The Palm Beach Post | By Sonja Isger | June 17, 2021
In the fall of 2019, a William T. Dwyer High School graduate met a police officer on campus in order to report a decades-old crime. The now 34-year-old woman was there, she said, at the behest of her therapist, to expose a man who over the course of three years — from her sophomore through senior years — had engaged in sex with her more than 100 times.
The accused, a one-time football coach and paraprofessional nearly 20 years her senior, still worked at the school.
She told the officer that from 1999 through 2002, they met for sex in portable classrooms on campus, in his SUV in the Palm Beach Mall parking lot, in various local hotels, in his apartment when his wife was away, according to police reports.
At the time, she interpreted their relationship as boyfriend/girlfriend, but now, she told the officer, she had a better understanding of their dynamic: A young teen at the time, she had been sexually exploited by an adult man in a position of trust.
Last month Reginald “Reggie” Stanley was arrested and faces felony charges of unlawful sexual activity with a minor and lewd or lascivious battery.
Stanley has pleaded not guilty.
He did not return calls or texts to his personal cellphone seeking comment. Attempts to contact him through the attorney who represented him at his bond hearing were also unsuccessful.
An investigation that fell short
His arrest almost didn’t happen.
The woman told her story to school policein August 2019, and by mid-September they had dismissed the complaint, citing the inability to corroborate certain details — they couldn’t find decades-old hotel receipts, couldn’t connect the man to a black Ford Expedition she said he drove, and the portable classrooms where she said they had sex were no longer there.
They declared the case “unfounded due to lack of evidence.”
Two experts not tied to the case when The Palm Beach Post asked for them to review it say they would have pressed further.
“Put simply, I am shocked at how poor the investigation was, at least of its initial closure in September 2019. I’ve never seen anything quite as lax as this.MICHAEL DOLCE, AN AUTHORITY IN CHILD SEX ABUSE LITIGATION
The first investigation did not seek out people who could’ve have verified elements of the accuser’s story. Police did not speak to her friends or family and did not interview his colleagues or bosses at the time. A review of the first investigative report and another report that followed in 2020 shows investigators also folded when Stanley, now 55, refused to talk without a lawyer present.
And, according to the investigators’ own records, they didn’t heed a recorded confession that went unmentioned in the first report.
Michael Dolce, an authority in child sex abuse litigation who has reviewed hundreds of sex crime investigations to weed out missteps for national news organizations, says the district’s effort falls short of what he sees in 98% of those investigations.
“Put simply, I am shocked at how poor the investigation was, at least of its initial closure in September 2019,” Dolce said. “I’ve never seen anything quite as lax as this.”
“It appears some basic investigation opportunities may have been missed the first go around. A good supervisor seeing a report like this would’ve said, ‘Whoa, missing a hole bunch of stuff in there.’CURTIS S. LAVARELLO – FORMER CHILD SEX ABUSE INVESTIGATOR IN BROWARD COUNTY
In the weeks since Dolce first reviewed the case for the newspaper, an attorney in his firm, the Palm Beach Gardens offices of Cohen Milstein, was retained by the victim to represent her as the case proceeds in criminal courts.
The young woman, who was accompanied by a different lawyer when she met with police in 2020, sought one of Dolce’s colleagues earlier this month. The attorneys work with one of the only practices in the region that does such work exclusively. Dolce said his firm won’t be pursuing any civil claim relating to this matter.
The school district fumbled in several respects, Dolce said.
He said police ignored telltale signs that pointed to the credibility of the woman’s story, and misdirected their efforts in proving or disproving her claims.
In his experience, Dolce said it is standard practice to interview people in the accused’s personal and professional circles and the friends and family of the accuser as well. The goal is to determine if there was opportunity, if timelines match, if the girl told her story to anyone else.
“I hate to be cliché, but it’s kind of like the game of ‘Clue.’ You’ve got to check every room,” Dolce said.
Curtis S. Lavarello, a former child abuse investigator in Broward County who now heads the national School Safety Advocacy Council, and who is often tapped to by districts to review their own school police investigations, concurred.
Lavarello says the years-long delay in reporting could have been a problem for investigators sifting through old information. Even so, “it appears some basic investigation opportunities may have been missed the first go around,” said Lavarello, who also spent years as a school police officer in Palm Beach County. “A good supervisor seeing a report like that would’ve said, ‘Whoa, missing a whole bunch of stuff in there.’”
“The investigation was woefully incomplete when it was first closed in September 2019. The investigation was open only five weeks, an unbelievable short period of time for a first degree sex felony against a student by an in-service teacher.MICHAEL DOLCE, AN AUTHORITY IN CHILD SEX ABUSE LITIGATION
Not only would Lavarello have sought to interview those in the girl’s orbit and in Stanley’s, he would have pushed harder to hear from Stanley himself, he said.
