Peter Hindle says he “partially’’ admitted an improper relationship with a student during his years teaching at the prestigious Deerfield Academy — but a prosecutor said Tuesday that it’s too late to charge him.
More than two years ago, the prestigious western Massachusetts prep school conducted an investigation of Hindle and determined he had committed an “outrageous violation’’ and “admitted sexual contact with a student.’’
It was a major scandal for an institution with an alumni list that includes members of the Rockefeller family, college presidents, and one of the Koch brothers.
A prosecutor, Northwestern District Attorney David Sullivan, pledged to investigate whether he could bring criminal charges against Hindle, who taught at the school from 1956 to 2000.
On Tuesday afternoon — more than two years after that investigation began — Sullivan said in a statement to Boston.com that he could not bring charges because of the statute of limitations in the case.
Reached by phone for his response, the 80-year-old Hindle said something striking. A reporter asked him if he had, as Deerfield Academy alleged in 2013, admitted to an improper relationship with a student.
“Partially, I’d say yes,’’ Hindle replied. He declined to comment further and hung up.
In a subsequent phone call, Hindle begged off of further questions, saying he was “a nervous wreck.’’
Hindle’s attorney, James Glasser, initially declined to discuss the case Tuesday. He did not respond to requests for comment after his client’s statement Tuesday afternoon.
Hindle, who now lives in South Dartmouth, was a math teacher and coach at Deerfield Academy, which currently charges students up to $57,000 in total annual costs. He was known for his charisma. His nickname was “Czar.’’
In Sullivan’s statement Tuesday, the prosecutor said he was unable to bring charges despite “substantial credible evidence of improper sexual conduct by Peter Hindle.’’
“We have completed our criminal review of allegations made about sexual misconduct at Deerfield Academy occurring between 25 and 50 years ago,’’ Sullivan said. “To the extent that some improper conduct was criminal in nature, prosecution is barred by the statute of limitations. Although no criminal action can be taken on behalf of two alleged victims, we commend their courage in coming forward.’’
But Boston attorney Mitchell Garabedian said one victim has received at least some justice. Garabedian said that in December, Deerfield agreed to settle a suit brought by one of his clients, a Hindle accuser, for $350,000.
In his statement, Sullivan criticized the school’s past handling of the matter.
“During this era, it is clear that Deerfield Academy had few, if any safeguards, for protecting youth from its most trusted adults, their teachers,’’ Sullivan said. “There was also evidence that three other teachers, now deceased, engaged in inappropriate sexual conduct, also criminal in nature. These criminal matters cannot be pursued due to the deaths of the alleged perpetrators as well as being outside the statute of limitations. However, this does not diminish the trauma and anguish that these young persons experienced at the time and for decades thereafter.’’
Deerfield spokesman David Thiel said he could not confirm the academy had settled a lawsuit in December, but said the school had learned from the Hindle case.
“The academy today values student safety above all and adopted a comprehensive review of policies and procedures based on this incident,’’ Thiel said. “I can also tell you that our thoughts have been with the survivors, and we continue to think about the survivors, and keeping our students safe.’’
He said Deerfield stands behind the 2013 investigation, which concluded that Hindle had engaged in sexual conduct with one student and that there was “evidence that such conduct occurred with at least one other student.’’
“I think you saw from us an amount of transparency when this came to light that was unusual, and I hope that sets a good example for institutions and helps to assure that students are safer everywhere,’’ Thiel said.
Whit Sheppard wrote to the school in June 2012 to say Hindle had sexually abused him in the winter of 1983, when he was a Deerfield student and Hindle still a “much-beloved’’ teacher.
“I don’t envy Peter Hindle the painful task of self-examination he inevitably faces, regardless of the expiration of the statute of limitations in this case,’’ Sheppard, who is not represented by Garabedian, said by email Tuesday. “I believe that he was a serial sexual predator who molested dozens of adolescent boys during his four-decade tenure at Deerfield, though only a few of us have spoken up to date. He tarnished an institution’s good name through his predatory actions and leaves a sad and deeply troubling legacy behind him.’’
Deerfield said at the time that while investigating Hindle, it also received two “direct, independently corroborating accounts’’ of sexual conduct by another teacher, Bryce Lambert, involving two students. Lambert has died.
Garabedian filed a lawsuit on behalf of another client in June, separate from the suit that he said the school settled for $350,000. The June suit alleges that Hindle was one of two supervisors who “negligently transferred’’ his client, who was then a Deerfield student, to Lambert while they were on interscholastic sports trip to Connecticut.
“It is time for Deerfield Academy and all institutions who have children in their presence to reveal what they know about all pedophiles in their ranks so that victims can heal, move on with their lives and so that children are kept safe,’’ Garabedian said Tuesday. “My clients will continue to seek all available civil relief.’’
Garabedian also represented another man who said he was sexually molested by Robert Bliss in roughly 1953, when Bliss was a Deerfield teacher. Both Bliss and the man are now deceased.