More accusers allege sexual misconduct by Tisbury resident Blake Richards
A Tisbury man arrested last month and charged with inappropriate sexual behavior returned to court Thursday to face additional similar charges. A news report of an earlier incident prompted other accusers to come forward and led to the most recent charges, according to police officials.
Blake Richards, 37, was arraigned last Thursday in Edgartown District Court on one count of open and gross lewdness and lascivious behavior, and a second count of enticing the victim.
According to court testimony, Mr. Richards, a computer technician, allegedly exposed himself and made sexually explicit remarks to a 12-year-old neighbor last October.
Blake Richards of Tisbury stood in court Thursday as the judge told him to have no contact with juveniles under the age of 17. Photo by Aubrey Gibavic
The new allegations surfaced after the victim and her family read a news brief published in the March 29 issue of The Times about Mr. Richards's arrest by Tisbury police on charges of open and gross lewdness and lascivious behavior.
On Thursday, Edgartown District Court Judge Gregory Williams released Mr. Richards on $750 bail and gave him strict instructions to stay away from the alleged victim and her family, and to have no unsupervised contact with juveniles under the age of 17. He is due back in court on May 11 for a pretrial conference.
In the earlier incident, police arrested Mr. Richards on March 21, after he allegedly exposed himself to a woman while working on a computer in her office. Police charged him with one count of open and gross lewdness and lascivious behavior.
Tisbury Police Chief John Cashin said, since the two formal charges were filed, four more accusers have come forward alleging inappropriate sexual behavior by Mr. Richards. But none of the four incidents, dating back to 2003, was judged to be a crime that might be prosecuted.
"There's not much I can do with them," Chief Cashin said of the four additional complaints. "But it certainly just confirms for me that I'm on the right path in terms of pursuing this investigation vigorously."
Chief Cashin said all four of the additional victims were adults, and that the incidents took place while Mr. Richards was helping them with computer problems in their offices or homes.
An emerging pattern
The first reported incident occurred on March 15 and was reported to the Tisbury police five days later. According to the police report, Mr. Richards was working on a computer in the victim's office in the building on State Road that houses the Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Martha's Vineyard and Dukes County Regional Housing Authority. The woman alleges that after Mr. Richards asked permission to close the door to her office, he made sexually explicit remarks to her and exposed himself. The victim also reported that Mr. Richards called her twice after the incident, once at work and once on her cell phone, questioning her about her reaction to what he did.
The woman reported the incident to the Tisbury police on March 20. The next day, Detective Mark Santon stopped Mr. Richards on Franklin Street. Mr. Richards agreed to be interviewed at the police station and subsequently was arrested. He was arraigned soon after and released on bail.
When that incident was publicized, Chief Cashin said a second victim, a neighbor, came forward with similar allegations. Mr. Richards was subsequently charged with one charge of open and gross lewdness and lascivious behavior, and a second charge of enticing. The second charge speaks to the way he created the situation with the young girl, Chief Cashin said.
At Mr. Richards's arraignment last Thursday, Assistant District Attorney Laura Marshard said that the family decided not to alert police when the incident occurred in October, in order to spare the young victim from any publicity. But when the family learned about the latest accusations, they reconsidered their decision and decided to file a report with the Tisbury police.
Ms. Marshard said the victim worked as a babysitter for Mr. Richards's child and was familiar with the family. On the date of the alleged incident, Mr. Richards asked her to come over and "help him with a chore." When she arrived, Ms. Marshard said, Mr. Richards exposed himself and made sexually explicit remarks. The victim went home and told her mother about the incident, Ms. Marshard said to the court.
Ms. Marshard requested Mr. Richards be held on $1,000 bail, but hesitated to recommend what restrictions the court should impose on Mr. Richards.
"I'm not sure what sort of bail condition to request to ensure that when he goes to do his work, he doesn't expose [himself] to victims," Ms. Marshard said. "I think it would be a very big step to ask him not to work and then he doesn't earn a livelihood."
Judge Williams ordered Mr. Richards to stay away from the victim and her family, and to have no unsupervised contact with juveniles under the age of 17. He allowed Mr. Richards to continue working, and allowed him to leave the state to take a planned vacation with his family this week.
An intimate charge in a tightly knit community
Tisbury's population is estimated at nearly 4,000 in the off-season. Chances are, most people who walk down Main Street will see one or two familiar faces, and many friendships and family connections go back generations.
So, when crimes such as Mr. Richards has been charged with are committed in such a community, law enforcement officers have a particularly difficult challenge to make victims feel comfortable coming forward, and to fairly prosecute the cases.
Tisbury Chief Cashin explained that victims often feel shame, embarrassment, anger and a sense of responsibility for what has happened to them. Many victims choose not go to the police.
"Some people are very, very hesitant to call the police to begin with because they don't want to get involved in a prosecution," Chief Cashin said. "They don't want to testify in open court, if that becomes a necessary factor in the prosecution. They don't want to wind up in the papers."
Some victims also feel that a jail sentence is not the proper way to punish the accused.
"They understand the individual is ill, and they don't feel that the police department is the way to go," Chief Cashin added.
In an exposure case, where the crime is not aggravated by physical contact, victims often let the incident go, and take it upon themselves to simply be "more careful in the future," Chief Cashin said.
The reasons for not going to the police are many, and officers have to work hard to make victims feel comfortable enough to share intimate details with them. It is a community policing issue, Chief Cashin said.
"There may be some uncomfortable parts to this process for everyone involved, but it's one of those things that's just so necessary," Chief Cashin said. "If you're not going to take steps to prevent it, you're going to have to deal with it at some point. If they don't do it for themselves, I'd like to see them do it for other people who will no doubt be subjected to the same treatment at the hands of offenders."