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Alleged Danvers victim calls on police and town leaders to acknowledge culpability in handling of case

Danvers High School principal Adam Federico spoke at a School Committee meeting last week about steps the school has taken since the investigation of the hockey team.
Danvers High School principal Adam Federico spoke at a School Committee meeting last week about steps the school has taken since the investigation of the hockey team.Matthew J Lee/Globe staff

He was the boy whose complaints of alleged violent racist and homophobic abuse Danvers public officials hid from the community. Then he became a whistleblower.

Now, the former Danvers High School hockey player is standing up again, calling on the Danvers police chief, town manager, and Select Board to acknowledge the trauma they caused the community by concealing his alleged abuse — as school leaders did this week.

School Superintendent Lisa Dana and the School Committee issued an apology Tuesday and applauded the alleged victim for “courageously” coming forward, 10 days after a Globe report touched off a clamor for them to be held accountable for keeping his ordeal secret for more than 16 months.

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The former player said he now wants Police Chief James Lovell, Town Manager Steve Bartha, and the Select Board “to know it’s very important to make sure the people who confide in you feel like they are being heard and can feel confident about coming forward.

“The actions of the police force in the wake of these events have made it questionable at best for other people in the community to feel like it’s safe to come forward. Their actions have raised the question of who can be trusted.”

Lovell and Bartha told the Danvers Human Rights and Inclusion Committee on Thursday they are committed to addressing the town’s cultural problems, which recently included two incidents of swastikas appearing on a bathroom wall at the Holten Richmond Middle School.

On Friday, Bartha told the Globe by e-mail that the Select Board’s top priorities include implementing recommendations of the town’s Welcoming Community Working Group and hiring a director of diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Lovell and Bartha did not respond directly to calls for them to accept responsibility for their roles in concealing the alleged victim’s experience. Earlier in the week, the Select Board issued a statement citing privacy laws in part for their role in not publicly addressing the Police Department’s handling of the allegations.

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Many residents who attended the human rights committee meeting called for more assertive leadership.

“I know there are a lot of people who want something to be done, period,” committee member Paul Pawlak said. “The town of Danvers does not want this stench to last any longer.”

Those appealing for action are not alone, as Governor Charlie Baker has followed Attorney General Maura Healey and other elected leaders in calling for Danvers officials to be more forthcoming.

“There’s no place in sports, there’s no place in society for any of the issues and activities that have been alleged,” Baker told the Salem News Wednesday. “I certainly hope the school, and the athletic department, and the families, and the community have a transparent airing of those issues and deal with them.”

Many Danvers residents, including the alleged victim, also want the hockey team’s former head coach, Danvers police Sergeant Stephen Baldassare, to be assigned to a position outside of the schools because of his role in the case. A longtime resource officer at Danvers High, Baldassare now supervises the town’s school resource officers as head of the Police Department’s juvenile division.

Baldassare has denied knowing anything about what happened in the locker room and has since resigned from coaching.

Dr. Dutrochet Djoko, who chairs the Danvers Human Rights and Inclusion Committee, said the perception of Baldassare running the juvenile division “is not good.”

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“It seems the officer was negligent, at best, in his duty as a coach,” Djoko said.

The alleged victim said, “It has really been shown at this point that Sergeant Baldassare does not have the leadership qualities necessary to have that type of power. It’s really a public disservice to keep him in that position.”

Bartha said Lovell has kept Baldassare in his current position because three investigations into the hockey allegations “failed to produce evidence that he was aware of these actions.”

“That said, Chief Lovell and I have spent considerable time over the past two weeks having conversations not only with the officer, but also with local leaders and outside experts, including the Anti-Defamation League, and we are still determining the best path forward for the community,” Bartha said.

He said Baldassare has received training since last summer on “implicit bias” and is scheduled to receive additional training on that topic and others.

Bartha said, “We are trying to be diligent in our approach to this and want to be sure that whatever decision we make will position us, as best we can, to be successful in doing the hard work of healing and growing as a community, a local government, and a school district.”

The alleged victim said he was encouraged that school officials abandoned their effort to keep his ordeal secret.

“Admitting their mistakes is the first step,’’ he said. “Understanding that you can be part of the problem is really difficult sometimes, but I’m hoping this will be the first step in a lot of steps to really cleanse the community in Danvers.”

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He said the police could take the next step, which Jack McDevitt, a professor of criminology and criminal justice at Northeastern University, said could help the community.

McDevitt is director of Northeastern’s Institute on Race and Justice and coauthor of the new “School Hate Crime Resource Guide,” which every school in the state is expected to implement through grants authorized by Baker.

McDevitt said Danvers school leaders set the proper tone by expressing regret for their handling of the hockey allegations. He suggested Lovell could help by doing the same.

“We’re seeing more and more the power of apologies by police chiefs across the country,” McDevitt said. “They are the first step toward creating a dialogue and healing.”


Bob Hohler can be reached at robert.hohler@globe.com.