NOTE: Some of the details of this story might be inappropriate for certain readers and listeners.
The former principal of Blatchley Middle School in Sitka has been indicted on charges of sexual assault.
A Sitka grand jury on Friday charged 54-year-old Joseph Robidou on six counts of felony sexual assault. He also faces an additional five misdemeanor charges for incidents that allegedly happened beginning last May and as recently as January. All of them involve other adults, and prosecutors say students at the school were not involved.
Three people are listed by their initials in the indictment, but are not named directly. All three are adult women who, during the times of the alleged incidents, worked at Blatchley Middle School. District officials said two are teachers and the third was a substitute teacher who no longer lives in Alaska.
Court documents lay out a variety of charges. They include separate incidents in which Robidou allegedly exposed himself, touched one woman’s breasts or forced others to touch his genitals. He’s also accused of masturbating in front of two women in their empty classrooms, and on separate occasions, doing the same thing at their homes.
In one case, at one of the women’s homes, the court documents state he put his hands around her neck and told her “this would be a lot easier if you were passed out.”
The first accusation came to light one week after Robidou moved from his job at Blatchley to the district office, where he had just been hired as business manager.
Schools Superintendent Steve Bradshaw was in Juneau on Monday, but listened in by phone as KCAW interviewed Mary Wegner, the assistant superintendent of schools.
“There are a lot of rumors saying that he was promoted because of this,” she said, “and we found out afterward. It’s important that the public know that immediately when we found out, we took action to protect our staff, and make sure he did not have access to the schools anymore.”
Robidou became principal at Blatchley in 2008. He left that job on Friday, Jan. 11. He began as business manager the following Monday, Jan. 14. Wegner says at the end of that week, on Jan. 18, one staff member came forward with allegations.
“It was the police investigation that uncovered the second staff member and the substitute teacher,” Wegner said. “We as a district don’t even have a lot of the details. We only know what the one person chose to disclose to me. With the evidence that was presented through her sharing, we immediately turned it over to the police for their investigation, and then stopped our investigation so we weren’t stepping on the police’s toes.”
Wegner and Bradshaw both say Robidou was placed on administrative leave as soon as the allegations were made. He tendered his resignation sometime during that leave, and it was effective March 1.
Sitka attorney Jim McGowan represented Robidou at his arraignment on Friday. He said his client would not comment to reporters on the allegations. Robidou will be represented by Juneau attorney Julie Willoughby for further proceedings. She also declined comment.
Officials from the school district and Assistant District Attorney Jean Seaton all say that as far as they know, students did not witness any of the alleged incidents.
“I know that with the one staff that did disclose to me, she said there were no students that were present, and that her door was locked,” said Wegner, the assistant superintendent. “Her classroom door was locked, but students were in the building.”
The district did not officially say anything to parents, or even most staff members, before Friday’s indictment. Wegner says they told police they wouldn’t go public until the police had concluded their investigation.
Bradshaw says he expects a message will go home to parents soon from current Blatchley Principal Ben White. Wegner says parents with questions should call the district office and talk to her or Bradshaw.
“We would be happy to talk to anybody with the information we have, but at this point, we don’t have a lot of the information either,” she said. “We are working hard to make sure the students and the staff are safe at all times. As soon as we heard about this, within hours, we took action. He was not around staff or students as a result of our knowledge, as soon as we found out.”
Robidou appeared in court Friday for arraignment. He is free on $7,500 bond. His next court appearance is scheduled for April 11.