Thursday, January 1, 2009

MD: Teacher charged with sex abuse subject of 2007 investigation

Mt. Hebron band director arrested in late December
By Mike Santa Rita

Posted 12/31/08

A Mt. Hebron High School band teacher arrested last year for sexually abusing a 17-year-old female student had been the target of an in-school investigation in 2007, according to charging documents.

Robert Douglas Johnston, 61, of the 4400 block of Brittany Drive, in Ellicott City, was arrested Dec. 22 after turning himself into police. He is charged with sexual abuse of a minor, third- and fourth-degree sex offenses, and obscene telephone misuse, according to police.

Johnston was the school's instrumental music teacher and band director, said Patti Caplan, a school system spokeswoman. He has been employed by the Howard County Public School System since 1969, she said.

An in-school investigation of Johnston was done in February 2007, when the same girl he is charged with abusing was seen by a parent sitting on Johnston's lap in Johnston's office, according to charging documents.

The documents do not state the outcome of that investigation.

Caplan said she could not comment on a personnel matter, but that any suspicion of child abuse is immediately reported to child protective services, which conducts an investigation. Even if an incident does not rise to the level of child abuse, she said, if it is deemed inappropriate behavior the system takes "appropriate disciplinary action."

The police investigation began Dec. 6 when school Principal Scott Ruehl received an e-mail addressed to him, which included other e-mails between the girl and Johnston, according to charging documents. The e-mails indicated an extremely close personal relationship but contained no sexual statements, charging documents state.

School officials notified police of what they believed to be an inappropriate relationship.

Detectives contacted the girl, and after interviews and an investigation, concluded Johnston had been sexually abusing the girl inside the school since she was 15, police said.

Johnston denied any sexual contact with the girl, according to charging documents. A person who answered the phone at Johnston's home declined to comment.

The girl told police her relationship with Johnston began in October 2006 when she began taking music lessons from him, according to charging documents. The girl had taken music lessons and band classes from Johnston, and is a member of several band teams Johnston is in charge of, according to the documents.

Johnston first hugged her around Christmas of 2006 and the relationship later progressed to include fondling and sex acts that occurred in the lounge of the school's band room, charging documents state.

The girl also told police Johnston had engaged in lewd telephone calls with her, the documents state.

Johnston was released on $25,000 bail Dec. 24, according to Wayne Kirwan, a spokesman for the Howard County state's attorney. The sexual abuse charge carries a penalty of up to 25 years in prison, police said.

School officials placed Johnston on administrative leave Dec. 8, Caplan said.

Johnston began his 39-year career in the county teaching classes at both Glenwood Middle School and Glenelg High School, Caplan said. She said he has been at Mt. Hebron, in Ellicott City, since 1974.

A preliminary hearing in the case is set for Feb. 6.

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