KINGSBURY -- The former Greenwich teacher who is under indictment for alleged improper contact with students was warned in 2004 by a school administrator not to “be alone around children or to touch them,” a prosecutor said Friday.
The directive to Eric McHenry came four years before alleged incidents that led to an investigation by police and a subsequent grand jury investigation resulting in charges of misdemeanor sexual abuse and endangering the welfare of a child. The sexual abuse count has been dismissed, but McHenry still faces five counts of endangering the welfare of a child.
The prior warning was revealed during a pre-trial hearing Friday in Kingsbury Town Court, as Justice Michael Keenan weighed a request by McHenry’s lawyer to dismiss the charges.
The 2004 school district instruction to McHenry is among the evidence in question in the case, as defense lawyer Brian Breedlove seeks dismissal of the charges because the defense believes the grand jury heard evidence it should not have before indicting McHenry.
Breedlove also has said the evidence was insufficient because the behavior that resulted in the charges was innocent contact between a teacher and students, such as touching their shoulders and legs over their clothing.
Washington County Assistant District Attorney Katherine Henley told Keenan evidence of the prior warning was permissible before the grand jury, as was other material from a related civil lawsuit filed by parents of two of the accusers.
Washington County District Attorney Kevin Kortright said there was a similar allegation against McHenry in 2004, when he was accused of improper physical contact with a child. Police were not contacted, and no charges were filed in that instance, he said.
“It was something that was handled internally. That was one of our concerns when we started looking at this case,” Kortright said.
Cambridge-Greenwich Police Chief George Bell, whose agency investigated the case, said he could not discuss the prior warning, other than to say he was aware “there were other issues with him (McHenry) before” charges were brought.
A call to Greenwich Central School’s administrative offices was not returned Friday afternoon.
Asking Keenan to dismiss the charges, defense lawyer Brian Breedlove called the case the “poster child for outrageous presentations before the grand jury,” and said the panel improperly heard “hearsay” evidence.
“There are innumerable allegations of bad acts in that complaint that no one testified to,” Breedlove said.
Henley said the grand jury investigation also examined the actions of school administrators.
In addition to charges against McHenry and two administrators, the grand jury issued four reports, which have been sealed by Washington County Judge Kelly McKeighan pending the outcome of the criminal case.
“This was an investigation of a series of incidents and the response to those incidents,” she said.
Charges against the two administrators, Greenwich School Superintendent Matthias Donnelly and former Principal Benjamin Pisani, accused them of breaking state law by not making child abuse reports to the state about the allegations. Those charges were dismissed in Hudson Falls Village Court.
Keenan said he would rule on Breedlove’s motion by Feb. 1. Trial in the case has been set for Feb. 20, but a dismissal would render the trial date moot.
McHenry, 38, of Queensbury, is free pending further court action. He was arrested in March 2011 and was on paid administrative leave until his position was eliminated last summer. He had taught in the district for 15 years.