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Oxbow teacher arrest shows Orange County SIU’s growth

— On Nov. 5, police officers — wearing plain clothes and declining to use handcuffs, in order not to rattle students — entered Oxbow Union High School and ushered Brian Musty out of the building and into an unmarked vehicle. The longtime coach was arrested on a charge of sexually assaulting a former female player.

The initial tip had come in less than four weeks prior, and had represented among the most challenging of circumstances for law enforcement — an allegation of a sex crime, against a popular local figure, dating back nearly two decades, made by someone who had long since left the area and had little in the way of corroborating evidence.

But the tangled case was quickly brought into court — where Musty, 43, pleaded not guilty and was released on $20,000 bail — not by the Vermont State Police, or the Bradford Police Department, but by an agency that, as recently as two years ago, consisted of one officer working part-time at a desk inside an unmarked building that was once a diner.

For the Orange County Special Investigations Unit, an organization born of a high-profile legislative push in Montpelier, it was an inauspicious beginning.

The SIU has grown to three full-time employees, and recently moved into a more spacious headquarters in Chelsea, but perhaps the best sign of progress came in the form of a police affidavit underpinning the recent arrest of longtime Oxbow High School coach Brian Musty.

The court documents showed that the Orange County SIU had taken on one of the more difficult cases in law enforcement — an allegation of a sex crime that allegedly occurred nearly two decades ago, against a well-known community member, by a person who no longer lives in the area — and made an arrest within four weeks.

The Musty investigation is precisely what lawmakers and law enforcement officials said they had in mind in 2009 when they created SIUs — teams of specially trained investigators who would have the skills and time to handle time-intensive cases that could overwhelm small municipal police departments.

“That’s the beauty of having the SIUs,” said Lt. Tracy Simon, commander of the Orange County SIU. “This would have crippled the (Bradford) police department. They would have muddled through, I think. (But) that’s the benefit of having the unit. When it’s an intense case, we can do the work, we can write the warrants, get the calls done, package it, get it done.”

Bradford’s police chief, Jeff Stiegler, agreed — as a one man department (there is a vacancy for the other full-time position) it would have been nearly impossible to take on the Musty case, he said.

“(Simon) is 100 percent right on the money — it would have been almost impossible for me, unless the selectboard said, ‘Go and take the next two to three weeks and work on that case,’ ” Stiegler said. “You would literally have to pull yourself away.”

Musty, 43, of Topsham, Vt., and his attorney have declined to comment about the case. Musty was placed on paid leave from Oxbow, where he was a gym teacher and coached women’s basketball, soccer and lacrosse.

Musty was accused of repeatedly assaulting a former player, who lived with him for a time, between 1997 and 1998, both at home and in school. The accuser, now 30, came forward to authorities in October after attending counseling.

As a general practice, the Valley News does not identify victims of alleged sex crimes.

Musty’s arrest marks the highest profile case to emerge from the Orange County SIU, which investigates almost all alleged sex crimes in the county.

The unit has two full-time investigators and one administrator. Last year, the Orange County SIU handled 83 cases, though not all led to charges being filed.

Referrals for investigations often come from the Department of Childern and Family Services, and local police, Simon said.

SIUs are probably the most tangible legacy of Vermont’s collective outcry over the alleged kidnapping, rape and murder of 12-year-old Brooke Bennett by her sex offender uncle Michael Jacques in 2008. (Jacques, who has pleaded not guilty, faces a federal trial in 2013.)

A law signed by Gov. Jim Douglas in 2009 in the wake of Brooke’s death approved a sweeping set of reforms to the criminal justice system, most notably, the creation of teams across the state devoted solely to prosecuting sex crimes.

Today, SIUs are working in every one of Vermont’s 14 counties, although Essex and Grand Isle counties have partnered with neighboring SIUs, according to Marc Metayer, the SIU grants program manager for the Vermont Department of State’s Attorneys.

The state distributes roughly $1 million in funding to the SIUs, which apply for various grants and, Metayer said, have become entrenched in the law enforcement community.

“The sense is this is what the legislature wanted to get established, and the legislators and administration continues to support it with vigor, and the work being done now is to strengthen that resource,” Metayer said.

The SIUs are comprised of investigators — usually provided by the Vermont State Police, or local sheriff’s office, and funded by the state — who coordinate with local prosecutors, mental health professionals and the Department of Children and Family Services.

The goal is streamlined, faster investigations of sex crimes, to both bring more offenders to justice and make the experience less difficult for victims

“It’s one-stop shopping,” Orange County Sheriff Bill Bohnyak said. “The office has been trained in the latest investigative techniques.”

State Sen. Mark MacDonald, D-Williamstown, who pushed for Orange County to have its own SIU after early plans called for the county to share a team with other counties, said in an interview that the teams have functioned as lawmakers had hoped.

“The SIUs have been successful in finding out what the facts are and giving the families (and) victims a way to a resolution of the problem for the long haul,” MacDonald said. “It takes special skills and a rapport to deal with alleged victims and their families.”

Mark Davis can be reached at mcdavis@vnews.com or 603-727-3304.