WESTBROOK – Westbrook officials expressed shock Wednesday that a School Committee member has been indicted on charges of hindering the apprehension of a former Westbrook Middle School employee charged with sexual abuse of a minor, a Westbrook student.
According to the Cumberland County grand jury indictment list for May, Suzanne Joyce, 51, a longtime public figure in Westbrook, was charged with hindering apprehension or prosecution after a three-month investigation by the Cumberland County District Attorney’s Office that started in January.
The employee, Dereck Gilman, 24, a former Westbrook Middle School special education educational technician who resigned April 1, has been charged with unlawful sexual touching and sexual abuse of a minor following a seven-month investigation from May 2012 to January 2013.
All the charges are class E misdemeanors punishable primarily by fines.
Mike Pardue, director of public safety, said Westbrook police began investigating allegations against Gilman before handing over evidence to the district attorney. He said based on evidence presented by the district attorney’s office before a grand jury, Joyce was indicted.
“I certainly had no inkling anything like this was unfolding. Yes, I was surprised, absolutely,” said Superintendent Marc Gousse. “At this point all I know is that there has been an indictment. I have not seen any documentation and no one has contacted me. My understanding is that the indictment is an accusation, and there will be a process and a plea and an opportunity to respond to those charges.”
School Committee President Jim Violette said Joyce was still a member of the School Committee as of Wednesday morning and he said no plans were in place to vacate her seat.
“It’s a shock to all of us,” Violette said.
Joyce did not return calls by the American Journal deadline Wednesday afternoon.
Tamara Getchell, business and communications coordinator for the Cumberland County District Attorney’s Office, said the indictment against Joyce alleges that the she “used force or intimidation” against a school employee, Andrew Keirstead, to prevent him from informing officials about the suspected activities of Gilman. Keirstead is an educational technician and baseball coach in the district, according to Gousse.
According to Gousse, Gilman was hired in May 2012 as an intern and was added to the substitute teacher list. Gilman was then hired as an educational technician in October 2012 – five months after an investigation into Gilman’s activities was under way. At that same October School Committee meeting, Derek Hanscom, 32, was appointed to the AAA Troubleshooting co-adviser position at the Westbrook Regional Vocational Center. Hanscom was charged in January with sexual assault on a minor and has resigned.
“We thought everything was resolved when Gilman resigned. When this all happened we were all kind of like, ‘Wow,’” Violette said.
Violette said committee members don’t usually get involved with the personnel matters, which are handled by the human resources staff and the superintendent. Violette said the School Committee was told Gilman resigned for personal reasons.
“Basically, everything evolved and hit everybody’s radar screen about 4 [Tuesday]. We really don’t know what’s going on or what the accusations are. We’re just kind of in limbo right now until we can get an update. We’re dealing through our attorneys to get legal information and get educated on what’s going on,” Violette said.
Joyce works as a senior account executive at Norton Insurance in Cumberland Foreside. She’s served on the City Council for Ward 5, a seat now held by Mike Sanphy, for eight years before leaving to run for a seat on the School Committee previously held by Emily Serway in 2010. Joyce has also served on the panel that worked on reorganizing the schools, the Westbrook Arts and Culture Committee and the Westbrook-Gorham Chamber of Commerce.
Joyce and Gilman are scheduled to be arraigned June 4 in Cumberland County Unified Criminal Court.
Since the beginning of 2013, two other former Westbrook school employees have been charged with sex crimes against minors. Hanscom was arrested on Jan. 29 for gross sexual assault and unlawful sexual touching. Steven C. Mitton, 47, a former Westbrook school bus driver and city resident, was arrested on a felony count of sexual exploitation of a minor and a misdemeanor charge of unlawful sexual touching on Jan. 14.