Rape trial begins for former Stockbridge school counselor
PITTSFIELD -- A former principal at Stockbridge Plain School testified Tuesday that he and other staff members investigated two incidents involving alleged "inappropriate touching" of students by former school counselor Scott Muir in 2004.
However, former Principal Robert Putnam said on the witness stand at Muir's trial in Berkshire Superior Court that a school investigation, and a later probe by the then-Department of Social Services, was inconclusive regarding those two students.
"Based on everything I discovered, I did not see that abuse had taken place," Putnam said.
"You never observed," asked Muir's lawyer, William A. Rota, "any interaction that might have been deemed inappropriate between Mr. Muir and those two children, did you?"
"No," Putnam said.
Muir, a former student support center coordinator at the Stockbridge Plain School, faces a total of 20 allegations from five females who were adolescents between 2003-06. The women are all now adults and may testify in the trial, which got underway Tuesday.
The counts include five counts of rape of a child with force, 14 counts of indecent assault and battery of a person under 14, and one count of attempted assault and battery of a person under 14.
Muir has pleaded not guilty to all 20 charges. He is free on $10,000 bail.
On Tuesday, Putnam was one of two school officials who asserted that they trusted Muir. Both Putnam and Gloria Greaves, a retired teacher who was assistant principal at the time, said they gave Muir consistently positive performance reviews.
"I wrote that he was an asset to the district," said Greaves, under cross-examination by Rota. "His interaction with children was always positive."
But earlier, under questioning by Assistant District Attorney Joseph Yurlano, Putnam recounted how two of the girls in the case had reported unsettling incidents in 2004 to their parents.
In one case, Muir was giving one of the girls, an 8-year-old, a piggyback ride on the playground. The girl reported that Muir had touched her buttocks during the ride.
Another incident concerned another 8-year-old in Muir's basement office. The girl reported that Muir touched her buttocks and stomach inappropriately.
Putnam testified that he confronted Muir about the incidents.
"And he seemed to have an explanation for both, didn't he?" Yurlano asked.
Putnam assented. In the first situation, Muir told him that he wears a "utility belt" of tools for his other jobs as an EMT and local fireman. One of the tools may have touched the girl, he reportedly told Putnam.
In the other situation, Putnam testified, the student was standing on a chair to reach a shelf in Muir's office and Muir said he was merely helping her down.
In response to questioning from Yurlano, Putnam said the dates on which the girls alleged the incidents happened and when Muir said they happened were different.
Regardless, Putnam said he immediately issued schoolwide orders that prohibited physical contact in a "normal setting" for anything but handshakes.
In addition, he told Muir he was not to have any students in his office until the school and state investigations were completed.
The investigation was completed in 2004 and Muir was allowed to have students in his office again.
In his opening statement, Yurlano told the jury the case was about "trust and power. Or rather, a breach of trust and an abuse of power.
"You'll hear that Mr. Muir was good guy; that he worked well with kids," said Yurlano. "He gave piggyback rides and he would put little girls in his lap. They trusted him. They liked him.
"Scott Muir," he said, "would bring these girls into his office, make them conformable -- and exploit them for his own pleasure."
In rebuttal, Rota told the jury bluntly that Muir was falsely accused.
"He did not sexually assault any of these women," said Rota. "He did not commit rape."
Rota acknowledged that child abuse is an emotional situation. He urged the jury "to keep an open mind; consider this case based solely on the evidence."
As part of his defense, Rota pointedly asked Putnam and Greaves about the location of Muir's office in the basement of the school. Both testified that the basement level had classrooms, a cafeteria, a library and a music room and was well-traveled.
"It was not a dark corner in a dark basement," said Rota. "It was busy, well-lit."
The trial resumes on Wednesday.
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