“With regard to someone saying, ‘I want my lawyer,’ I used to immediately pass them a phone and ask that they call his or her attorney and attempt to have them join us so we could continue the conversation.”
Only because Stanley’s accuser refused to back down did a second investigation materialize.
14-year-old loner, a 32-year-old Dwyer coach
The woman’s original sworn statement to school police filled 12 pages, according to a summary in the initial report.
The woman said she met Stanley when she came to school as a 14-year-old freshman in 1998. She described herself as a loner with a rocky relationship with her parents, the reports indicate.
That same year, Stanley, a 32-year-old father of two, had landed a job as the school’s interventionist, assigned to help troubled kids, documents show.
“Reginald at the time was Dwyer’s Behavior health interventionist and football coach,” investigators wrote. “Student) stated that she and Reginald’s relationship started as a pure friendship as he would ask her about herself as she ate alone during lunch. (Student) informed me that Reginald would show her pictures of his two sons, which caused her to trust Reginald and open (up) to talking to him regularly. After talking more frequently, Reginald became flirtations and gave his cell phone number … if she ever had any problems during or after school.”
In that statement, the woman tells the investigator that she kept her friendship with Stanley under wraps because she didn’t want to get him in trouble. In her sophomore year, he planted an unexpected kiss on her in an empty portable. She said the kiss left her dumbfounded. He apologized. She avoided him for a week before talking to him again, she told investigators.
According to the report, “She didn’t tell anyone about their friendship due to her fearing being in trouble and getting Reginald in trouble. As the friendship blossomed, the relationship turned sexual … (student) said there were promises of a public relationship and marriage once she turned 18.”
She offered details, describing sex in portable classrooms at the far edge of the campus because, Stanley told her, the custodians get to those rooms later. She said they had sex in his black Ford Expedition and in his apartment.
She recalled noticing after one sexual encounter that Stanley had a permanent retainer that ran behind his teeth. She told the investigators she had his personal cell number and also a number to his pager.
She said she had pictures of him with her at prom. She reported that he had volunteered to be a chaperone at the dance “since they couldn’t go as a couple.” Afterward, she said, he took her to a LaQuinta Inn, where they had sex.
“The 2019 complainant’s recitation of what was done to her was inherently credible,” Dolce said.
The behavior she describes follows a script Dolce and those who advocate for the victims say are the hallmarks of sex crimes against children and teens.
“She feared being rejected and not believed.MICHAEL DOLCE
The woman herself told the first detective she thought she was being “groomed.”
The Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network, or RAINN, says grooming often follows a similar pattern that is characterized by the perpetrators — choosing vulnerable targets, getting jobs in which they have contact with minors, developing trust through attention and sharing and secrets, desensitizing their targets when it comes to touch and sex talk. They attempt to make their behavior seem natural.
In the reports, Dolce finds all of those elements.
“From there, he escalated to overt romantic/physical contact with kissing,” Dolce said.
She’s paralyzed when he first kisses her. “She feared being rejected and not believed.” That, too, is textbook, Dolce said.
By the time they’re having sex in his apartment with his wife not present, he has created a situation where she feels responsible for the abuse, Dolce said, “reinforcing in her young and naive mind that she was now also part of an adulterous relationship, further inhibiting disclosure of the crimes.”
The details she described should speak to her credibility, Dolce said.
Investigators, however, cited problems confirming the woman’s story.
They had sex at his apartment, but she didn’t know Stanley’s street address. La Quinta Inn’s records didn’t run beyond three years, making confirmation impossible. The portable classrooms she described were no longer on campus. A search for a black Ford Expedition in Stanley’s name found no record of ownership.
Those elements were listed as reasons the case would close
“The investigation was woefully incomplete when it was first closed in September 2019. The investigation was open for only five weeks, an unbelievably short period of time for a first-degree sex felony against a student by an in-service teacher,” Dolce said.
On Nov. 6, 2019, just over a month later, a different detective would find a black Ford Expedition in Stanley’s mother’s name.
The victim won’t let go
The first the public heard of the case was when the Palm Beach County School District issued a letter to parents on the day of Stanley’s arrest on May 21, 2021 — more than a year and a half after the original investigation was closed.
The timeline of events following the original case closure to the reopening and arrest are somewhat muddy.
In the letter to parents, district officials said the “decades-old case was reopened in 2020 when the accuser contacted School Police with new information that was not available when she approached investigators in 2019.”
