BRATTLEBORO — A town resident has pleaded not guilty to a misdemeanor charge related to allegations he inappropriately touched 4th-graders while working as a substitute at Academy School in April.
Ernest Simuro, 75, was arrested last month for allegedly violating a law that prohibits “open and gross lewdness.” He waived his initial court appearance, which had been scheduled for Tuesday.
Several male and female students at the elementary school said Simuro put his hands on their shoulders or necks in a way that made them uncomfortable, according to an affidavit written by Brattleboro police Officer Joshua Lynde and filed in Vermont Superior Court in Brattleboro. One girl said Simuro put his hand on her chest, Lynde wrote.
Simuro and his lawyer did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday afternoon.
Simuro started working as a part-time substitute teacher with the Windham Southeast Supervisory Union — the school district that includes Academy School — in late February, said Superintendent Lyle Holiday. He worked several dozen times at different schools in the district over the next two months, Holiday said.
Holiday said that none of the other schools in the district where Simuro had worked reported complaints about him.
She said substitutes must pass a background check before being hired by the district. Simuro had previously faced sexual assault allegations, but the charges had been dismissed after significant questions emerged about the evidence, according to court documents and news reports. He later won a civil suit against the officer who investigated him.
Holiday said the charges had not come up in the background check because Simuro was not convicted.
“We now Google everyone,” she said. “Had we done that before, we would have had some red flags. However, this person had never been convicted of anything.”
On April 30, Simuro was filling in for a 4th-grade class at Academy School on Western Avenue, when several kids complained about his behavior, according to Lynde’s affidavit.
One boy later told an investigator that as the class was heading to the all-school sing — a school event in the gym/cafeteria — Simuro grabbed him by the front of the neck, escorted him to the gym and sat him down forcefully on the floor, according to Lynde’s affidavit.
Another student, a girl, said she was helping a friend after the event when Simuro grabbed her neck from behind and stood her up while telling her to get up faster, Lynde wrote.
Another girl said that as they were leaving the all-school sing, Simuro put his hand on her shoulder and “moved his hand down the front of her chest to her breasts,” according to the affidavit. Lynde wrote that the girl “had to push the sub’s hands away multiple times before he took his hands off her.”
Simuro also pushed her in the back while she walked, causing her to stumble, she said, according to the affidavit.
Two other students said Simuro touched their shoulders in an “uncomfortable” way, Lynde wrote. One said Simuro also grabbed him by the back of the neck to steer him in a particular direction, according to the affidavit.
The students reported Simuro’s behavior to a staff person at lunch, and administrators told him to leave the school.
Simuro later told police that kids in the class were rowdy, and he placed his hands on the upper backs of a couple of boys to get them under control, according to the affidavit. He denied grabbing anyone by the neck and said he did not touch any of the girls.
Holiday said the school district obtained no-trespass orders barring Simuro from all its schools.
Simuro’s previous entanglement with the legal system began about a decade ago, when police in Windsor, Vt., charged him with sexually assaulting a boy he knew, based on a report from the boy’s mother. The boy’s mother also claimed Simuro had sexually assaulted her, leading to additional charges.
But after Simuro challenged the charges in court, the cases fell apart, according to a summary written by a federal judge in a later civil suit.
The judge wrote that the Vermont Department for Children and Families — which had intervened to keep Simuro from seeing the child — reversed course after reviewing the underlying evidence. The agency determined that Simuro should not be listed on the Vermont Child Protection Registry and allowed him to resume contact with the child, according to the judge’s summary.
A Vermont criminal court judge granted Simuro’s request to dismiss the charges related to the child, and prosecutors later dropped the remaining allegations, according to the summary in the civil suit.
Then-Windsor County State’s Attorney Robert Sand told the Valley News of Lebanon in 2013 that his office dropped the charges after learning of inconsistencies in the documents it relied on to bring the case.
In 2013, Simuro filed a lawsuit in federal court alleging Windsor police and the Department for Children and Families conducted a shoddy investigation that falsely accused him and violated his civil rights.
A jury in 2016 awarded Simuro $300,000 in damages on malicious prosecution claims against the Windsor police officer who investigated him, Linda Shedd.
The case was appealed, and settled in 2017.
The title of this article has been corrected to reflect that Ernest Simuro faces only one charge.