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Great Barrington Residential School Under Investigation for Abuse

Staff Reports

GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass. — Multiple law enforcement agencies descended on the private Eagleton School on Saturday night as part of an investigation into abuse of the students there.

Under the direction of Berkshire District Attorney David F. Capeless and the State Police Detective Unit assigned to his office, a search warrant was executed at the residential facility involving approximately 50 state, local and federal law enforcement officers.

Five people were arrested during a weekend raid.
 
Authorities arrested Brian Puntin, 47, of Lenox Dale, Peter Meadow, 51, of Lenox, James Swift, 54, of Pittsfield, Juan Pablo Lopez-Lucas, of Pittsfield, and Debra Davis, 41, of Great Barrington. 
 
Puntin and Swift were charged at arraignment on Monday with single counts of assault and battery on a disabled person. Meadow and Lopez-Lucas were charged with single counts of assault and battery by means of a dangerous weapon, and assault and battery on a disabled person. Davis is being charged with two counts of intimidation of a witness or other person.
 
These charges are slightly different from when arrested; Davis had initially also been charged with obstruction of justice and only one count of witness intimidation, and Meadow only had assault and battery on a disabled person.
 
All had been released prior to their arraignment in Southern Berkshire District Court. At their arraignment, all five had not-guilty pleas entered on their behalf. All were released on personal recognizance on the condition they stay away from Eagleton School and have no contact with the students. They will be back in court for pre-trial hearings on March 10, 2016.
 
"The investigators who carried out the execution of the search warrant Saturday night at the Eagleton School should be commended for their professionalism and sensitivity to the students’ privacy. 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," wrote District Attorney David Capeless in a statement released Sunday night. 

The warrant was issued as a result of an ongoing investigation into allegations of physical and emotional abuse on students by staff at the Monterey Road school, according to a statement from the district attorney's office. Accompanying investigators were personnel from the State Department of Early Education and Care who were on scene to ensure the safety of the students and the continued, proper operation of the school.

"The health and well-being of the children at Eagleton School is of utmost importance to EEC. The Department of Early Education and Care is overseeing and actively monitoring the program’s operations and will continue to do so to ensure the children remain safe. EEC is working with law enforcement and is conducting an investigation into the program jointly with the Department of Children and Families. EEC will take further action as warranted in response to our on-going investigation," reads a statement from Thomas Weber, commissioner of the department. 

Eagleton is a private year-round residential school for boys and young men with special needs including autism and Asperger's syndrome.  

The investigation into allegations of physical and emotional abuse on students by staff was initiated by the Great Barrington Police Department in early January. According to a statement on behalf of the town Great Barrington, police will remain at the school "to ensure that the collection of evidence related to the investigation proceeds in a thorough, coordinated, and orderly manner."

Capeless praised the work of lead investigators Great Barrington Police Officer Jonathan Finnerty and State Trooper Gregory Denys.  

"Their persistence and professionalism uncovered this terrible situation and will allow us to seek justice on behalf of these vulnerable victims," he said in a statement.

Town officials said further details cannot be released at this time but that there is no danger to the general community.

"Great Barrington is home to a number of public and private schools that serve a diverse population of students across a broad spectrum, and we want the community — and the parents at home — to be aware of a police investigation that is ongoing. However, there is no danger and no threats have been made to the safety of anyone," Police Chief William Walsh Jr., in a statement. "More information will be released as soon as it is available."

Those involved in the execution of the Saturday evening search warrant include investigators from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, state police, the Berkshire County sheriff's department and local police from the Great Barrington, Williamstown and Dalton Police departments, members of the Berkshire Law Enforcement Task Force. Also participating were personnel from the State Police Crime Scene Services Section and the Digital Evidence and Multimedia Section.

Editor's note: Arraignment information updated again at 4:27 p.m. on Feb. 1.

     

Great Barrington Police Investigate Motor Vehicle Accident

Great Barrington Police

GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass. – Police, Fire Department and Southern Berkshire Ambulance responded to a motor vehicle accident with multiple injuries on Wednesday night on State Road in front of Plaza Package.

The accident, which was reported at 5:01 p.m., involved a 2003 Subaru operated by Ronald J. Fonte, 44, of Poughkeepsie, N.Y., and a 2001 Audi operated by Dennis G. Gibbons, 31, of South Egremont.

Fonte was uninjured in the crash; however, Gibbons and his two passengers required treatment at area hospitals. Gibbons and passenger Jeremy Martel, 36, of Sheffield were transported to Fairview Hospital by Southern Berkshire Ambulance. Gibbbons' other passenger, Cody Kickery, 26, of Great Barrington, was transported by Southern Berkshire Ambulance and County Ambulance paramedics to Berkshire Medical Center in Pittsfield.

No information on their status is available at this time.

Initial investigation by Officer Daniel Bartini revealed that Fonte attempted to turn left into Plaza Package in front of Gibbons' vehicle, resulting in a head-on collision. At this time, no charges have been filed and the accident remains under investigation.

