Eagleton School critical of 'heavy-handed' police tactics
GREAT BARRINGTON — Eagleton School officials say they are cooperating with the ongoing investigation of allegations of abuse of students and have fired four employees, but administrators remain critical of "heavy-handed" law enforcement tactics.
"If they had an issue with us, they could have told us without a late-night raid," said Kurt Garavaltis, director of admissions and marketing.
More than 50 federal, state and local law enforcement officers descended on the campus on Jan. 30 to execute a search warrant in connection with allegations of abuse. Five employees were arrested in connection with the case and have pleaded not guilty to the charges. Berkshire District Attorney David F. Capeless has not ruled out the possibility of additional arrests.
In an interview with The Eagle, Eagleton officials said the raid caused unnecessary problems in the days that followed, and was particularly disruptive to the students.
"This is an environment in which you want students to feel safe," said Michael Adams, acting program director. "The police were professional, they were polite, we have no complaints about the way they acted while they were here. But it was hard on the students."
In a news release after the raid, Capeless praised investigators for the way they handled the search.
"The investigators who carried out the execution of the search warrant ... at the Eagleton School should be commended for their professionalism and sensitivity to the students' privacy," Capeless said. "The operation was conducted with minimum presence, and reports back to me indicated that normal operations at the school were not disrupted and the students were unaware of the law enforcement presence."
The private residential school is for boys and young men with special needs, including autism and Asperger syndrome and other cognitive, behavioral and developmental disabilities.
Officials also cited other logistical concerns.
"The state police confiscated our servers and videotape" as part of their investigation, said Garavaltis. "Our security cameras were down for four days."
This is no small issue, according to Garavaltis. The school has security cameras throughout the campus, including in the dormitory buildings, to monitor students, not just to check on possible acting out, but to keep track of students with potentially dangerous or harmful medical issues.
TALK TO US
If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.