Teacher not guilty of sex abuse charges

Was ac­cused by for­mer stu­dents of mak­ing sex­ual ad­vances

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By CERONE WHITE cwhite@somd­news.com

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.”

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