Trial delayed for 3 Bellingham school administrators on failure-to-report charges

Due to last-minute evidence and an uncooperative key witness, the jury trial for three Bellingham Public Schools administrators accused of failing to report a high school student’s sexual assaults after they were were brought to their attention has been delayed until the end of the year.

The administrators’ jury trial had been scheduled to begin Monday.

Jeremy Gilbert Louzao, Maude Chimere Hackney and Meghan V. Dunham were each criminally cited Dec. 7 in Whatcom County District Court with one count of failure to report, a gross misdemeanor, which is punishable by up to a year in jail and a $5,000 fine.

All three have pleaded not guilty. The school district is providing legal defense for the three administrators.

During an hour-long court hearing Friday afternoon, Aug. 25, Whatcom County District Court Commissioner Tony Parise listened as the defense attorneys for the three administrators explained why they were requesting the trial date be continued, and why they were requesting a court order compelling an interview with a key witness.

In the past week, the three defense attorneys received “a mountain of discovery” that included a nearly 70-page-long report, 11 pages of handwritten notes and 12 interview transcriptions, criminal defense attorney Michael Brodsky said Friday in court.

The defense attorneys were also unable to interview former Bellingham Police Department Detective Adam (Bo) S. McGinty because McGinty refused to answer questions about anything other than the criminal case against the administrators, Brodsky said. McGinty, who was previously the lead detective and spent more than a year working on the cases, was fired from the department last week after he was accused of misusing public funds.

Bellingham Police Department investigator Lisa Aspessi has now taken over the case.

The defense attorneys attempted to interview McGinty, but said in court that when he was asked the first question about his education and where he went to high school, McGinty pointed to a copy of his police reports and said he would only answer questions directly related to the case in front of him. After that, the defense attorneys left.

Brodsky said because McGinty was only willing to answer questions related to the administrators’ criminal case, it did not allow defense attorneys to question McGinty about the conduct that not only led to his termination from the police department, but also got him placed on a dishonest officers list, or Brady list.

The 67-page-long report that the defense attorneys received earlier this week also makes it a necessity that McGinty be interviewed, “given what we now know is in the report and can’t share with the court at this point,” Brodsky said. The report, authored by Aspessi, is sealed as part of a protective order signed by the court.

“For all those reasons, we are simply not ready. At this point, it would be malpractice for us to try to take a case of this magnitude to trial on Monday,” Brodsky said in court Friday.

Whatcom County Assistant Chief Criminal Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Dona Bracke said she had spent a considerable amount of time attempting to make witnesses, including McGinty, available for interviews and to coordinate schedules with the defense attorneys in an effort to be prepared for trial.

She said the prosecution has not received any discovery, except a 177-page-long “best practices” book by the Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction sent by one of the defense attorneys.

Requesting the trial be moved — and that McGinty be court-ordered to sit for an interview — was “too little too late,” Bracke said Friday in court.

“They had the opportunity to do an interview with McGinty, but they chose to short-circuit that,” Bracke said.

She requested that McGinty not be court-ordered to sit for a defense interview and requested that the trial begin on Monday as planned.

Parise, the court commissioner, said it was clear from the transcript of the attempted interview of McGinty that it was not going to be a productive conversation and said he understood the defense attorneys’ frustration.

Parise said he found McGinty’s education and past experience relevant, as it could point to how he conducted his interviews or wrote his reports. He also deterimined that McGinty refused to cooperate during the past interview attempt, adding that it wasn’t McGinty’s decision to determine which questions might be relevant to the case.

Parise granted the defense attorneys’ request to compel McGinty to sit for an interview. He said McGinty would be required to answer questions, unless he was invoking his Fifth Amendment rights.

He also granted the attorneys’ request to continue the trial date until mid-November to late December.

Due to information being provided to defense attorneys mere days before trial was scheduled to start, and because a key witness refused to answer basic questions during a defense interview, Parise said he “absolutely” had to continue the case.

“I don’t see how I could, with all the things coming here late, and with a key witness not willing to answer just some basic questions, I don’t see how that could be called a fair trial,” Parise said in court Friday.

Trial dates in mid-November and early December were proposed. A formal date for the administrators’ jury trial will be set at a pretrial hearing next Friday, Sept. 1.

When reached Friday evening, Whatcom County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Levi Uhrig, who is prosecuting the case with Bracke, said they couldn’t comment on the case as it’s a pending criminal action.

“This case is a high priority for this community and our office, so we tried our best to bring this case to trial on Monday. We recognize, however, that there are many factors which Commissioner Parise considered when he granted a continuance. We understand the Commissioner’s ruling and will prepare to bring this case to trial as soon as possible,” Uhrig said in an emailed statement.

