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Principal Cleared of Criminal Charges

Judge drops charges against Dogwood principal for failure to report suspected child abuse.

Dogwood Elementary principal Richalie "Ricki" Harvey didn't get the opportunity to confront criminal charges against her inside the courtroom. She didn’t have to. The judge dismissed charges of failing to report suspected child abuse after hearing the prosecution's side.

But outside General District Court last Thursday, June 23, Harvey addressed the misdemeanor charges she faced.

"I said from the very beginning, I would never put children in harm's way. I have spent 33 years caring for children and protecting them and the judge saw that," said Harvey, 55 of McLean, who retired this week after 33 years working with the Fairfax County Public Schools. She has been Dogwood's principal since 1999.

"It has been very hard for my staff, it has been hard for the Dogwood Elementary School community, but in the long run though, the truth came out. I know what I've done for kids," she said.

Following the testimony of five witnesses and evidence presented by Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Michael Ben'Ary, Harvey's defense attorney Waller T. Dudley requested that the second and final count against Harvey be dismissed. "I can't find a case that would authorize a conviction on this thin set of facts," he said.

District Judge Ian Michael O'Flaherty, who dismissed one count against Harvey at the beginning of the hearing (see box, Statute of Limitations), dismissed the final count against her before her defense attorney even presented her side.

O'Flaherty ruled that there was not enough evidence to prove that Harvey suspected child abuse of Dogwood students by Kenneth Bayer, 88, who volunteered at the school.

"Is there a hunch? Is there some smoke? Possibly," O'Flaherty said. "Is there a reasonable suspicion? I can't say that at this time."

<b>BUT ESOL TEACHER</b> Katherine A. Jones didn't like what she saw in November 2003 when 88-year-old volunteer Kenneth Bayer read with Dogwood Elementary School students.

"He had his hands on a third-grader's bottom while she was reading with him," testified Jones. "I asked another teacher to observe what I had seen because I didn't want to be the only one who witnessed it."

After talking with her union representative that November 2003, Jones reported her observations to Dogwood's school counselor. Harvey was out of town at the time, according to her defense attorney.

Jones testified that she later met with Harvey and the assistant principal in 2004. "I was told that Mrs. Harvey was very concerned that teachers on the second-grade team were talking about it … it was confidential," Jones testified. "She said she had never heard of it directly, that I should have come to her."

Harvey met with 22 teachers on April 22, 2004, to discuss Bayer, according to Jones and her colleague Julia Rastelli, who also testified.

"Her attitude was that it didn't need to be repeated … that he is generally grandfatherly," Rastelli said. Harvey then restricted Bayer to classrooms so teachers could monitor what he did, but that she wouldn't restrict him from riding an elevator with children, according to Rastelli.

School Social Worker Robert E. Axelrod testified for the prosecution but said he reported to Harvey that there wasn't enough to call Child Protective Services. "[Bayer] was a volunteer who was a little bit odd looking, and teachers talked about having children on his lap and rubbing their back," he testified.

Axelrod testified he received no report that a student had been touched on her bottom. "I told her it wasn't enough to call CPS."

He advised her not to call Child Protective Services based on incomplete information, Ben'Ary said.

Dudley was prepared to call Harvey, her school counselor, assistant principal and cluster director as witnesses to testify on her behalf. But he didn't need to once charges were dropped.

"Our evidence will show Mrs. Harvey is an exemplary and honorable principal. We will explain who Ricky Harvey is. Facts show she was told precious little at all," Dudley said during opening arguments.

<b>POLICE CHARGED</b> Harvey, the 2004 National Distinguished Principal of the Year, with two misdemeanors for failing to report suspected child abuse on April 6, 2005.

Police began investigating Harvey after they received complaints from teachers at Dogwood and parents of Dogwood students that Harvey knew about suspected child abuse. Complaints came in after Bayer was arrested on two counts of aggravated sexual assault and one count of indecent exposure on March 3, 2005. The case involved a 13-year-old girl who wasn't a Dogwood student, nor had she ever been. Bayer is due in court later this summer.

"Mrs. Harvey said a lot of teachers were complaining … and that there was a lot of second-hand and third-hand information," testified Connie Morris, detective with the Fairfax County Police Department. Morris testified that Harvey thought Bayer's actions were "grandfatherly" and "appropriate for his age."

School employees who suspect abuse or neglect of a child are required by Virginia law to report it within 72 hours to the local police or the child abuse hotline. In some states, failure to report can result in criminal liability, but in Virginia the misdemeanor is punishable by a fine up to $500.

"Even if a teacher or principal's failure to report doesn't rise to criminal behavior, it would be our hope that they would err on the side of caution," Ben'Ary said after charges were dropped against Harvey. "Future acts of child abuse can be prevented if Child Protective Services gets involved."

<b>ADDITIONAL CHARGES</b> could still be brought against Bayer for sexual abuse of Dogwood Elementary School students, according to Detective Morris and Ben'Ary.

Bayer's preliminary hearing was scheduled for Friday, June 24, in Fairfax County Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court the day after Harvey's hearing. His case was continued until late summer.

<1b>— Jason Hartke contributed to this article.