Allegations of sexual misconduct spanning decades at a Portland private school are now the focus of an investigation by the Washington County Sheriff's Office. Law enforcement's interest in allegations against Catlin Gabel School follows a report last month by an outside investigator.
That report alleged a range of sexual impropriety – from inappropriate boundary crossing to sex abuse – involving minor students from middle to high school, over a period of decades. The report alleged misconduct by 21 former staff members, including six the report identified by name. None of them still work at the school.
When the initial investigator’s report was released, school officials said “the school, through its attorney, reported all suspected abuse to law enforcement authorities.”
Washington County Sheriff’s Office public information officer Brian Van Kleef said detectives received detailed information from Catlin Gabel staff to help investigate. Van Kleef said they’ve also received tips since the report published.
“There have been additional staff members where abuse allegations have come to light, in addition to what were contained in the initial report that the school released,” Van Kleef said.
Van Kleef said the new allegations don’t involve current Catlin Gabel staff members.
The outside investigator chose not to identify as many as 15 people accused of some kind of sexual misconduct, largely to protect the identities of accusers or witnesses who wanted to remain anonymous. The report details specific allegations against three former employees, without naming them.
They include alleged sex abuse against a middle school student from the 1960s and ‘70s by a former staffer, and sexual harassment in the last several years against an “upper school” student.
Washington County detectives know the identities of not just the six people identified in the report, but also the 15 who were accused and unidentified. Police have powers that a private investigator doesn’t have, including the ability to arrest people if they’re suspected of a crime and to obtain information from people who don’t want to cooperate.
“If we have reasonable belief that there's information somewhere, we can go as far as getting a search warrant from a judge. And if they agree, that grants us extra access that maybe a private investigator wouldn't have,” Van Kleef said.
But the Sheriff’s Office is limited by law, including statutes of limitations, which could allow some suspects to escape prosecution. Van Kleef said detectives are asking people to come forward regardless of how long ago incidents might have occurred.
“We're trying to get a complete picture for this investigation,” Van Kleef said. “So even if it's something that happened decades ago, if that can fill in a hole in this investigation or lead us somewhere we're trying to go, then we'd like to hear all information that we can get.”