Fifth Eagleton School staffer guilty of assault, spared jail time

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PITTSFIELD — A former staff member of the now-closed Eagleton School has admitted to assaulting students on two separate occasions, both of which were caught on videotape.

Isaac H. Harris-El, 42, of Watervliet, N.Y., is now the fifth former staffer to be convicted on charges connected with assaulting students at the Great Barrington school for boys and young men with developmental disabilities. None have been sentenced to jail time; another staffer was acquitted after a jury trial.

In the first incident, on Aug. 1, 2014, Harris-El was asked by nursing staff to assist in getting a 17-year-old student to swallow his medication, which involved pinching the student's nose and forcing open his mouth to ensure he swallowed the pills. When the student resisted, Harris-El put him in a headlock and took him to the ground.

In a second incident, on Dec. 31, 2015, Harris-El was struck in the head three times by another student, also 17. He left the room after being hit, but returned and assisted another staff member in restraining the student.

Harris-El denied punching the student, who suffered a broken eye socket during the struggle. Harris-El suffered a mild concussion, according to his attorney, Lori Levinson.

Both incidents were caught on surveillance video, which was played for both legal teams and Judge John Agostini.

Harris-El pleaded guilty in Berkshire Superior Court on Monday to two counts each of assault and battery on a disabled person and caretaker abuse on a disabled person.

Assistant Berkshire District Attorney Gregory Barry sought a 90-day jail sentence, which would have made Harris-El the first person incarcerated in the case.

Levinson noted that no other defendants have yet served any time, and pointed out that her client already had served 15 days in jail after being taken into custody in New York state while awaiting transport to Berkshire County for his arraignment.

She recommended continuing Harris-El's case without a finding and sentencing him to time already served.

Agostini gave Harris-El a one-year suspended jail sentence on one set of charges and continued the other set of charges without a finding for one year. Presuming he remains out of further legal trouble until then, those charges will ultimately be dismissed.

Since July, six cases involving accusations of abuse of students at the former school have been resolved in Berkshire Superior Court. About 20 former staff members were indicted by a Berkshire grand jury in the case.

- On July 21, Jose A. Valqui was found not guilty of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, assault and battery on a disabled person and caretaker abuse. Valqui's case is the only one that has gone to trial.

- On Oct. 12, Derrick Saunders pleaded guilty to assault and battery and caretaker abuse charges stemming from a May 2015 allegation. His case was continued without a finding for one year.

- On Nov. 1, Alexis A. Lopes pleaded guilty to seven counts of assault and battery on a disabled person, six counts of caretaker abuse and one count of assault and battery causing serious bodily injury in connection with assaults on five students from January 2015 to January 2016. His case was continued for one year, and he was required to undergo anger management counseling.

- On Nov. 20, Damian C. Sinclair pleaded guilty to assaulting three students from Jan. 1, 2014, to May 31, 2015. His case was also continued for one year.

- On Jan. 3, Ishmael Lytle pleaded guilty to one count each of assault and battery on a disabled person and caretaker abuse on a disabled person. His case was continued without a finding for one year.

In January 2016, the campus was the target of a raid by local, state and federal law enforcement alleging a pattern of abuse of students by staff. The school remained open after the raid, but it closed for good in April 2016 after its licenses to operate were revoked.

A pending civil lawsuit against the school and several of its staff members alleges that staff members routinely abused and neglected students, denied them proper medical attention, did not adequately investigate or report instances of abuse, and denied guardians access to their students if they complained or raised concerns.

Reach Bob Dunn at bdunn@berkshireeagle.com, at @BobDunn413 on Twitter and 413-496-6249.






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