Gilpin Told District of Lawsuit in '02

By Michael Barber
Bradenton Herald
February 23, 2005

MANATEE — Top-level school officials knew about sexual abuse allegations against former middle school assistant principal Joseph Gilpin in February 2002, according to documents obtained by The Herald.

An e-mail from Gilpin, dated Feb. 4, 2002, informed school district attorney Rob Shapiro that Gilpin was a defendant in a civil suit in Massachusetts. Then-Superintendent Dan Nolan was copied on the e-mail, and the subject of the e-mail was listed as "Per Dr. Nolan."

"Dr. Nolan asked that I send you this e-mail," Gilpin stated in his e-mail. "I am named as a defendant in a civil suit in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts."

The e-mail goes on to tell Shapiro how to contact Gilpin's attorney.

Nolan, who spent 42 years as an employee of the school district, was superintendent in Manatee County from January 2000 to June 2003. Numerous calls by The Herald to Nolan on Tuesday were not returned.

Shapiro, still attorney for the school district, acknowledged Tuesday that Gilpin made him aware in 2002 of the allegations of sexual abuse. The attorney would not discuss whether other school district officials were aware of Gilpin's disclosure.

"The documents reflect that I received the document, I analyzed it, and I had opinions on it," Shapiro said.

Three school board members reached Tuesday night by The Herald all said they were unaware of the allegations until they were made public Jan. 26, 2005, when the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests contacted school district officials.

When the allegations surfaced in January, Superintendent Roger Dearing immediately placed Gilpin, 60, on paid administrative leave. Gilpin, who was working at Haile Middle School, resigned Jan. 28, ending a 34-year career as a teacher and administrator in Manatee County schools.

School board members declined Tuesday night to speculate on why Nolan did not make them aware of the lawsuit against Gilpin in 2002. All five current school board members have served on the board since 1998.

"I think we should have been made aware," board member Larry Simmons said. "Whoever's responsibility it was to deal with this should have dealt with it differently than they did."

School board member Harry Kinnan agreed.

"I think there needed to be, and needs to be, a process involving the school board whenever a serious investigation involving an employee is ongoing," he said. "Not that we would comment on it, but so we could be apprised of what is happening."

When contacted Tuesday night, Dearing said he had not yet seen the documents obtained by The Herald.

Asked about his predecessor's actions, Dearing said he has the utmost respect for Nolan and that he does not know the circumstances surrounding Nolan's decision not to make the allegations public.

"Dan had to make a judgment call at that time, based on what he knew and what he knew of Joe Gilpin," Dearing said. "I will not second-guess what Dan did. But to me, a matter involving alleged unlawful acts involving moral turpitude, I will err on the side of caution every time."

Gilpin could not be reached for comment Tuesday night. He has declined comment since the allegations surfaced.

A message left for Gilpin's attorney, Frank S. Puccio of Worchester, Mass., who is cited in the 2002 e-mail, was not returned Tuesday evening.

Shapiro met with Gilpin

Shapiro responded to Gilpin's e-mail the same day he received it, saying he would contact Puccio.

Puccio mailed a letter and a copy of the civil lawsuit filed against Gilpin and the Boston Archdiocese to Shapiro on Feb. 11, 2002. According to notes obtained by The Herald, Shapiro reviewed the documents Feb. 14, then met with Gilpin on Feb. 15 to discuss the case.

"I'm not going to discuss what we did or what happened or the nature of it," Shapiro said. "I feel appropriate action was taken."

Shapiro said it wasn't the practice of school district officials to take personnel matters to school board members.

"We have allegations of all kinds of things that come before the human resources department," he said. "They don't get reported to the school board."

Despite the seriousness of the allegations, no mention of the lawsuit was included in Gilpin's district personnel files.

Advocates with two clergy abuse groups learned of Gilpin's 2002 e-mail to the school district Tuesday evening.

"It's very disturbing," said David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. "An anonymous allegation is one thing, but a civil lawsuit is quite another. They obviously should have investigated it and moved promptly, regardless of Gilpin's motives — whether they were honorable or a shrewd defense. Clearly, the leadership of the district owes the taxpayers some explanation."

Paul Kendrick, co-founder of Voice of the Faithful in Maine, questioned why Gilpin failed to disclose the reason for the lawsuit in the e-mail.

"He thought he was going to get caught so he wrote to them but didn't tell them the whole story," Kendrick said. "They put kids at risk. They didn't do their job."

Like Kendrick, Michael Fraga, who filed the 2002 civil suit against Gilpin, also questioned the school district's actions.

"I think that makes the case," Fraga said. "Are they there for their students or to protect their faculty?"

Dearing and school board members have already committed to upgrading the district's response to allegations made against district employees.

"We're going to change our procedures," Dearing said. "We're going to have a written paper trail and administrative guidelines on what to do whenever someone makes allegations against someone, to make sure nothing like this happens again."

Other complaints

Gilpin's personnel file does include two instances of "unwarranted touching" of students, records show.

In October 1996, then-Bayshore High Principal Doug Gorham cited Gilpin for an incident in which he patted a girl down and reached into her pockets because he suspected the girl was smoking cigarettes.

In May 2000, a school information report was filed with the Manatee County Sheriff's Office accusing Gilpin of an "unwarranted touch" of a female student at Johnson Middle School. In the report, written by Deputy Gary Davis, a seventh-grade student complained to her mother that Gilpin "hit her on the side of the buttock with a book."

No charges were brought against Gilpin in either case.

Reports of a third incident, which occurred in November at Haile, were not in Gilpin's file.

According to a report from the Manatee County Sheriff's Office, Haile faculty notified the sheriff's office in November after three male students claimed Gilpin made lewd remarks to them during a school function. One of the boys also alleged Gilpin patted him on his bottom.

The boys gave conflicting statements and one of the accusers also admitted exaggerating. Authorities concluded there was no evidence of a criminal violation and no charges were filed against Gilpin.

The sheriff's office has not received any complaints on Gilpin since the allegations surfaced in January, sheriff's officials said.


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