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3 principals’ trial in mandatory-reporting case delayed again

Case hampered by dismissal of lead detective

Three assistant principals who worked at Squalicum High School likely won't face a jury in their mandatory-reporting case until November at the earliest.
Three assistant principals who worked at Squalicum High School likely won't face a jury in their mandatory-reporting case until November at the earliest.
By Ralph Schwartz Local Government Reporter

The trial of three assistant principals charged with failing to report the sexual assault of one of their students has been postponed again.

Assistant principals Jeremy Louzao and Meghan Dunham of Squalicum High School, and Chimere Hackney — a Bellingham High School assistant principal — likely won’t face a jury in Whatcom County District Court until November at the earliest, after their individual attorneys all asked for more time.

The investigation and ultimate dismissal of the lead police detective in the case is largely responsible for the delay.

Defense attorneys received a 67-page report on Tuesday, Aug. 22 from the Bellingham police detective who had taken over the case from Adam “Bo” McGinty, who was fired Aug. 18 for allegedly abusing his dry cleaning privileges, according to a police statement. 

Attorneys for the school principals said they hadn’t had time to review the new detective’s document in order to be ready for trial, which was to start on Monday, Aug. 28.

In addition to postponing the trial, District Court Commissioner Tony Parise granted the defense’s request to depose McGinty for an interview. The former detective had refused to answer questions in an earlier interview, on the advice of a lawyer. At the time, McGinty was on leave and under an internal investigation by his department.

“His cooperation is necessary if he’s going to be on the state’s witness list,” defense attorney Michael Brodsky argued Friday, Aug. 25 during a pretrial hearing. “His honesty and integrity has been brought into question.”

Another pretrial hearing is scheduled for Friday, Sept. 1, to set the trial date. Parise on Aug. 25 proposed dates in November and December.

The case is taking an unusually long time to unfold for district court, which handles misdemeanors, not the more serious felony crimes. The principals were cited in December 2022 in a case involving a former Squalicum female student who reported unwanted sexual contact to the three administrators in early 2022. 

Failure to report abuse is a gross misdemeanor when the defendant is a mandatory reporter, such as a school official. The maximum sentence for the crime is 364 days in jail and a $5,000 fine.

The male student accused in the case was initially charged with indecent liberties, a felony, but pleaded guilty in juvenile court earlier this summer to two misdemeanor counts of assault with sexual motivation.

The female student has sued Bellingham Public Schools in federal court, claiming emotional distress and a violation of her civil rights. The suit also alleges the school district had failed to ensure that employees had adequate training on the duty to report sexual abuse.

The school district has supported the three principals, and they resumed their former positions earlier this month after being moved to other roles in the district in January. 

“We believe they acted in good faith and did not violate any reporting obligations,” an Aug. 18 message to Squalicum parents read.

The district also is paying for the principals’ legal defense.

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