Trial closer for York YMCA president accused of child endangerment
- The incidents at the York YMCA's summer day camp, Camp Spirit, became public after a lawsuit was filed.
- Anyone who suspects a child is being abused and neglected is urged to call the state's ChildLine at (800) 932-0313.
Defense attorney Chris Ferro argued there's "a complete and utter lack of evidence" to prove that the president/CEO of the York YMCA willfully failed to report child abuse that purportedly happened in 2014 at Camp Spirit, the Y's summer day camp in East Manchester Township.
At the close of Larry Richardson's preliminary hearing Monday afternoon, Ferro urged presiding District Judge Robert Eckenrode to dismiss both misdemeanor charges lodged against Richardson — child endangerment and being a mandated reporter who failed to report child abuse. Ferro asked the judge to show "judicial courage."
Throughout the hearing, Ferro referred to the 2014 incident — which happened between two 12-year-old boys, both of whom are considered special-needs kids — as being mutual, consensual sexual exploration. He said no one at the YMCA, including the camp's director, had any reason to believe either boy would return to camp and sexually assault a small child.
Who's the perpetrator? Ferro acknowledged Richardson, who by state law is a mandated reporter of child abuse, made a judgment call in not reporting the incident to ChildLine, the state's child-abuse hotline. But, he argued, if the consensual touching was child abuse, which boy was the perpetrator?
"Tell me who got abused here," Ferro said.
Senior deputy prosecutor Chuck Murphy argued the decision wasn't Richardson's to make.
"That is a decision to be made by law enforcement," Murphy told the judge, as to whether the encounter was consensual or not.
Eckenrode agreed with the prosecution.
"I don't believe either party had the ability to ... consent," the judge said, referring to the boys' issues. "I think it needed to be reported to police."
He determined enough evidence exists for Richardson to stand trial, then set the man's formal court arraignment for Aug. 5.
Director took stand: Chelsea Pritchett, director of Camp Spirit in 2014 and 2015, testified for the prosecution.
She told the judge she was informed of what happened the day of the 2014 incident by another camp worker.
Pritchett said she spoke with both boys, called their parents to discuss the encounter with them, then wrote up an incident report. She said she also called her direct supervisor, Doug Markel, and notified him. She confirmed it was her understanding the encounter was mutual and consensual, and between two boys who were the same age and about the same size.
Pritchett also said she had no fear at the time that either boy would repeat the behavior.
The parents of both boys allowed them to return to camp the next day, she said.
One of the boys, who The York Dispatch is identifying by the initial B., returned to Camp Spirit for the 2015 season. It's his return that eventually spurred Northeastern Regional Police to investigate the 2014 incident and file charges alleging Richardson should have reported that encounter to ChildLine, the state's child-abuse reporting hotline.
Pritchett testified she also was notified of the 2015 incident, which involved B. allegedly sexually assaulting a 5-year-old boy.
Civil lawsuit: The 5-year-old's mother has sued the YMCA of York, as well as the YMCA of the USA, alleging the organization failed to inform other campers or their parents of a "severe risk of harm" to other children by B., and claims the organization took no precautions to keep other young campers safe from B. It was only after the mother alerted police to the 2015 incident that YMCA staff told police about the 2014 encounter, according to the lawsuit.
Harrisburg-based attorney Ben Andreozzi, who represents the mother and her son, said the lawsuit is still active.
Richardson — who's been president and CEO of the organization for 23 years — previously told The York Dispatch that YMCA staff "immediately" reported the 2015 assault to ChildLine and cooperated with authorities.
"His reputation is already damaged in this community based on ... no evidence," Ferro said after the hearing.
Richardson remains on paid leave, his attorney confirmed.
Ferro said he will file a motion in the York County Court of Common Pleas asking for the charges to be dismissed for lack of evidence.
He said he believes authorities "worked backward" until they found "someone to blame."
— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.