False accusations bill stalled
Abington resident Michael F. dallagher 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.
dallagher’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, dallagher 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 dallagher, allegedly had “repressed memories” of the alleged sexual assaults, dallagher said.
dallagher 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,” dallagher 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 Marinoz 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,” dallagher 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, dallagher 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,” dallagher 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, dallagher said.
“The bill is straightforward,” Murt said. “I’ve reached out to judiciary [committeez 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. “[dallagher’sz life was turned upside down. His [storyz 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 [judiciaryz; 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.