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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.

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North Adams Man Arrested For Smashing Mailboxes in Vermont

Staff Reports
STAMFORD, Vt. — A North Adams man was arrested Friday for smashing mailboxes.
 
Vermont State Police say 21-year-old Steven Barbeau is charged with two counts of unlawful mischief relating to the incident on Jan. 16. Police say troopers received reports at about 2:15 in the afternoon of several individuals "driving up and down VT Route 9 smashing mailboxes."
 
Troopers couldn't locating the individuals but a follow-up investigation led to Barbeau's arrest.
 
He was arrested and processed at the Shaftsbury Barracks on Friday and given a citation to appear in Bennington County Superior Court on Feb. 22. 
 
The case is still under investigation and addition arrests may be made, police said.
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Superior Court Briefs: Jan. 25 - Jan. 29.

Staff Reports
Cases heard before Judge John Agostini on Monday, Jan. 25.
 
Steven Cote, 45, of Adams had not guilty pleas entered on his behalf on single counts of operating under the influence of alcohol - his fifth offense - negligent operation of a motor vehicle, operating a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol with a suspect license, and possession of an open container of alcohol in a motor vehicle.
 
He was ordered to be held at the Berkshire County House of Correction without bail. The charges stem from an incident in North Adams on December 11, 2015. 
 
Cases heard before Judge John Agostini on Tuesday, Jan. 26.
 
Kelly Simonetta, 37, of North Adams was found guilty of single counts of reckless endangerment of a child, possession of heroin, and possession of lidocaine. 
 
She was placed on two-years probation on the charges of possession of heroin and possession of lidocaine. She was ordered to serve one year of a two and a half year sentence at the Berkshire County House of Correction on the reckless endangerment of a child. That sentence won't be served until the judge hears a motion from the defense to dismiss it.
 
The jury found Simonetta guilty of allowing her 13-month-old child access to prescription medication which the child ingested. The incident occurred in North Adams on May 7, 2014.
 
Cases heard before Judge John Agostini on Wednesday, Jan. 27.
 
Robert Scutt Jr., 26, of North Adams pleaded guilty to a single count of possession of cocaine.
 
The charge was continued without a finding for one year. The charge stems from a motor vehicle stop in North Adams on November 13, 2014.
 
Cases heard before Judge John Agostini on Thursday, Jan. 28.
 
Robert Ester, 28, of Springfield pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiracy to violate drug laws, and single counts of possession of cocaine with intent to distribute and possession of heroin with intent to distribute.
 
He was ordered to serve concurrent three to four years at the Massachusetts Correctional Institution at Cedar Junction. The charge stem from the execution of a search warrant at 236 Columbus Avenue on September 25, 2014.
 
Cases heard before Judge John Agostini on Thursday, Jan. 29.
 
Debora Goyette, 46, of Pittsfield was found guilty of three counts of larceny - an ongoing and continuing offense - and a single count of making false entries into corporate books.
 
She was ordered to be held until sentencing on Tuesday, February 2, 2016. Goyette took more than $150,000 while working at Hillcrest Commons between January 1, 2009 and October 5, 2012.
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Pittsfield Police Seeking Another Man Linked To Armed Robberies

Staff Reports
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Police are searching for another Pittsfield man suspected in six armed robberies.
 
Damian Ivas, 40, of Pittsfield is wanted in connection with robberies of the Getty on Elm Street, Dawes Avenue Variety, Peaslee's on Wahconah, Subway on Tyler Street, Angelina's on Elm Street, and Cumberland Farms on Dalton Avenue.
 
Police say he worked with George Bliss, who was arrested for the same robberies on Jan. 26. Ivas is currently on the loose and considered armed and dangerous.
 
Police received an arrest warrant for Ivas in Central Berkshire District court and is charging his with six counts of armed robbery while masked. 
 
Police say Ivas' whereabouts is currently unknown and are seeking the public's help in locating the man. Police say "under no circumstances should the public approach or confront Ivas, who is considered armed and dangerous."
 
Anyone with information is asked to call 911 or 448-9700 and press 0 for dispatch.
 
The city has seen an outbreak of robberies with 12 occurring since late November. Six other cases are still under investigation. 
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Pittsfield Man Arrested For Six Armed Robberies In Last Month

Staff Reports
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Police arrested a Pittsfield man for a half dozen armed robberies committed in the last month
 
George Bliss, 30, of Onota Street is being charged with six counts of armed robbery while masked. Police say Bliss admitted his involvement in the following robberies in the last month: the Getty on Elm Street on Dec. 23; Dawes Avenue Variety on Jan. 7; Peaslee's on Jan. 9; Subway and Angelina's both on Jan. 23, and the Cumberland Farms on Dalton Avenue on Jan. 24.
 
He is being held at the Police Department on $100,000 bail and will be arraigned in court on Wednesday. These cases, as well as about six others committed, are still under investigation so Police are still asking for anyone with information to contact them at 448-9705.
 
Bliss was arrested on two outstanding warrants Tuesday night at about 5:20 p.m. He was identified after Heidi Bliss, 35, of Onota Street was arrested in connection to the Cumberland Farms robbery. While under arrest George Bliss consented to an interview in which he admitted involvement in the robberies, Police said.
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