Anyone who may have witnessed the crash is requested to contact police at 413-528-0306.

     

Patrick Names Former Pittsfield Solicitor For Judgeship

Staff Reports

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Former City Solicitor Michael McCarthy was nominated by the governor Friday as an associate justice of Southern Berkshire District Court.

McCarthy is an associate with the city firm of George, DeGregorio, Massimiano & McCarthy since 1989. Prior to that, he was the city's solicitor for two years, assistant district attorney for five years and an assistant district attorney in Portland, Maine, for one year. He is a graduate of Assumption College and the University of Maine Law School.

McCarthy will fill the vacancy created by the retirement of Judge James B. McElroy. He was previously nominated for the post in August 2012.

Secretary of Public Safety Mary Heffernan was also nominated as Circuit Justice.

"I also am pleased to re-nominate Michael J. McCarthy to serve on the bench in Berkshire County. I thank both of these nominees for their commitment to the fair administration of justice and their willingness to serve the Commonwealth in these challenging new roles," Gov. Deval Patrick said in a prepared statement Friday.

Additionally, the governor resubmitted four pending judicial nominations to the Governor's Council in Geraldine S. Hines as an associate justice of the Appeals Court; and Angel Kelly Brown, Brian A. Davis and Robert B. Gordon as associate justices of the Superior Court. The nominees are being resubmitted because the Governor Council’s term ended before they were considered.

     

Plane Crashes At Great Barrington Airport

Staff Reports

GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass. — At least one person was injured after a small plane crashed on takeoff from Great Barrington Airport on Tuesday evening. The victim was taken to the hospital with nonlife-threatening injuries, according to YNN.

There were reportedly two people in the Piper Cub.

The crash was reported shortly after the plane took at 6 p.m. by FireGround360. It apparently came down across the line in Egremont near Route 71.

Egremont firefighters were called to the station; scanner reports stated the plane was 400 to 600 feet from the runway and "in trees" near Pumpkin Hollow Road.

No further information was immediately available.

Tags: plane, crash      

Arsonist Targets 8 Buildings in Great Barrington

Nichole Dupont

Update: Thursday, 10 p.m.: Red Crow News reports that artist David Pixley, 62, was arraigned Thursday morning in Southern Berkshire District Court on on two of counts of arson, five of attempting to burn buildings, and three of attempting to burn vehicles.

Pixley is being held on $50,000 bail after being caught by police in the early morning hours allegedly trying to set a fire at TD Banknorth. Pixley allgedy fled the scene, according to Red Crow News, and police gave chase, taking him into custody at his 20 Hollenbeck Ave. apartment.

Update Thursday, 10:48 a.m.: Police have arrested a suspect in connection with at least two of Wednesday's arson fires in Great Barrington. The unidentified man was arrested at about 2 a.m. on Thursday morning when he was found in the parking lot of TD Banknorth on 271 Main St., allegedly in the act of trying to start yet another fire.

Debris behind Barrington Outfitters. The back of the building sustained damage after someone set fire to it.

GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass. — Eight buildings in the downtown and three motor vehicles were targeted by an unknown arsonist early Wednesday morning. Police are looking for a man wearing a dark-colored poncho and black North Face winter gloves.

Fires were set at Barrington Outfitters on Main Street and Lee Bank; combustibles were found in the other locations but no fires set, according to authorities.

The blazes occurred at about 1:40 a.m., according to a statement from Town Manager Kevin O'Donnell, and were brought under control by the Fire Department and four mutual aid towns. No one was injured in either case.  

"Police investigation determined that the fires were set. Five other buildings, Shopper's Guide, Foster's Hardware, Toole Insurance Agency, Berkshire Block and Gypsy Joynt, locations adjacent to the Foster's Hardware parking lot, were also targeted as well as the Tune Street building on Railroad Street with combustibles and flammable liquids, but were not set on fire. Three vehicles in the Foster's parking lot had flammable liquid applied to them, but were not burned."

Barrington Outfitters was closed earlier this morning while police and contractors assessed the damage, which was done to the back of the store. Police and the owners, the Druckers, declined to comment on the blaze.

The second fire started in a vacant store front in the Lee Bank building that was left unlocked. Fire Chief Harry Jennings used the town's reverse 911 system to notify business owners about clearing debris and securing their businesses properly at night.

Police picked up a homeless man, 19-year-old Matthew Wilcox of Egremont Plain Road, who they said broke into the storage shed behind Barrington Outfitters. According to the town statement, police do not believe Wilcox was involved in the fires but he has not been ruled out. He was arraigned this morning in Southern Berkshire District Court on charges of breaking and entering and trespassing.

Police are working with the state police Crime Scene Services, troopers assigned to the state fire marshal's office and district attorney's office, and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. They canvassed the downtown area and distributed a photo of the suspect.

The fire marshal's Arson Reward Program offers up to $5,000 for information leading to an arrest and conviction. Anyone with information is asked to call 800-682-9229 or Police Chief William Walsh at 413-528-0306.

Tags: fire, structure, arson      
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