Tisbury school janitor faces child sex charge

Richard McElhinney, 48, of Tisbury, a custodian at the Tisbury school, was arraigned in Edgartown District Court May 20, on a charge of child rape. Mr. McElhinney also faces a charge of indecent assault and battery on a child under 14 and enticement of a child under 16. He was ordered held on $15,000 bail. His wife Kelly posted bail following his arraignment, and Mr. McElhinney was released.

As a condition of bail, he must stay away from the victim, the victim’s immediate family, and the victim’s residence. He is to stay 100 yards away from any school or day care in Dukes County and is to have no contact with children under the age of 16, except his biological family. Mr. McElhinney appeared for a routine pre-trial conference in Edgartown District Court Monday. He is due back in court on June 24.

According to the police report, the young child told investigators that two separate incidents of inappropriate sexual contact happened at the school. The incidents did not involve any students at the school and did not happen during school hours, according to Tisbury police detective Mark Santon, who investigated the case.

Mr. McElhinney was placed on administrative leave with pay, while the school conducts its own internal investigation, according to school superintendent James Weiss.

“We’re taking action to protect all the students and staff at the school,” Mr. Weiss said. “Principal (Richie) Smith has tried to keep his community informed, and we’re doing everything we can to keep our students safe and going about their business. Once we were notified by police there was an issue, we immediately put him on administrative leave with pay, notified the faculty, and Richie sent a letter home to parents. He also met with important groups of the school, the parent-teachers organization, school advisory council, and the school committee.”

Mr. Weiss said the school performed a criminal records check on Mr. McElhinney, as it does for every employee. That check revealed no record that would disqualify him from employment.

Supervisory role

According to the police report, the victim was sometimes in the care of Richard and Kelly McElhinney, as part of an arrangement with probate court. The victim’s mother and father, who are friends of the McElhinneys, are divorcing. The victim’s father is allowed only supervised visits with his child. The victim’s parents named Richard and Kelly McElhinney as supervisors of those visitations. The victim spent most Friday evenings and Saturdays in the care of Richard and Kelly McElhinney.

The child made report to her mother of inappropriate contact in March of this year, according to police. The victim’s mother, as well as Kelly McElhinney, then confronted Mr. McElhinney. The victim’s mother took the child to the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, where a doctor examined her and found no indication of trauma, according to the police report. The doctor, as required by law, notified police and the state Division of Children and Families. Tisbury police contacted Children’s Cove in Barnstable, an agency that both investigates child sexual abuse and counsels victims. An investigator from Children’s Cove interviewed the victim in Barnstable on March 29.

On March 30, at the request of Tisbury Police, Mr. McElhinney voluntarily agreed to questioning at the Tisbury police station. In that interview, Mr. McElhinney repeatedly denied any inappropriate contact with the victim. He specifically denied an allegation by the victim about an incident in a third floor classroom. The child’s memory of that incident included physical details of the classroom that later proved accurate, according to the report. Items in the classroom were taken by police as evidence.

Mr. McElhinney repeatedly asked to take a lie detector test and repeatedly expressed concern that the allegations of child sexual abuse would ruin his life, according to the report.

Further investigation

Children’s Cove, as part of its method of investigation, conducted a total of six extended sessions. The first session was a fact-gathering session without the victim present. The next five were interviews with the victim, over a period of about five weeks. During this time, the victim had no contact with Mr. McElhinney. According to Children’s Cove, the interviews are not intended to lead the victim to make allegations, but are designed to determine if a child has been abused, to gather facts for police to assess, and to determine whether treatment is needed.

In the fifth of these extended interviews, on May 14, the victim told investigators very specific details of another incident, in a bathroom at the Tisbury School. The victim told investigators that in both of the incidents described, Mr. McElhinney said they were secrets, and the victim was not to tell anyone, police say.

In a sixth interview, on May 18, the victim repeated specific details of the incident in the school bathroom, leading interviewers to forward their report to law enforcement, and to recommend clinical support from a trauma specialist for the victim.

On May 20, after receiving the Children’s Cove report, police asked Mr. McElhinney to come to the Tisbury police department for further questioning. He did so voluntarily and again denied all allegations. At the end of that interview, Mr. McElhinney was placed under arrest.