The Herald has reached out to the administrators’ defense attorneys and the school district for comment.

Criminal citations issued

All three administrators are mandatory reporters and are required by state law to report any suspected abuse or neglect of a child to law enforcement or to the Washington State Department of Children, Youth & Families.

None of the three reported the sexual assaults on the female student, The Bellingham Herald previously reported.

The school district has said it continues to support the administrators, that it believes they acted in good faith and that it does not believe any of the three violated any policies.

“At no time have we determined the employees violated district policy,” Bellingham Public Schools spokesperson Jackie Brawley said in an Aug. 18 email to The Herald.

At the time the criminal citations were issued, Louzao and Dunham were serving as assistant principals at Squalicum High School, while Hackney was an assistant principal at Bellingham High School.

They were temporarily reassigned to the school district office in January, but were reinstated to their previous positions as assistant principals in late June. They will remain in their assistant principal roles for the upcoming school year, the school district announced Friday, Aug. 18.


The three Bellingham Public Schools administrators were charged in early December for failing to report a female Squalicum High School student’s sexual assaults, which were brought to their attention nearly a year prior, The Herald previously reported.

All three administrators are mandatory reporters and are required by state law to report any suspected abuse or neglect of a child to law enforcement or to the Washington State Department of Children, Youth & Families.

None of the three reported the female student’s sexual assaults, authorities said.

All three were reassigned in early January to the school district’s Department of Teaching and Learning. They were also included among the list of 60 administrative staff members the district recommended to the school board for employment for the 2023-24 school year.

The school board approved that list at its May 18 meeting.

Louzao, Dunham and Hackney were reinstated to their roles as assistant high school principals in late June. Louzao and Dunham will return to Squalicum High School, while Hackney will return to Bellingham High School for the upcoming school year.

The district made the decision to return the administrators to their previous roles at the end of the 2022-23 school year, Brawley previously told The Herald.

“Our district continues to be supportive of these three staff as we believe they acted in good faith and did not violate any reporting obligations. We are confident that they will be able to effectively return to their roles and contribute to supporting students and staff,” Brawley said in her Aug. 18 email.

When asked whether an internal administrative investigation was conducted into the three administrators actions, and if so, details regarding that investigation, Brawley said that when the allegations against the district were brought forward in spring 2022, the district’s human resources department gathered and examined facts.

After the criminal citations were issued to the administrators in December, Brawley said the district continued to gather and analyze information.

When asked whether any of the three administrators have received any discipline for their alleged failures to report the student’s sexual assaults, Brawley said, “We have not determined that they broke any school district policy, and they have thus not received discipline. However, we have devoted significant attention to ensuring that all of our staff, including these three, have received recent training into mandatory reporting obligations.”

Bellingham Public Schools District Office, Jan.30, 2019.
Bellingham Public Schools District Office, Jan.30, 2019.

Federal lawsuit, criminal cases

The former Squalicum High School female student who has accused the district of mishandling her sexual assault reports filed a federal civil rights lawsuit Dec. 7 against Bellingham Public Schools. The student, who has since withdrawn from the high school and began attending another school, accused the district in her lawsuit of violating her federal Title IX rights, failing its duty to protect and care for her and neglecting its duties to report the sexual assaults to law enforcement.

She previously sought $1 million in damages from the district before filing the federal lawsuit.

The district denied it mishandled the student’s reports in its January response to the lawsuit. The district said it took reasonable steps to stop the reported harassment, that the assault allegations contained in the student’s lawsuit were not reported to the administrators and that the conduct that was reported to them was not considered abuse or neglect under state law.

The federal lawsuit is pending, federal court records show.

The male student accused of sexually assaulting the female student was sentenced July 19 in Whatcom County Juvenile Court to 18-20 weeks in the custody of the state Juvenile Rehabilitation Administration. (The county’s juvenile court is a division of Whatcom County Superior Court).

The boy previously pleaded guilty May 17 to amended charges of two counts of fourth-degree assault with sexual motivation. He also resolved two unrelated criminal cases at the time.

Detective fired

McGinty, the lead Bellingham Police Department detective in the school administrators’ case, became the subject of an internal administrative investigation and a criminal investigation.

McGinty is alleged to have misused public funds and has been placed on a dishonest officers list, The Herald previously reported.

Bellingham Police Chief Rebecca Mertzig fired McGinty, effective immediately, on Friday, Aug. 18.

The criminal investigation into McGinty is ongoing, according to Mount Vernon Police Department Lt. Mike Moore. The Mount Vernon Police Department is conducting the criminal investigation into McGinty.