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DA to review abuse allegations at Deerfield

Prosecutors are looking into sexual abuse allegations that former students at Deerfield Academy, a prestigious prep school in Western Massachusetts, have made against two men who taught there for decades.

“We intend to independently investigate whether these abuse allegations were criminal in nature and, if so, whether or not the statute of limitations or other factors would preclude criminal prosecution,” said Northwestern District Attorney David E. Sullivan in a statement over the weekend.

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His remarks came as Deerfield, in a report to the school community, described allegations that have surfaced against Peter Hindle and Bryce Lambert, who retired from long teaching careers at the school in 2000 and 1990, respectively. Hindle taught mathematics, and Lambert taught English.

Hindle, 78, of Dartmouth, did not return a call seeking comment on Sunday.

Lambert died in 2007.

The school’s report details the findings of an investigation that lawyers from the international firm of Debevoise & Plimpton LLP conducted at Deerfield’s request.

According to the report, Hindle admitted to having sexual contact with one student in the 1980s, and there is evidence that he engaged in similar behavior with another student during that time.

A former student who initially contacted the school about 10 years ago and again more recently said that Hindle engaged in sexual acts with him on more than eight different occasions, the report states.

Hindle, in turn, told investigators that he had sexual contact with the student only once. Hindle said that he did not consent to the contact, but “he neither resisted nor reported the incident,” the report stated.

“The detail Mr. Hindle provided to the investigators was explicit and, in no conceivable way, could it be described as a simple ‘backrub,’ ” the report said. “Further, Mr. Hindle made several statements to the investigators that proved to be untrue, raising serious questions about whether his admission was too limited.”

Deerfield disclosed in January that Hindle had admitted to sexual contact with a student, and that the independent review was underway. He did not answer directly when a reporter asked at the time if he made such an admission. “To me, it’s all how something is interpreted,” he said in a brief phone interview in January.

Hindle has not been criminally charged.

The Deerfield report also revealed that the mother of another student wrote to the school in the 1980s about a “deviant deed” that Hindle allegedly committed against her son.

Hindle at the time denied having any sexual contact with the student, the report said, and administrators gave him verbal and written warnings.

The report found that school officials in the 1980s could have “more forcefully” addressed that allegation against Hindle.

“We fully acknowledge the challenge of confronting a highly respected and dedicated teacher, who adamantly denied any wrongdoing, but we now realize that in this case, the Academy could have gone further to protect the victims and potential victims,” the report said.

Investigators also found that two former students credibly accused Lambert of sexual misconduct.

“Mr. Lambert is unable to defend himself, but there is sufficient evidence to name him,” the report said.

The school provided no details about Lambert’s actions, except to say that the “alleged incidents were separated by several years and were consistent regarding the nature of the conduct.”

As part of the probe, investigators reviewed allegations made against other former teachers, some of whom the school fired in a timely manner and reported to authorities, according to the report.

“The majority of the reports concerned past incidents that were nonsexual in nature but that would not be tolerated in today’s environment,” the report said. “And, although three reports concerned alleged sexual behavior, the investigators were not able to corroborate them.”

School officials have not identified any of the former students who made allegations against Hindle, Lambert, or the other teachers.

David Thiel, a Deerfield spokesman, said Sunday that Margarita Curtis, the current head of school, was not available for comment. Thiel declined to comment on the unnamed former teachers or the nature of their alleged misdeeds.

Several alumni in recent months have contacted Deerfield to express support for Hindle, according to school officials.

“They have praised his teaching skills and personal attributes, and often expressed incredulity at the allegations,” the report said. “These positive experiences, however, cannot justify what Mr. Hindle himself acknowledged did occur.” There is “no question that he engaged in sexual activity with at least one student.”

Shortly after Deerfield first announced that Hindle had admitted sexual contact, an alumnus who lives in North Carolina told the Globe that Hindle massaged his legs in his dorm room in 1988.

The alumnus, Ian Hammon, later retracted separate, written statements about the encounter that he had posted online, and Deerfield said it was continuing its review despite the retraction.

Sullivan, the district attorney, commended Deerfield in his statement for admitting responsibility for the alleged abuse and taking steps to prevent future incidents.

“No matter what decade or era, it has never been excusable for Deerfield Academy, or any other school, church, or youth organization to turn a blind eye to signs and reports of child sexual abuse,” Sullivan said.

Deerfield, in its report, said protocols for reporting suspicious behavior were “far less established” in prior decades.

Still, school officials “do not think the ‘standards of the day’ argument exonerates the Academy or any individual, primarily because this view ignores the plight of the victims,” the report said. “The healing process of the victims has been, and will continue to be, our overriding concern.”

Carmen L. Durso, a Boston lawyer who represents sex abuse victims, on Sunday praised Deerfield for what he called its transparency in its review of the allegations. He said the school is “making it clear that their first and foremost obligation is to students.”

“Whether it’s calculated or not, it’s the right thing to do,” Durso said.

Travis Andersen can be reached at tandersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.

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