Mike DiMauro: Will anybody in New London help the falsely accused?

·4 min read

Sep. 22—By now, the concept of "innocent until proven guilty" has become a stratospheric lie, right up there with "the check's in the mail" and "I only had one beer, officer."

Just ask Jason Pellum, the long-term substitute teacher in New London, who two years ago was accused of inappropriate interaction with a student and subsequently reported to DCF. Pellum, a 2012 New London High grad, might as well have worn Hester Prynne's "A," following a two-year period of institutional indifference from police, DCF and New London Public Schools that left him almost powerless to restore his name.

Turns out DCF actually cleared Pellum's name in a month. Yet it took him two years for him to ascertain proof, during which he lost potential jobs and was viewed in some circles as a pariah.

Pellum, with the help of some friends familiar with the educational and legal systems, crawled over a mile of broken glass to unearth evidence of his innocence. He has become the new video coordinator for women's basketball at Boston University — a job for which he's grateful — but not after losing the same position at a major Division I university because of the albatross of aforementioned accusations.

The false accusations were not limited to Pellum. In the wake of Corriche Gaskin's arrest following serious accusations at Bennie Dover Jackson Middle School, a number of other young, Black, male teachers were accused similarly at other schools in the city. Not all of them have proof of their innocence yet, despite being cleared of wrongdoing by police and DCF.

It prompts the questions:

What true avenues do the falsely accused have if they don't have the means to retain a good attorney?

What is taking so long to clear their names?

Given that it's so easy to accuse now, who knows which one of us is next?

"It's one thing to say something is being investigated, it's another to allow allegations to go unchallenged in the media," said Nick Fischer, the former Superintendent of Schools in New London, who volunteered his time with his wife, Karen, to help Pellum restore his name. "It's not the media's fault. It's the responsibility of the administration to be responsible to the person who is charged. The need to get an attorney for something the school system should have handled as a matter of practice is ridiculous."

And yet very real. Pellum's case — and the case of others who haven't been as fortunate — is a cautionary tale of just how endemic "guilty until proven innocent" has become.

"The most concerning part of all this to me was that Jason received little to no information initially about what the allegations were," Fischer said earlier this week. "He didn't get any information about what would happen next. He heard nothing from DCF, police or the school system.

"Normally, DCF will say either there is substance to an allegation or no material finding. The police as a courtesy will do the same. None of that happened. When Jason checked with the school system to see if the investigation was closed, they told him that since he was no longer an employee (his contract ended after the school year) they were not obligated to answer. That's screwing somebody, to be honest with you. I did a lot of those investigations. You are under a moral obligation to let them know if there's any substance."

Except that in this era of Death By Social Media, moral outrage has replaced moral obligation.

More Fischer: "We eventually found out Jason was cleared. Yet when he went back to the school system, they still wouldn't do anything. I had to go through a board (of education) member. You don't have to hire the guy back, but at least be willing to sign a letter that there was no substance to the charges. It took several weeks for them to do it. That's ridiculous. Functionally, that's ending a guy's career. Connecticut is a small village, particularly now with Google. It still took five or six months even after we got involved. That's absurd. There's no way the average young person knows the ins and outs of this."

And here is where we've arrived: Why would you ever want to work here knowing that checks and balances have been replaced by imbalances checking on facts?

"Many folks in communities of color have perceptions about the responsiveness of police and DCF in working with these issues," Fischer said. "If you want people of color to work here, you need to assure them that somebody has their back. You want minority candidates? If this is what happens to five young minority men, you think the people are going to want to apply here?"

In New London, do they have your back, or do they just want to stab you there?

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro

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