The first time happened so slowly, so subtly, that the teenage boy thought it must have been a mistake – the hand of his mentor and one-time teacher straying across his leg and coming to rest on his groin.
The second time came a year later, and the boy, by then 16, would later tell police that this alleged encounter – prolonged, repeated, insistent – could not be confused with an accident. So shaken was the teen that he went home afterward and looked up the definition of molestation online.
Nearly three years would pass before Bryce Cutler told his parents and police about what he said happened to him in 2006 and 2007, on a school campus and in the private Jupiter studio of Richard Valentine, a renowned Bak Middle School of the Arts theater instructor.
When, in 2010, Cutler finally revealed to authorities his story of sexual molestation, he was met with two different reactions: belief and inaction.
Jupiter police detectives concluded they had enough evidence to charge Valentine with a crime before being thwarted by the state’s statute of limitations. Yet Palm Beach County’s public schools allowed Valentine to keep teaching, with no evidence that administrators evaluated whether he posed a threat to students, a Palm Beach Post investigation has found.
No sex crime when 16- and 17-year-olds are fondled
A gap in state law means if a teacher fondles a student older than 15, the charge is only simple battery, a misdemeanor. This is important for two reasons: the potential punishment is less than a felony and the statute of limitations is shorter.
Although Jupiter police forwarded their investigation to the school district, the district did not use it as a basis for any administrative action, even as the district’s own police investigator expressed serious concerns about the allegations and Valentine’s initial hesitancy to deny them.
Throughout the case, institutional indifference and a gap in Florida’s sex abuse laws — one that relegates the fondling of 16- and 17-year-olds to a misdemeanor — conspired to prevent a full vetting of Cutler’s accusations, The Post found.
When Cutler and his parents learned that Valentine, who denies the allegations, would continue teaching, they tried to warn the school’s principal. After she didn’t return several calls, a school administrator told them to stop.
Then, in a disturbing epilogue six months later, the district dismissed out of hand a new warning from Cutler: that he had learned of a potential second victim.
Authorities could do nothing to investigate the new allegation, a district detective told Cutler, unless the alleged victim came forward himself. Ignoring sex abuse complaints because they don’t come directly from an alleged victim is widely condemned by child advocates.
Responding to questions from The Post, the district said in a statement that the 2010 case would not be handled the same way today: “We can confidently say that … the current administration would have reacted differently to the allegations.”
Amid The Post’s inquiries, administrators put Valentine on paid leave last month as they re-examined the case. Six days later, on Jan. 16, the veteran teacher retired.
Valentine, now 65, declined to comment but through an attorney denied ever inappropriately touching Cutler. “Mr. Valentine to this day denies doing anything like that,” said his attorney, Mitchell Beers, who added that Valentine had never been the subject of any similar complaints during his 18 years with the district.
“I want to make it clear to your readers,” Beers said, “that Mr. Valentine is both deeply saddened and angered by these allegations, which are not true.”
The district’s discounting of Jupiter police’s findings allowed Valentine to teach an additional eight years, while Cutler, now 26, said he dealt for a decade with the emotional fallout: years of depression, counseling and distrust of new people.
“It put the world on a different angle,” he said, “and everything had to be looked at from that angle.”
Prompted by the #MeToo movement to speak publicly for the first time, Cutler said, “It’s my hope that sharing my story with others will help protect other children from harm.”
A campus 'idol' picks a favorite
As a theater student at the prestigious, application-only Bak Middle, Cutler had a position hundreds of students could only dream of. Each year, more students apply to attend there than any other public school in Palm Beach County.
On the elite West Palm Beach campus, Cutler had another enviable advantage – he was, he says, one of Valentine’s “favorites.”
Valentine was a widely popular figure on campus. Wry and witty, in the 1990s he’d been the executive director of Burt Reynold’s Institute for Theatre Training in Jupiter. At Bak, he served on a panel that helped determine which students got into the school.
“He was a very, very popular teacher and he was very loved in the Bak community,” said Erica Freedman, a former classmate of Cutler’s. “He was a staple of the Bak theater department and an idol.”
Perhaps more importantly, he ran a lucrative side business – an acting camp, one in which parents paid to send their kids to prepare them for the notoriously competitive auditions at Bak and its sister school, Dreyfoos School of the Arts.
Valentine surrounded himself each year with a gaggle of favorite students, former Bak students say. He made little effort to hide who they were, and he rewarded them.
His favored students won passes to get them out of class and spend time in his classroom. Some were hired for summer jobs at his acting camp, InterACT, where they could earn hundreds of dollars a week.
At Bak, Cutler blossomed from a shy preteen into a promising theater student, developing a passion for set design. Valentine told him he had made it a personal mission to help pull Cutler out of his “shell.”
The two became so close that Valentine would write notes to get him out of math class and hang out with the instructor in his portable classroom, which was filled with costumes, wigs and other props.
Under Valentine’s tutelage, Cutler prospered. After completing middle school, he was accepted to Dreyfoos.