The arrest report detailing the second investigation starts the narrative on Jan. 17, 2020, when a new investigator is assigned, and by February he and another detective meet with Stanley’s accuser in her lawyer’s office.
But the arrest report also notes the Expedition was tied to Stanley months earlier, on Nov. 6, and when the district’s communications director was asked for the second investigation start date, she reported it to have begun the day before that connection on Nov. 5.
Regardless of the reopening date, Stanley was left in his job for weeks — possibly as many as 13 — while a second investigation was conducted.
The arresting document is vague about what new information had surfaced; in large part it simply restates the woman’s original complaint as told to a new investigator.
Not only was there now evidence tying him to the Expedition, according to the second police report, the first investigators also appear to have heard Stanley confess on a “covert” tape made by his accuser after getting some instructions about what type of recorder to buy from the police office.
“During a covert, recorded meeting with him, Mr. Stanley admitted to bringing (name redacted) to a hotel following the prom, and having sex with her. Mr. Stanley states in the conversation that he does not remember which hotel it was.”
While the first investigation does not reference any taped conversation,the woman tried and failed to get an admission over the phone with the officer listening.
The woman made the call to a phone number she supplied and the officer later confirmed to be Stanley’s cellphone. But the first time, she got no answer and the second time, Stanley answered to the name Reggie but when she asks whether he remembers having sex with her, he says several times that “I don’t remember that, and I didn’t know you at 14.”
In both investigations, officers sought to speak with Stanley in person and each time he declined to speak without a lawyer present.
“After that any attempt to talk to him stopped,” Lavarello said. “What they could’ve said is, ‘I encourage you to get an attorney.’ Doesn’t mean I don’t want to talk to you.”
Dolce agreed. “It also warrants noting that he was not required, ever, to identify a lawyer to whom the police could speak to try to negotiate an interview.”
Further, before closing out the case and sending Stanley back to a student-filled campus, Dolce argues it’s not enough to say, “We can’t prove that he did it.”
Just because a criminal case is closed doesn’t mean the district can’t flag the claims for a professional investigation to determine whether school policy had been breached, Lavarello notes.
But the investigative report does not include documents showing a professional investigation occurred. The school district has said it will not be renewing Stanley’s contract. It has not yet responded to requests for any related personnel investigation.
The back-to-back investigations raise one more question for both reviewers and that is where Stanley was during this investigation.
District officials said that Stanley was removed from contact with kids during the initial police investigation and then returned when it was closed at the end of September.
In a letter dated Sept. 30, 2019, Stanley is told that the police case is closed and “therefore, the case is considered closed without probable cause for disciplinary action.” That means no criminal charges, nor any consequences on the administrative side.
The school district’s communications director reports that school police reopened their investigation on Nov. 5, 2019. A later police report shows Stanley connected to a black Ford Nov. 6, 2019. A new investigator writes that he picked up the case in January 2020.
Stanley, however remained on campus until Feb. 27, 2020, “based on new information from School Police,” spokeswoman Claudia Shea wrote.
When asked why Stanley was not removed earlier, the director of employee and labor relations said through the district’s spokesperson, “ELR removed Mr. Stanley as soon as we were alerted to the issue by school police.”
What to do about delayed reporting
It would be easier if abuse victims stepped forward immediately. But frequently, they don’t.
Data from the Department of Justice suggests that 86% of child abuse is never reported, according to a 2020 report from ChildUSA, a national think tank for child protection.
For those who do tell, the average delay in disclosure is more than 20 years, according to a review of the research published in 2013.
Why would a person wait until their 30s or beyond to report abuse that happened to them in childhood?
“I get asked that question all the time,” said Dolce, a sex abuse survivor who spearheaded a campaign to extend the Florida statute of limitations for reporting.
Though some victims will tell a close friend or confidante bits of their story, telling authorities is a big step, one that can then disrupt whatever bit of a normalcy from family to job that the now-adult has built, Dolce said. Of those who do report the abuse, only 6% to 15% report it to legal authorities.
“Credible accounts of child sexual abuse are constantly questioned because of a failure to understand that delayed disclosure is common for survivors,” ChildUSA concluded in its factsheet on the phenomenon.
“There’s a number of reasons why that happens. You have to look at who the individuals are, the relationship between them at the time and the nature of how the abuse is perpetrated,” Dolce said.
Once she began pushing for an investigation, the former Palm Beach County student did not stop. “To her credit, it appears she persisted in 2020 to motivate a reopening of the case when she located additional evidence,” Dolce said.
“I feel that the lackluster and painfully incomplete police investigation, at least as of September 2019, gravely disrespected the courage exhibited by the survivor coming forward when she did.”