A 16-year-old student at Thetford Academy, an independent school in Vermont, has been charged with seven counts of felony sexual assault against five of his female classmates.
Connor Tatro pleaded not guilty to all of the charges at his arraignment July 26, according to the Valley News. Although he is a minor, under Vermont law there are exceptions for serious offenses that allow people under the age of 18 to be charged as an adult, according to Assistant Orange County State Attorney Dickson Corbett. Nonconsensual sexual assaults are one of those exceptions.
Tatro, who is from Post Mills, a village in Vermont near the New Hampshire border, is accused of sexually assaulting his female classmates, who were 15 and 16 years old, at several locations on campus in 2016 and 2017, according to an affidavit filed in Orange Superior Court on July 25. The alleged assaults range from groping to forced sexual intercourse.
William Bugg, head of the school, told Boston.com in a statement that the allegations are “deeply disturbing and incredibly disheartening” and do not reflect the values taught to Thetford students.
The 198-year-old academy, an independent day school that also serves as the public school for Thetford and nearby towns, sits on 295 acres of fields and forest. One teacher told investigators that staff are largely unaware of where students are if they’re not in class, saying it would be “easy” for students to be in an unsupervised space during or after school, according to the affidavit.
There were 338 students enrolled during the 2016-17 academic year. The average class size is 13 students to a teacher.
Here’s what we know about the case.
When the girls first reported the assaults at the end of May to the school’s dean, they told her they’d all exchanged sexually explicit photos and messages with Tatro, which he allegedly used to compel sexual favors, according to the affidavit filed with the court.
One 15-year-old girl told investigators that she dated Tatro for about a year and a half, on and off. According to the document, she said he assaulted her two times in the spring of 2016. On one occasion, she said, they were walking on a trail between the elementary and high schools when he pulled her into the woods, pushed her to the ground while holding her hands and hair, and forced her to perform oral sex and have intercourse.
In another instance, she said, Tatro “dragged” her into a small closet of the school’s baseball dugout, where he allegedly assaulted her. She said she “told him no each time but he did anyway,” according to the affidavit.
Boston.com does not name victims of sexual assault unless they agree to be identified.
Another 15-year-old girl told investigators Tatro also assaulted her in the spring of 2016 when she refused to accompany him into a wooded area while walking on a school trail. She said he picked her up and carried her into the woods, where he “pinned” her to a tree, assaulted her, and forced her to perform oral sex, according to the affidavit.
A third girl alleges Tatro grabbed her neck and “choked her” in January 2017 when she refused his request for oral sex while they were in the campus science building after school. According to the affidavit, she told investigators she was afraid to keep saying no and “scared of what he might do.” She alleged that each time she said no, Tatro responded: “You know you like it.” He allegedly brought her into the men’s bathroom, locked the door, and forced her to have oral sex, according to the affidavit.
Another girl, who said she dated the teen, recounted an incident that allegedly occurred during the spring of 2017. Tatro allegedly grabbed her neck and squeezed before assaulting her in the school cafeteria, she told investigators.
A fifth girl, who said she was friends with Tatro, said he assaulted her twice during the spring of 2017, according to the affidavit. In one incident, she said Tatro “choked” her in a hallway below a classroom when she told him she was not comfortable performing oral sex, according to the court document. In another, he allegedly grabbed her “aggressively” by the throat when she tried to walk away from him when he began to unbutton his pants in a secluded area of the school’s study center. She told authorities she was “scared” and made up her mind to “do this to get it over with,” according to the affidavit.
What happens next?
The Valley News reports that Tatro was released into the custody of his mother following his arraignment. Tatro’s attorney, Catherine Dux, did not respond to a request for comment from Boston.com. A man reached at a phone number listed for the teen’s mother, Stacie LaLonde, said the family had no comment.
“There are some very, very serious allegations,” Dux told the Valley News following her client’s arraignment. “But that is all they are.”
According to the affidavit, LaLonde told investigators in mid-June that one of the girls had been apologizing to her son via text message and telling him that things were “blown out of proportion.” The girl reportedly said she didn’t want anything to happen to Tatro, according to the affidavit.
Tatro denied asking the girls to send sexually explicit messages to him during a meeting with school administrators in May, according to the court document.
School officials told investigators that Tatro was never in “serious trouble” while at Thetford Academy, which he transferred to from the Rivendell School District. According to the affidavit, the teen was often found “wandering” around the school’s campus when he was supposed to be in classes.
As a condition for his release, Tatro was ordered to have no contact with the alleged victims and no unsupervised contact with any girls under the age of 18, Corbett said.
How the school is handling the allegations
The case began to take shape in late May, when the five girls each met separately with Siobhan Lopez, the school’s dean of students, according to the affidavit. According to the document, the girls told her that Tatro had physically assaulted them by “leaving bruises or choking” them during “both casual and sexual encounters.”
Lopez told investigators that one of the girls had first approached her in April about Tatro choking her during a “consensual” sexual act. The dean approached the chief of the Thetford Police Department for advice at that time, according to the affidavit. She told investigators that he told her after speaking to the Orange County States Attorney that they would not prosecute based on the information provided.
According to the affidavit, Lopez then filed a report to the Department of Children and Families in early June after multiple girls reported incidents of sexual assault allegedly involving Tatro.
“We consulted with the police when we were first notified there was a cause for concern, and we reported all alleged incidents to DCF on June 2, within 24 hours of the incidents being reported to us, in accordance with our policies and mandatory reporting obligations,” Bugg said in a statement to Boston.com.
Orange County Sheriff’s Department Detective Lieutenant Scott Clouatre said in the affidavit that he first received five different complaints from DCF about the alleged physical and sexual abuse on June 5, 2017.
In a July 26 letter to the school, Bugg said the academy will be examining its policies and procedures. Additionally, he said during the next school year there will opportunities for students to participate in programs related to “what it means to have healthy and responsible relationships.”
Bugg said Tatro is not permitted on the school’s campus until the conditions of his release are changed or rescinded.