A private meeting with a strange turn
In the summer of 2006, Cutler was 15 and still in touch with Valentine, who hired him to work at InterACT. Valentine asked him to design a set for an upcoming performance of “Dracula” to take place at Bak’s new theater.
While working at the camp, which took place at Independence Middle in Jupiter, Cutler brought Valentine a binder full of his set design ideas to consider for the show.
They sat side by side on two chairs in the staff room, with Valentine holding the binder between them. As he leafed through the binder, Cutler told police, Valentine slowly moved his hand toward Cutler’s leg.
The back of his hand came to rest on Cutler’s thigh, then drifted toward his crotch, where it remained as they continued to discuss set design, Cutler said in a written account submitted to police in 2010.
“Nothing was ever said,” Cutler wrote. “I thought he wasn’t aware of what was happening.”
It was the only unusual incident between them that year, Cutler said. The summer ended and he resumed his classes at Dreyfoos that fall, confused by the encounter but uncertain what it meant.
But a year later, the pattern repeated. In the summer of 2007, Valentine hired Cutler once more to work at InterACT.
Once again, they found themselves sitting together. Once again, they perused set designs, this time for the play “Greater Tuna.”
Multiple times, in private meetings, Valentine’s hand would come to rest on Cutler’s crotch as they sat alongside each other, Cutler told police.
'No one had ever touched me like this'
When things escalated, though, they weren’t on a school campus. They were in Valentine’s private studio in Abacoa – the garage of a townhouse that he used to store and prepare materials for his acting camp.
After a family trip to China that summer, Cutler returned and found the set nearly complete. The teacher showed the boy the set pieces arranged in the garage. They were alone.
As Cutler prepared to leave, Valentine asked him what shows he thought Valentine should produce at Bak that upcoming year.
Valentine pulled up two chairs and he and Cutler sat down to look over scripts, their legs touching. Again, Cutler told police, Valentine’s hand came to rest on his crotch. Cutler gently pushed it away, he said, only for it to return a few moments later.
As they continued their discussion, a Texas flag – a prop for the “Greater Tuna” show – came to be draped across both of their laps. Cutler told police he didn’t recall precisely how.
Valentine stood and retrieved more scripts. As they perused them, Cutler said, Valentine’s hand slipped under the flag and began to rub Cutler’s thigh.
Cutler recalled feeling nervous in the pit of his stomach as the hand drifted up his leg, toward his crotch and began to touch his penis.
Valentine’s hand rested there a moment as they spoke. Then, Cutler wrote to police, Valentine gripped Cutler’s penis through his jeans and began to rub it, using his thumb to massage the tip.
“No one had ever touched me like this before,” Cutler wrote. “It seemed he had done this before from the way he was touching me.”
Cutler gently pushed his hand away, but, he said, the hand returned.
Valentine rose silently to grab more scripts. Cutler removed the flag from his lap and tossed it onto a nearby table.
“What are you doing?” Valentine asked, grabbing the flag from the table and draping it back across Cutler’s lap, Cutler wrote. Valentine resumed stroking Cutler’s penis, he said.
The stroking went on a few more minutes, Cutler said, until he decided he could not stand it any longer.
“I grabbed my pocket like (my phone) was ringing and told him my mom was calling,” he wrote.
Cutler feigned a phone conversation and said he had to leave. But he said Valentine asked him to come and sit again, and he complied. The flag draped over them, he alleged, the massaging resumed.
A few more minutes passed before Cutler broke away, standing up and insisting that this time he really had to go.
He walked out, drove home “angry, frustrated and confused.”
“I immediately looked up if what I thought was true,” he wrote. “He did molest me… Wikipedia confirmed my thoughts.”
Three years later, the silence breaks
Cutler would continue to work with Valentine, he said, but tried never to be alone with him.
“I ended up staying positive and — I don’t know if repressed is the correct term — but repressed it,” he wrote.
There was no more fondling until after he had graduated from high school, he said. Now 18 and a freshman at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, he occasionally did work for or ran into Valentine on return visits. He tapped a friend, Sophia Mysel, as an unwitting “shield” whenever he thought he might see Valentine.
Still, at least twice more Valentine would find private moments to stroke his thigh, until at last, during a visit to the Dreyfoos campus in late 2009, Cutler told police that he blocked Valentine’s hand from advancing to his crotch.
It was the last time they would see each other.
In the spring of 2010, Cutler’s mother, Judy, got a call from her oldest son. He was calling from college. For the first time, he wanted to talk about Valentine.
What do I do if I’m worried about a teacher’s behavior?
If you think a public school teacher may have been involved in abuse of a child, call the Palm Beach County School District’s police department at (561) 434-8700 or Florida’s child abuse hotline at (800) 962-2873.
It was also around that time that Cutler began telling a couple of his friends what happened.
Mysel remembers learning the story in a panicked call.
“He called me late at night and was upset and was like, ‘I can’t not say this,’’’ Mysel recalled recently. “I think that he had carried it around long enough.”
Freedman, another Dreyfoos friend, remembers him telling her around the same time.
“It was a secret for a long time, something that was talked about very gently,” she said.
