Metro

KEVIN CULLEN

In Wayland, an example of small-town injustice

Steve Cass was athletic director at Wayland High School.

Steve Cass was athletic director at Wayland High School.

So, where does Steve Cass go to get his reputation back?

Not the Internet. If you plug his name in a search engine, a whole page of stories about him getting arrested comes up.

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Somehow his acquittal last week hasn’t registered yet, in cyberspace or elsewhere.

He wasn’t just acquitted. The larceny charge against him was dismissed with a rare, directed verdict by a judge, the legal way of saying the charges against him were unfounded and didn’t belong in a courtroom.

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What happened to Steve Cass is a classic case of shooting the messenger — or burying the whistle-blower — in a small town, in this case Wayland. Cass was athletic director for Wayland Public Schools and had the temerity to suggest that things were not on the up and up, that some coaches were unethical.

He suggested that football was king and other sports, especially girls sports, were suffering as a result. He pointed out that while Wayland High School employed six male football coaches, there were just three females coaching the town’s girls sports teams. He suggested this and other things led to inequity.

He might as well have set off a stink bomb in the middle of town.

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His contract wasn’t renewed, but getting rid of him didn’t erase the embarrassment he had caused. So they came up with a story about him stealing a school-issued computer.

At one time, Cass had two school-issued computers. After he was issued a new MacBook, he turned in the older model, one of those old white Mac laptops. After remembering there was some information on the old one he wanted to retrieve, he asked for it back, and says someone in the IT department said, “Keep it,” or words to that effect.

Now, you can argue this 15 different ways, but in the end it comes down to a he-said-they-said misunderstanding, a dispute that should have been resolved by adults. Even if you take the town’s side, this is something that should have been resolved at a court clerk’s hearing.

But this is small town politics we’re talking about. The fights are especially vicious because the stakes are especially small.

Four Wayland cops showed up at Cass’s house last October with a search warrant. Cass gave the cops the old Mac. The cops gave him a perp walk. He was placed under arrest, handcuffed, and before you could say “not guilty” his mug shot was on the police department’s Facebook page, the first mug shot that had appeared there in months.

The resulting publicity made Cass damaged goods. He lost soccer and basketball coaching jobs he had lined up.

There was far less attention paid to last week’s hearing at Framingham District Court, where his lawyer, Gerry Malone, made a good argument about how ridiculous all this was.

The police went to great lengths to claim the computer was worth more than $250. That was so Cass could be charged with a felony, making him eligible for that nice humiliating arrest. The reality is you can get one of those old white Macs on eBay for under 100 bucks. If you applied traditional depreciation standards, it was worth about nothing.

Judge Jennifer Stark wouldn’t bother a jury with hearing a case where the evidence was so weak.

If you’re an optimist, you could say the system worked. But at what cost to Steve Cass? He didn’t just lose his job. He lost a huge chunk of his idealism.

“Sadly,” he said, “the moral is, if you see something that’s not right, you’re much safer to look the other way and not fix it. I hate to say that, but when you stick your neck out to fix something wrong, you’re likely to feel some pain.”

This case was never about an old computer. It was never about justice. It was about embarrassing and ruining Steve Cass. The embarrassment can’t be undone. But if there’s any justice, his career will resume someplace else, someplace where people can handle the truth.

Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at cullen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeCullen.
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