"Our system is broken, and it needs to be fixed."  -- Milton Superintendent John Barone

Milton Superintendent John Barone (file photo)

Milton School District’s mission is to promote a safe learning environment for students, but according to a report released Thursday, several Milton officials failed to prevent bullying and fully investigate hazing at the school.

Internal investigator Dan Troidl’s 104-page report gave a failing grade to Superintendent John Barone and Principal Anne Blake in their handling of sexual assault allegations on the high school football team in 2011-12.

He also determined Assistant Principal Scott Thompson didn’t comply with the district’s bullying prevention policy, and former athletic director Joe Solomon and staff member Jim O’Grady didn’t fully adhere to its hazing policy.

Troidl, a retired Vermont State Police captain, concluded staff failed to initiate their own investigations or to report allegations to the Vt. Dept. for Children and Families as per state law, though State’s Attorney TJ Donovan declined to bring charges against these mandated reporters.

The Milton School Board commissioned the report concurrent to a criminal investigation into five former Yellowjackets, who later admitted to inserting wooden objects into three former players’ rectums.

One victim was identified as Jordan Preavy, who took his own life almost a year after his assault, which occurred at a team party on school grounds in September 2011.

Brandon Beliveau, Ryan Carlson, Colby Darling, Will Jenkins and Brian Lasell all accepted plea deals to charges ranging from misdemeanor disorderly conduct to felony unlawful restraint. The last case ended in May.

Troidl’s conclusions

Troidl’s report is especially damning for Barone, whom Troidl says “denies any knowledge of the Jordan Preavy incident, yet there is significant evidence to the contrary.”

The report cites discrepancies between Barone’s and other school officials’ interviews with Troidl.

For one, Barone told Troidl he met with Blake, Solomon and O’Grady, whose son, Derryk, told his father about the Jordan incident in May 2013. O’Grady, Blake and Solomon all say this meeting never occurred, the report says.

Rather, Blake and Solomon say they spoke to Barone about O’Grady’s report via speakerphone after O’Grady left their meeting to teach class.

Dan Troidl of DT Investigators poses for a photo. He is beginning his inquiry into whether hazing and reporting procedures were followed in the Milton football case. (Photo by Courtney Lamdin)

Dan Troidl of DT Investigators poses for a photo. (File photo by Courtney Lamdin)

Further, Barone claimed O’Grady said Derryk was the victim, not Jordan. He said O’Grady’s report was about hitting with a broomstick, which he decided didn’t require reporting.

Troidl countered that O’Grady was “very specific,” saying the victim was “poked” in the rectum. Barone said, “No, because if I had heard that, that’s reportable. Immediately I would have called the police,” Troidl’s report says.

Even further, in Solomon’s sworn interview with CUSI, he said, “Barone was told specifically [in May 2013] that Jordan Preavy had been poked in ‘the fanny’ with a broomstick by Brandon Beliveau,” Troidl wrote.

Jordan was already deceased, and his assailants had graduated. Blake told Troidl that administrators did not report based on these two facts.

Troidl wrote this decision was flawed and indicates Barone and Blake took a “not our problem anymore” approach.

“A perpetrator, [Beliveau], who was later charged with sexual assault was not confronted,” Troidl wrote, “leaving open the possibility of additional assaults on new victims.”

Troidl analyzed Blake’s handling of this account, noting that despite her chalking it up to “misbehavior,” she still felt the need to consult with Barone, because in her 15 years as principal, she had “never before encountered” this.

“This is a clear indication that Blake believed this situation was more serious than she portrayed,” Troidl wrote.

Troidl also examined Blake’s interaction with “Victim #1,” who told CUSI that Blake called him into her office in August 2013 – three months after O’Grady reported allegations of hazing and assault – and questioned him about the broomsticks.

The boy, out of fear of social rejection, told her nothing happened because she had threatened to shut down the football program if it was true, court documents said.

Blake told Troidl she never said this, but Troidl subpoenaed her interview with CUSI, to whom she admitted under oath, “I may have, I may have,” the report says.

