As she heads to trial, principal accused of failing to report child abuse wants case dismissed

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – An attorney representing a Providence elementary school principal who was charged with failing to report sexual abuse allegations students made against a teacher has asked a judge to dismiss the case, arguing that the existing state law is “too vague for the average citizen to understand what conduct is prohibited.”

Thomas Gulick, a lawyer for Violet LeMar, filed a motion for dismissal on Jan. 3. The request will be heard Tuesday, the same day as LeMar’s scheduled bench trial in front of Rhode Island District Court Judge James J. Caruolo.

“Although there is conduct that can be imagined that would surely fit the definition, the problem is with conduct that is less obvious,” Gulick wrote in a memorandum. “Unlike other provisions of our general laws that specifically define inappropriate sexual conduct, this stature asks the court to guess at what the law means.”

LeMar was charged in August with failing to immediately contact the R.I. Department of Children, Youth and Families after learning that children at Harry Kizirian Elementary School had accused a physical education teacher of touching them inappropriately. The teacher, James Duffy, has been charged with six counts of second-degree child molestation and one count of simple assault.

LeMar and Duffy have each pleaded not guilty. They are both on paid administrative leave from the Providence school department.

LeMar is one of only three individuals who have been charged under the failure to report law, which was approved in 2016. The law requires anyone who has reasonable cause to know or suspect that a child has been the victim of sexual abuse to report it to DCYF within 24 hours. The crime is a misdemeanor.

A Cranston High School West psychologist was acquitted of the same charge in another case earlier this month. An elementary school principal in Warwick has pleaded not guilty to failing to report in a separate case.

In his request for a dismissal, Gulick argued there is no way “to tell if the law considers only sexual touching sexual abuse or if it includes some other kind of sexual conduct that can occur without touching.”

“The statute calls upon the police and the courts tot [sic] fill in the blanks about what is and is not reportable sexual abuse,” Gulick wrote. “The law contains no standards and invites arbitrary enforcement.”

Providence school officials have acknowledged multiple employees were aware of abuse allegations and none of them immediately contacted DCYF, but LeMar was the only charged.

Gulick isn’t the only one seeking clarity on the state law. Nicholas Hemond, an attorney who serves as president of the Providence School Board, has called on state lawmakers to adjust the law to define how schools should handle incidents when multiple employees become aware of a student’s accusations.

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Dan McGowan (dmcgowan@wpri.com) covers politics, education and the city of Providence for WPRI.com. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @danmcgowan