Reports detail alleged beatings, intimidation of former Eagleton School students

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GREAT BARRINGTON — "What goes on in dorm, stays in dorm."

That is what former Eagleton School staffer Isaac Harris-El allegedly told students — including a man with traumatic brain injury and epilepsy, whom he is accused of punching several times in the head.

Harris-El, 41, of Watervliet, N.Y., was among nine former staff members who were arraigned this week on more than 50 assault charges involving various students of the residential school between July 2013 and November 2015.

Harris-El also netted a charge of intimidating a witness for allegedly trying to keep the students from reporting abuse by telling them they would be "snitching."

Details of the alleged assaults, including Harris-El's statements, were contained in police reports obtained by The Eagle.

Warrants for the nine staffers were filed April 24 by Great Barrington Police Officer Jonathan Finnerty and Trooper Gregory Denys of the Massachusetts State Police, a detective connected to the Berkshire County District Attorney's Office, following a months-long investigation.

The investigation included victim interviews and scrutiny of video footage seized from Eagleton School during a January raid of the campus amid allegations of staff abuse of students. Five staffers were arrested at the time; a total of 16 now are facing charges.

The school was shut down last month, with its students relocated to several other schools.

Harris-El was the only one of the nine defendants who did not respond to a summons to appear in Southern Berkshire District Court on Monday. A warrant has been issued for his arrest.

He faces six counts each of assault and battery, assault at battery on a disabled person, intimidation of a witness and assault and battery with intent to cause serious injury. Some of these charges stem from a Nov. 15, 2015, incident in which Harris-El allegedly fractured a student's orbital bone with several punches.

Another Eagleton staffer, Martin B. Schmitt, 54, of Lenox, allegedly poked the eye of a student by using his personal phone in 2015. Several students reported to police that Schmitt often poked students in the eye as a way of trying to control them.

Schmitt also fractured another student's finger by twisting it, according to the report. He later told that student "I am going to break your other finger. I'll break them all if you keep this up."

Alexis Lopez, 23, of Pittsfield, was charged with three counts of assault and battery and three counts of assault and battery on a disabled person, all in connection with eye-poking incidents.

Damian Sinclair, 24, of Albany, faces assault charges after he reportedly punched a student in the eye, causing him to seek treatment at Fairview Hospital.

Michael Bell, 44, also of Watervliet, faces charges in connection with a March 2015 incident in which he and Harris-El pulled the shirt up over the head of the epileptic student, pulled him into a van, and punched him several times, forcing the student to seek treatment for injuries to his mouth and eyes.

Derrick Saunders, 42, of Pittsfield, was charged with one count each of assault and battery, assault and battery on a disabled person, and assault and battery with intent to injure for slamming a student's head into radiator while the student was in restraints.

The other three defendants are Eric D. Williams, 39, of Pittsfield; Justin Senecal, 26, of Palmer, and Christopher B. Welch, 29, of Watervliet. Between them, they are facing seven counts of assault, according to police.

Welch is accused of striking a student on April 14, 2014, and Williams allegedly threw the student off a porch in the same incident. Senecal is accused of fracturing a students arm on July 11, 2013.

All the staffers pleaded not guilty and were released on personal recognizance.

Contact Derek Gentile at 413-496-6251.


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