Barnett Pleads Innocent to Sex Charge


Submitted 7 months ago
Created by
Sandy Vondrasek, Herald staff

Allegations Are Finally Public

Former Randolph Union High School Co-Principal David A. Barnett appeared in Orange County Criminal Court in Chelsea yesterday morning for arraignment on a single count of sexual exploitation of a minor.

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Speaking on behalf of his client, Atty. Brooks McArthur entered an innocent plea on the felony charge, and agreed to the conditions of release imposed on Barnett by Judge Michael J. Harris.

A charging statement by Orange County State’s Atty. Will Porter alleges that Barnett “engaged in a sexual act with a minor at least 48 months younger than the defendant, while the defendant was in a position of power, authority, or supervision over the minor,” and that Barnett “did abuse” that power “in order to engage in a sexual act.”

A four-page affidavit written by Lt. Scott Clouatre, of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, alleges that a mentoring relationship between Barnett and a female student, who often came to his office to talk, became “physical” during the September 2011-June 2012 school year.

The student, who was 16 at that time and is now in college, told investigators that the physicality included kissing, “heavy petting,” and “digital insertion.” She said their sexual contact, which occurred mostly in Barnett’s office, ended after she starting dating someone at the end of the school year. She did remain in touch with Barnett afterwards, via texting and Facebook, she said.

The former student, now 22, is named in court records, but The Herald does not generally release the names of victims of alleged sex crimes.

The Orange Southwest School District Board placed Barnett on paid administrative leave in December, when advised by police of an investigation into “an inappropriate relationship” with a former student. The board voted unanimously to terminate his contract earlier this month. Barnett, 50, lives in Waitsfield.

Decision To Talk

The student said she had never told anyone about the relationship until she shared that history with a college friend late in 2017. With the support of that friend, the young woman related her story to her therapist, and, eventually to a counselor at RUHS, who put her in touch with authorities.

On December 26, 2017, she was in Chelsea, where she spoke with a female “forensic interviewer” at the Orange County Child Advocacy Center.

Lt. Clouatre’s affidavit is based on that interview—which he observed “from another room”—as well as on a January 18 interview that Clouatre himself conducted with Barnett, with Atty. McArthur present.

In the early part of that interview, Clouatre wrote, Barnett “denied ‘recalling’ anything that may have been inappropriate with any former students.”

When Clouatre then provided more details, as provided by the student, Barnett emphatically denied the allegations: “None of that ever occurred,” he stated.

In the interview, Barnett characterized his connection with his accuser as “primarily a mentoring relationship.” He said the girl would come often to visit him, because she “struggled with a lot” when she was in high school.

He noted that he came to RUHS in 2007, as an associate principal, and became the principal in 2011—the same year the alleged inappropriate relationship began.

Mental Wreck’

The young woman, in the December interview, noted several times that she had been struggling with mental health issues, including depression and an eating disorder, at the time. She began to confide in Barnett in her high school years, regularly visiting him in his office, she said in the interview. She and Barnett also contacted each other via text messages, the complainant said.

In the fall of 2011, she stated, the relationship shifted, and became physical. She would go to Barnett’s office, she said; he would close the door and turn off the lights.

The young woman described her conflicted feelings during this time.

She “had a crush on him,” the young woman told the interviewer, and the relationship made her “feel wanted.” She had concerns about their being caught, she told the interviewer, but she was also a “mental wreck” at the time, and “went along with it.”

“She knew what was going on was wrong, but she convinced herself it was okay,” is how Lt. Clouatre summarized her statements.

The former student said she had viewed Barnett as a person of authority, but also “a safe person.”

No Contact’

Barnett’s appearance in court yesterday lasted only a few minutes.

Judge Harris stressed to Barnett the importance of observing the conditions imposed by the court, particularly the several conditions stipulating no contact with the complainant.

Barnett and Atty. McArthur quickly left the courthouse afterwards, without comment.

Given that the interviews for this case were conducted in December and January, it remains unclear why police waited until mid-March to cite Barnett on the single “exploitation” charge.

In February, when asked about the delay, Orange County Sheriff Bill Bohnyak told The Herald that the case had developed some “twists and turns.” There is no indication, in the affidavit released yesterday, of other developments or charges to come.

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