LINCOLN, Maine — An education technician at Ella P. Burr School was cleared of any criminal wrongdoing by a police investigation into an accusation that she allegedly had grabbed a 7-year-old pupil and forced her onto a school bus seat, Police Chief William Lawrence said Wednesday.
The allegation, Lawrence said, was that the school worker, whom he identified as Denise Richard, “grabbed her [the 7-year-old girl] and slammed her into a seat” during a school bus ride on Oct. 30. Richard was on the bus ride accompanying another child when the incident allegedly occurred.
But police interviews with Richard, the child and several witnesses, including the bus driver, and a review of the bus camera videotape that had recorded the incident, told a slightly different story, Lawrence said.
“The complaint was that [the pupil] was grabbed and thrown into the seat, but based on what I saw, [Richard] did the appropriate thing,” Lawrence said.
Stephen Burlock, an assistant district attorney with the Penobscot County District Attorney’s Office, reviewed the case and decided to forgo charges against Richard, Lawrence said. Burlock did not immediately return a message left Wednesday.
District Attorney R. Christopher Almy agreed with Lawrence’s interpretation of events. Almy expressed sympathy for the girl and her mother, saying the girl was the victim of harassment on the bus, but that Richard’s actions were “totally appropriate.”
“There is no way we are taking this case to court,” Almy said Wednesday. “The mother is mad about this, I am sure, but we have to look at what we can prove beyond a reasonable doubt and I don’t think we can do that based on a preponderance of the evidence.”
Lawrence said that although police didn’t believe charges were warranted, they sought the review to make sure they were correct in their conclusion, Lawrence said.
RSU 67 Superintendent Denise Hamlin declined to discuss the investigation or Richard’s status Wednesday, citing it as a personnel matter.
The evidence showed that the girl “was out of control on the bus” because she was in a confrontation, being picked on by other children, while the bus was moving, and Richard grabbed the girl, put her in a seat and sat next to her to end the confrontation and “calm things down,” Lawrence said.
The “offensive physical contact” of Richard grabbing the girl occurred because Richard was trying to alleviate an unsafe situation and chose in the moment a reasonable course of action, Lawrence said.
“By clear definition, [assault] is there, but why did this occur? Are there circumstances surrounding this that could have prevented this from occurring? And based on what we were seeing, the answer was no. It was the only thing [Richard] could have done under the circumstances,” Lawrence said.
“Luckily in this case there were cameras on the bus to help clarify the statements of the people involved,” he added. “These things are not always cut and dry.”
Attempts to contact Richard were unsuccessful.
Officer Mark Fucile handled the investigation, with assistance from Detective David Cram, Lawrence said.