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DPS pays legal bills of East High administrators charged with failing to report alleged sex assault

Colorado law required educators and other to call police if they suspect a child has been abused. After several current and former East High administrators were charged with failing to do that, the district agreed to pay their legal bills.
East High School.

Denver Public Schools has spent nearly $20,000 in legal bills for a group of current and former East High School administrators accused of failing to report a student’s alleged sexual assault, documents obtained by 9Wants to Know show.

And those bills could grow significantly – motions and hearings are pending for four of the administrators, and their trials aren’t expected to be held until early next year.

The four were charged with repeatedly failing to call police after learning that a female East student had reported being inappropriately touched by a male classmate in March 2016. A judge dismissed a charge against a fifth East administrator after she argued successfully that in her case the statute of limitations had run out – something prosecutors are appealing.

Among those facing charges is former East principal Andy Mendelsberg, who retired in the fall of 2017 in the face of the alleged coverup of complaints that a cheerleading coach had physically abused students while forcing them to do the splits. His trial is now scheduled to start Jan. 9. Recently retired Vice Principal Jann Peterson is scheduled to go on trial beginning Jan. 10. Dean Eric Sinclair’s trial is scheduled to start Jan. 30, and counselor Anita Curtiss’ trial is set to begin Feb. 6.

Each faces the misdemeanor charge of failing to report suspected child abuse. Curtiss faces an additional count, negligent child about without injury.

Colorado law requires educators, doctors, pastors and a host of others to call police if they know, suspect or are told that a child has been abused.

The decision by DPS to foot the legal bills contrasts with what was done in the Cherry Creek district earlier this year – after three administrators were charged with failing to report suspected child abuse, they were suspended with pay and left to hire, and pay for, their own attorneys.

Terrance Carroll, the chief legal and external affairs officer for DPS, defended the decision.

“The rationale behind it is very simple – that our records indicated that our employees acted in an appropriate fashion when they received reports of the incident that’s at the heart of this,” Carroll said. “Our records show that they actually informed the Denver Police Department of those allegations – and they followed every protocol that they were supposed to follow.”

In court documents obtained by 9Wants to Know, Denver police and prosecutors disputed that assertion.

The controversy started in March 2016 when a female East student told a dean that a male classmate had touched her inappropriately.

Two of the East officials entered information about the report into the student records for both the girl and the boy.

One entry in the girl’s record, according to court documents obtained by 9Wants to Know, read, “Student reported an interaction over the weekend that made her feel uncomfortable. Contacted parents and school psych. Parents came in and conferenced with all. Will [follow up] with student as needed.”

And entry in the boy’s record read, “Met with student regarding a physical interaction with female student over the weekend. Warned student about safety, consulted with SRO and interaction did not rise to the level of unlawful sexual contact.”

But the Denver police officer assigned to the school, Rick Beal, pulled his log sheets from the time of the girl’s reports after the incident came to light in 2017, according to court documents, and “there was no information on the log sheets showing a sexual offense.”

In addition, Beal, according to court documents, told investigators: “I do not recall any conversation with Dean Sculley regarding any level of sexual offense involving the two parties involved. While working East High School as a resource officers for approximately five years all reports of sexual offenses were properly documented regardless of time frame, jurisdiction, or victim cooperation.”

Carroll told 9NEWS on Tuesday that the district stands by actions taken by the current and former East administrators.

“It’s all based on the facts and circumstances of the case,” he said. “Of course, if one of our employees commits an egregious crime, we’re not going to represent them.

“But if our employee followed all of our rules and all of our procedures – as they did in this case – we have an obligation to protect them and make sure that they have competent counsel,” he said.

Attorneys for the current and former East High administrators are due back in court Oct. 15 to address pending motions in the case.

Contact 9NEWS reporter Kevin Vaughan with tips about this or any story: kevin.vaughan@9news.com or 303-871-1862.

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