Clerk magistrate finds no probable cause for filing assault charges
By Nancy Reardon
The Patriot Ledger
Posted Nov 08, 2008 @ 02:30 AM
QUINCY — A teacher accused of physically abusing six autistic students in a Randolph classroom will not face assault charges after a clerk magistrate found no probable cause.
In reaching his decision, the clerk questioned the accounts of three whistle-blower aides, calling parts of their stories “not believable” and in contrast with others’ portrayal of the teacher, according to a copy of his decision obtained from a parent.
“If the observations of the aides are accurate, it would indicate that Gibbons … underwent a complete personality change in February and March,” wrote Assistant Clerk Robert Bloom.
The parents of the students in Ann Gibbons’ satellite classroom for the South Shore Education Collaborative plan to appeal the Quincy District Court decision, which can be heard next by a District Court judge.
“I think it’s the wrong decision. The system has failed these kids,” said John Quill, of Norwell, who believes Gibbons caused lip and leg injuries to his 11-year-old son, Sean.
Gibbons, visibly emotional after the hearing, declined to comment. So did eight of her friends and supporters who anxiously awaited Bloom’s decision outside the courtroom during the closed hearing Friday.
Gibbons’ attorney, Todd Bennett, said he believed the case came as far as District Court because of “parental pressure” on the Randolph Police Department.
“Both sides got to present all the evidence before a neutral magistrate and he applied the lowest standard – probable cause. And he couldn’t find any evidence for a criminal complaint,” he said.
Three aides – Mary Ericson, AnneMarie Grant and Erin Royer – reported to parents and Collaborative officials that Gibbons pushed and shoved students, leading to bruises, cuts and limping. All six students in Gibbons’ class were nonverbal.
Both the school and the state Department of Children and Families – formerly known as the Department of Social Services – conducted investigations and found no evidence to support the allegations. But the parents pushed for criminal charges to “give a voice” to their nonverbal children and autistic children in general, they said.
Bloom said the aides’ reasons for not reporting the alleged abuse sooner “lack conviction.” The aides said they feared they would lose their jobs if they spoke up and said Gibbons intimidated them.
Bloom also noted the discrepancy between the aides’ portrayal of Gibbons and that of other staff members at the school, who praised the teacher.
He also said the threatening statements attributed to Gibbons by the aides “sound as if they came out of a dime novel.” “‘Like it or lump it’ and ‘I’m bigger, badder and stronger’ just don’t ring true,’” he wrote.
Grant, one of the aides, said she feared the hearing’s outcome would deter other aides from reporting abuse in special education classrooms.
“I’m disheartened,” she said outside the court. “I’m afraid for any other child who can’t go home and tell their parents.”
The parents – all from the South Shore – removed their children from Gibbons’ class in the spring, and none of the students are enrolled this year at the South Shore Collaborative.
Gibbons, who has been with the school for six years, was placed on academic leave in March for the remainder of the school year. Neither school officials nor her attorney would confirm her status this year.
Grant and Royer are no longer with the collaborative. Ericson is pursuing a related claim against the school, which transferred her into an adult program, she said.
See Related: You've Got to Be Kidding Me, MA: Teacher of autistic children in Randolph under fire, Open Letter to MA Disability Law Center regarding Alleged Abuse of 6 Non Verbal Children, and Aides Accuse Teacher Of Abusing Autistic Students