the doughnuts were in the back closet. They both entered and the door was shut. It was then that Wells allegedly made a comment to the victim saying that he should show him why he has a girlfriend in college.
“The victim was asked by Wells to show him his private area,” Gladfelter said.
According to the statement collected by Gladfelter, after Wells allegedly asked to see his private area, the victim said “huh” to make sure he was hearing correctly. Wells told the student that he was just joking and the student then left the classroom.
Gladfelter took the alleged victim’s statement and went to his principal and shared the information he received. A report was then made — per the school system’s policy and procedures — to Department of Social Services and the Charles County Board of Education.
There are approximately 40 cameras throughout the school and there was one camera that Gladfelter said is 30 feet outside of Wells’ classroom. There are no cameras in the classroom.
The video showed in the courtroom showed two male students chasing each other in the hallway.
Because Gladfelter caught the student running in the hallway, the alleged victim assumed he would lose his “Charger Time,” an hour of free time students earn during their lunch period. The student said in court that Wells said he could talk to Gladfelter to get his Charger Time back but he would have to do something for him.
“Mr. Wells said ‘show me how you got a college girlfriend, show me your penis,’” the alleged victim said. “Mr. Wells later said he was joking before I left the classroom.”
Another student testified in court that Wells explained to him and other members of his class how to make a male ejaculate and he used a skeleton in the classroom to demonstrate how this would be done. According to the student, this demonstration was done during Charger Time.
Things got heated on the stand as Wells’ attorney Thomas Morrow grilled the victim as to how many people he told his story to before coming to court.
A second alleged victim involved in the case, who is now 20, said between May and June of 2015, he was engaging in a sex act with a girl in Wells’ classroom during Charger Time.
According to the victim, he was called into a science closet where Wells allegedly asked to see his penis in return for him not to tell on him.
“I was shocked when Wells asked to see my penis,” the former student testified. “I looked up to him.”
According to the former student, he didn’t disclose this information in his initial statement because it only happened once and he didn’t think much of it; however, once he heard it had allegedly happened again, he decided to tell school officials.
Wells, a Georgia native who is gay and has been in a monogamous relationship for more than 13 years, took the stand on day two in his own defense.
According to testimony given said, “I did not ask any student to see their penis,” and he went on to say that he didn’t have any conversation about the alleged victim dating college girls, nor did he know anything about the doughnuts.
When asked about the skeleton matter, Wells said he did not recall demonstrating on a skeleton about how men ejaculate. Wells went on to say in his testimony that he was placed on administrative leave on April 29, 2016, at 3:30 p.m.
“This was the exact date I was told not to come back to Henry E. Lackey High School,” Wells said.
“An official complaint was filed on May 3, 2016,” Wells told the court.
Wells was served on Jan. 20 with a summons, and on Jan. 27 an indictment was filed charging Wells with two counts of sex abuse of a minor and two counts of attempted fourth-degree sex offense.
The defense called character witnesses to testify to Wells’ truthfulness and honesty. In one of the character witness testimonies, an 18-yearold girl said while in the parking lot at the school she overheard one of the alleged victims saying, “I am going to get a teacher fired.”
“I do not recall making a statement that I am going to get a teacher fired today,” the alleged victim said when called back to the stand for rebuttal.
Morrow said after the verdict, “You never know what a jury is going to do. Basically all you do is put on a defense, and my fundamental approach in these cases is common sense because I think the vast majority of these cases can be resolved from common sense.
“Here you had two individuals who had a bias against a teacher. They decided they’re going to make the teacher regret that he got them in trouble.”
According to Morrow, one of the alleged victims said, “I [didn’t] think it would go this far.”
“Students make statements not appreciating the teacher and making statements that a teacher has committed sexual abuse and don’t think of the impact it can have on a person’s life,” Morrow said.
“Now if Mr. Wells wants to continue as a teacher, it is now up to the school board and most likely the superintendent of the school [system] to ultimately come up with that decision,” he said. “That’s if Mr. Wells still wants to be a teacher after all this.”
In a statement to the Maryland Independent earlier this week, Katie O’Malley-Simpson, spokeswoman for Charles County Public Schools, said, “Mr. Wells has denied the allegations and asked for a jury trial. Mr. Wells was placed on administrative leave and provided a temporary assignment starting May 2, 2016. He worked at the administrative office until the close of the 201516 school year in June and returned to work at the administrative offices when teachers reported back to work in August 2016. He worked the entire 2016-17 school year at the administrative offices.”
“No letter was sent home to parents when the accusation was made as no charges were filed at the time. No letter was sent home when the indictment was filed as Mr. Wells had not worked in a school since May 2016,” said Simpson in the statement.
“With every trial or every situation [that comes before] the state’s attorney’s office, we do our job and I might add that my assistant attorney, Tiffany Campbell, did a fantastic job on this case,” said Charles County State’s Attorney Anthony Covington (D). “We couldn’t have brought the evidence forward better … ultimately it’s up to the jury; the jury did what they were supposed to do and we have no choice but to respect their judgment. I am disappointed by it, but they did their job and we did our job.”
“They’re no plans for any appeal,” Covington said. “A lot of citizens don’t understand, but the state cannot appeal a verdict. The state gets one bite of the apple.”