MHS Principal Anne Blake, who appeared at the forum despite being on medical leave, consults with attorney John Pacht. (Photo by Harjit Dhaliwal)

MHS Principal Anne Blake consults with attorney John Pacht at a community forum about the incidents last year. (File photo by Harjit Dhaliwal)

Another student Blake questioned declined to speak to Troidl but later texted him saying, “[Blake] is just trying to save herself and what Victim #1 is saying is true.”

The report also summarizes a separate incident in November 2012, when a football player brought an unloaded handgun to school “for the purpose of self-harm,” the report says.

Troidl uncovered Blake and assistant principal Scott Thompson knew the student wrote about suicide on Facebook three weeks before bringing the gun to school and that he’d been bullied.

The student’s parents, however, told Troidl that administrators never informed them of the posting or else they would have removed any guns from their home, likely preventing the November incident from occurring, Troidl wrote.

Blake was bound by school policies on bullying to investigate this report but never did, Troidl concluded.

School attorneys redacted large portions of this section in Troidl’s report.

School Board Vice-Chairwoman Karen LaFond told the Milton Independent last month she believed only victims’ names would be left out. Reached Thursday afternoon, LaFond said anything blacked out was to maintain victims’ anonymity.

Other issues

Troidl’s report also highlights the lack of supervision at the blockhouse, a glorified storage shed and team room adjacent to the football field where some of the assaults occurred.

Even more discrepancies are evident here.

(Photo by Courtney Lamdin)

Tracy Stopford, center, mother of hazing victim Jordan Preavy, shows a photo of her son at the Vermont State House in January, flanked by his father, Sean, and stepmother, Karen. The family helped an improved mandated reporting law be passed this session. (File photo by Courtney Lamdin)

Former coach Chris Hughes, who has since left Vermont, told Troidl that Blake and Solomon asked him to increase supervision there mid-season 2012, which resulted in him moving his desk from his private office to the main room.

Hughes told Troidl they mentioned “something about an object and a rectum.” He asked for more details several times but received none, the report says.

Blake, however, said Hughes moved his desk after the gun incident in November and after reports surfaced of teammates “flaunting their junk” in the changing room.

Blake told Troidl she’d never been inside the blockhouse, but Barone told Troidl that Blake had ordered windows be installed there after visiting it sometime in 2012.

Buildings and grounds supervisor Chris Giard told Troidl, however, the window was installed in August 2013, three months after O’Grady made his report and the same month Blake met with Victim #1, the report says.

Also at question is a memo about blockhouse rules that Solomon says he gave to Hughes. It is unsigned and undated, and Hughes doesn’t remember receiving it, the report says.

Troidl also interviewed coaches Gary Holbrook, Don Morrisseau and Drew Gordon, the latter who is now head coach. Assistant coaches Craig Sleeman and Jed Randall both initially agreed to talk but later cancelled. Donny LaFleur moved out of state and never responded to Troidl’s request, he wrote.

Former Milton football coach Chris Hughes (center) stands with team members. Five former players were cited with misdemeanor charges. (File photo by Josh Kaufmann)

Former Milton football coach Chris Hughes (center) stands with team members. (File photo by Josh Kaufmann)

Calls to the district office, MHS main office and Barone were not immediately returned.

LaFond couldn’t comment on any pending board action based on the report but noted the newly-added executive session on Monday’s agenda is to “debrief” about the report.

The agenda justifies the closed session, which begins at 6 p.m., by citing attorney-client communications and personnel evaluation and employment.

LaFond expects community members to attend the meeting and welcomes their input.

“We are absolutely open to hearing what people have to say,” LaFond said.

Stay tuned for more information on this story. Read the full report here.

Editor’s note: Our original story stated the five defendants accepted plea deals ranging from misdemeanor simple assault to felony unlawful restraint; this has since been corrected to reflect that Will Jenkins pleaded down to a misdemeanor disorderly conduct charge.