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RI school president on leave after NY lawsuit alleges sexual abuse in the ’80s

Target 12

NARRAGANSETT, R.I. (WPRI) – The president of Ocean Tides School in Narragansett has been placed on leave after two people filed a lawsuit in New York alleging an individual named “Brother James” sexually abused them as children and teenagers at an Albany school in the late 1980s, Target 12 has confirmed.

While the lawsuit describes the alleged abuser only as “Brother James,” Brother James Martino – who has led Ocean Tides since 2015 – worked at the LaSalle School in Albany at the same time the alleged abuse happened between 1987 and 1989.

Shortly after learning about the civil lawsuit, filed in the New York Supreme Court in Albany on Aug. 3, Ocean Tides decided to place Martino on temporary leave pending a review “out of an abundance of caution,” according to Gregory Bertles, chair of the Catholic school’s board of trustees.

“At Ocean Tides, the safety and wellbeing of our students is our top priority,” Bertles wrote in a letter shared with Target 12 that was sent to parents on Oct. 22.

“To that end, we will always take any step necessary to protect their safety, even if it means taking measures that ultimately turn out to be unnecessary,” he said.

Martino could not be reached for comment, but Bertles wrote in the letter: “Brother Martino categorically denies the allegations.”

According to the lawsuit, one of the plaintiffs was between the ages of 15 and 16 and the other was between the ages of 12 and 14 at the time the alleged sexual abuse happened in the late 1980s. The now-adults have accused Brother James of calling them down into the basement at the Albany school where he would touch, fondle, sexually abuse and molest them, according to the lawsuit.

“Brother James continued to sexually abuse and molest [one teenager] on average three to four times per week for approximately the next 15 months, primarily in the basement of the administration building,” according to the lawsuit.

The LaSalle School, founded by the De La Salle Christian Brothers in the 1800s, provides different types of education and services in Albany, including counseling to children who have experienced trauma, mental illness and sexual abuse, according to its website.

The lawsuit claims Brother James worked in the basement, where he was in charge of issuing clothing to students and residents. He would call the students down, in some cases even when they “did not need any clothing or sneakers,” according to the lawsuit. In some instances, he would perform sexual acts on the students, while other times he tried to get the student to reciprocate, according to the lawsuit.

“Brother James was so bold and open about what he was doing, that he would simply call teachers on the phone in their classrooms and tell them to send [one child] and other children down to see him,” according to the lawsuit. “The teachers complied, thus enabling Brother James’ ongoing sexual abuse.”

According to his LinkedIn page, Martino served as the assistant executive director at the LaSalle School during the late 1980s. He was hired as president and CEO of Ocean Tides in 2015, and in his letter to parents Bertles highlighted that the Narragansett school was not named as a defendant in the lawsuit.

“As you would expect, the Ocean Tides board has fully informed the appropriate state agencies of this matter and we are in constant communications with them,” Bertles wrote. “As a result, the R.I. Department of Children, Youth and Families is conducting a review.”

DCYF spokesperson Kelly Brennan confirmed the state’s child welfare agency was notified about the lawsuit on Oct. 14, noting also that the allegations are not related to anyone who resides at Ocean Tides. But after receiving the report, the agency notified the R.I. Family Court, R.I. State Police and law enforcement and child welfare officials in Albany.

DCYF also launched a “child well-being and safety review of all children residing at Ocean Tides,” according to Brennan.

“To date, the DCYF has not received any documentation of investigations into the allegations as refenced in the complaint,” Brennan said in an email. “Further, we interviewed all the youth residing at Ocean Tides to assess their safety and well-being. During the Department’s review, there have been no disclosures or allegations of maltreatment of the youth currently in residence at Ocean Tides.”

A day after the agency was initially notified, Ocean Tides told DCYF on Oct. 15 that Martino continued to reside off campus and would “not have any direct contact with youth at the site.” Brian Sullivan has taken over as the role of acting president, Brennan added.

Although Martino isn’t named as a defendant, the lawsuit names several institutions, including the LaSalle School in Albany, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany and the Christian Schools-District of Eastern North America (DENA), a Catholic education congregation that oversees Lasallian schools.

DENA spokesperson Philip De Rita acknowledged the lawsuit in a statement, pointing out that it was one of more than 10,000 claims filed in New York in the two years following the Child Victims Act law passed in 2019. The law extended the statute of limitations for child abuse claims and temporarily opened a two-year window for others to be filed from other time periods.

That window closed in August.

“Given these circumstances, and consistent with current best practices, each of the parties named in the lawsuit are conducting comprehensive investigations,” De Rita told Target 12 in an email. “Preliminary assessments have found that there is insufficient evidence to support the credibility of the allegations. For the protection of all, due to their sensitive nature, we cannot comment further.”

In a response filed to the court on Sept. 3, a New York attorney representing defendants denied most of the allegations, calling on the court to dismiss the complaint with costs.

A lawyer representing the two plaintiffs did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But in the lawsuit the plaintiffs cited the Child Victims Act for allowing them to bring forward their claims against Brother James.

“With the passage of the Child Victims Act, those who have endured such abuse need no longer be silent,” the lawsuit states.

Brennan said the DCYF review remains open, so anyone with any reason to believe that a child has been “subjected to physical abuse or neglect” is required to notify the agency’s hotline at 1-800-RI-CHILD.

Eli Sherman (esherman@wpri.com) is a Target 12 investigative reporter for 12 News. Connect with him on Twitter and on Facebook.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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