- Category: Local News
- Created on Tuesday, 05 March 2013 00:16
- Published on Tuesday, 05 March 2013 00:16
By SHANNON HAUGLAND
and TOM HESSE
Sentinel Staff Writers
A former principal of Blatchley Middle School was indicted Friday by a Sitka grand jury on six counts of sexual assault in the second degree, a class B felony.
Joseph R. Robidou, 54, was additionally charged with five misdemeanors. The felony charges are related to allegations that he engaged in unwanted sexual contact with three women who work or worked at Blatchley during the time he was principal.
Robidou was arraigned in the Sitka courthouse Friday afternoon and pleaded not guilty to all charges. He was represented by Sitka attorney Jim McGowan at the arraignment.
Superior Court Judge David George set trial for April 11 in Sitka. Robidou was released on $7,500 bail.
Robidou has held professional positions in the Sitka School District since 1990. He was principal at Blatchley for the last four years until he was hired as district business manager on Jan. 14 this year. He was assistant principal at Sitka High 2005-2008, and previously was a teacher at SHS.
Assistant Superintendent Mary Wegner said Robidou had been in the business office position only one week when the complaints that led to the criminal charges were brought to her. She said Robidou submitted a letter of resignation on Feb. 5, to be effective March 1.
The six felony counts allege sexual assault in the second degree. Four of the misdemeanor charges allege indecent exposure, and one is a charge of assault in the fourth degree for allegedly putting someone in fear of physical injury. The incidents allegedly occurred at Blatchley and at the home of two of the victims, between May 2012 and January this year.
Wegner, who is the Title IX officer for the Sitka School District, said she received a complaint against Robidou on Jan. 18, took a statement from one of the complainants at Blatchley, and then conferred with Superintendent Steve Bradshaw.
“I felt there was enough credible commentary that it was beyond a Title IX investigation,” she said. Title IX is the federal law related to gender equity and safe working environments.
On Jan. 19, which was a Saturday, Bradshaw and Wegner talked to Robidou in the superintendent’s office, put him on administrative leave and advised him to stay away from all school district buildings, Wegner said.
“Additional information came forward, and we turned it over to the police,” she said.
Some time after that, Bradshaw and Wegner gave Robidou the option of resigning, which he did, effective on March 1.
Wegner and Bradshaw announced the indictment to Blatchley staff on Friday and encouraged them “not to try the case amongst our staff and amongst the community,” Wegner said. Those with questions were encouraged to call the superintendent’s office. She said she and Bradshaw assured the staff that the allegations didn’t involve students.
Since the complaints came up, Wegner said the staff has been “supportive and professional.”
She said the complaints came as a surprise to both her and Bradshaw when they first heard about them.
“We have been feeling in the district ... Joe has provided 25 years of good service to our students and our families and our community here,” Wegner said.
“It caught everybody off-guard,” Bradshaw said.
The officials said they take their commitment to the safety of staff and education of students seriously.
“We feel there is an importance that our staff feels safe, and focused on learning,” Wegner said, noting that the district’s standards go beyond criminal standards. “We have a very high standard in making sure the staff are safe and students are safe so that we focus on the success of our students.”
Bradshaw agreed. He said this has been a rare and difficult situation, but that he believes he and Wegner took correct actions to maintain transparency, while protecting Robidou’s reputation and others’ privacy. He said the district would continue to do that.
“We’re doing everything we can do to keep kids safe, and staff safe, and protect the individual rights of all of our employees,” Bradshaw said.
At the Friday arraignment, Assistant District Attorney Jean Seaton asked for a bail of $30,000. McGowan said this was an unnecessarily high figure and unwarranted, given Robidou’s strong connections in the community and the fact he has no criminal history.
In her argument for a higher bail, Seaton said that Robidou’s alleged actions would constitute “institutional influence” because of his position in a supervisory role.
“Coworkers is a mischaracterization,” said Seaton of Robidou’s relationship with the alleged victims. “They were teachers, he was a principal.”
The judge set bail at $7,500, which was posted the same afternoon.
George set other conditions of release: Robidou is to stay away from district buildings, have no contact with the three alleged victims, and not leave Southeast without permission.
McGowan told the court he was representing Robidou at the arraignment but would not continue as his attorney because he had a conflict.