'I'm not crazy'
When they heard his story, his parents flew him down to Palm Beach County and consulted with an attorney they knew, who told them to report the incident to police.
Cutler wrote up a six-page account. In April, a school police detective interviewed Cutler with the attorney present.
Of the two primary incidents that Cutler alleged, one occurred on a school campus and the other in a private residence. As a result, two different police agencies — the school district police and Jupiter police — investigated.
For reasons that aren’t clear, Valentine stayed in the classroom as the investigations got underway. Given the nature of the allegations, it wouldn’t have happened that way today, the school district says.
“Under the current administration, we can confidently say, he would have been removed from the classroom during the investigation,” the district said in a statement.
Jupiter police interviewed Cutler on May 11, 2010. Four days later, the lead detective had Cutler call Valentine from the police station while she listened in and recorded the call to see whether Valentine would admit to fondling him.
Audio files are included in the story, click the ► button to listen.
Valentine returned the call from his car. Cutler told Valentine he had come out as gay and was working through pent-up feelings about his past. He said he wanted to find out why Valentine touched him.
“I guess I kind of want to know,” Cutler said.
Six seconds of silence passed. Then Valentine said: “I guess I’m sort of taken aback by this.”
Then another long pause.
Cutler said he was told it was a good idea to reach out to people he’d had relationships with.
“I think a lot of you, a whole lot,” Valentine said. “I think you’re terrific, and I’m…. hmmm… Are you going to be back here where we could talk face to face?”
Cutler said no, that he was on Florida’s west coast visiting his dying grandfather.
Valentine demurred; “I don’t, uh…. I think you may have… I don’t know…. I would be happy to talk to you but…. Um…. I’m thrown by this.”
“I’m not trying to catch you off guard or anything.”
“Well, you have,” Valentine said.
After a moment, Cutler asked directly: “Do you know what I’m talking about?”
“No, I’m not sure I am.”
Cutler accused him of rubbing his penis as they sat in his studio.
“Whoa whoa, hang on,” Valentine said. “All right, listen. I am not at all comfortable talking about this. This is…”
“I am floored by this, absolutely floored,” Valentine added a moment later.
The back and forth continued. Cutler pressed him to admit to touching him and Valentine refused.
“I’m not crazy,” Cutler said.
“I don’t think that you are crazy,” Valentine said. “I do not think you are crazy. I think you’re terrific and you have every reason to be happy and successful.”
“OK,” Cutler said, sniffling. “I’m just going to go.”
“I’m so sorry,” Valentine said.
A moment later they hung up. Ten minutes passed and Cutler’s phone rang. It was Valentine.
“I want you to know,” Valentine said, “this has triggered something for me that is – I am shaking.”
“I have no….. knowledge of what you’re talking about,” he continued, “except that… the same thing, something similar, happened to me that I have not….. thought about, talked about, dealt with.”
“So you’re telling me that somebody touched you, too?”
A long silence.
“This isn’t coming from left field,” Cutler said. He said that Valentine must understand how he feels.
“You know what,” Valentine said. “I don’t know how I feel. It’s just hitting me. And I can’t believe I’m saying this. I’ve never said this to anybody. But I hear you and I don’t think you’re crazy, but….”
“If I’m not crazy, if I remember it, why don’t you remember it?”
“I don’t know. Can’t answer that.”
The call ended a few minutes later.
Spontaneous statement puzzles detectives
While Valentine had not admitted to any sexual contact, his reluctance to directly deny it made an impression on the school district officer assigned to the case, Detective Vincent Mintus.
Mintus later wrote in a police report that “although Mr. Valentine made no incriminating comments to establish probable cause to affect an arrest, the recorded conversation did lend to (Cutler) a reasonable amount of creditability with regards to the allegations being made.”
Three days after the calls, detectives from both agencies paid a surprise visit to Valentine at Bak, confronting him with Cutler’s allegations.
Valentine asked whether he was going to be arrested or lose his job, a police report shows. The detectives told him nothing would happen to him that day.
Mintus told Valentine he believed the teacher cared deeply for Cutler and never intended to hurt him. He suggested that things may have simply gotten out of hand.
Valentine’s response concerned them: “If anything did happen, it wasn’t a decision.”
It was a statement, Mintus later noted in a police report, that “inferred possible guilt.”
Valentine asked to speak to his attorney. Afterward, he told detectives that his attorney advised him not to say anything else.
At this point, the two criminal investigations diverged, with Cutler’s age being a critical factor in how the cases were resolved.
In Florida, fondling minors over their clothing can constitute lewd or lascivious molestation, a second-degree felony. But the charge applies only when the victim is 15 or younger.
When a 16- or 17-year-old is fondled by an adult, legal experts told The Post, the only available charge is simple battery, a misdemeanor. (Sexual battery, a related felony charge, applies to cases of sexual intercourse, not fondling).
In the first incident, the one that allegedly took place at Independence Middle, Cutler was 15. At the time, fondling him could have constituted a felony.
But the contact Cutler described in that case – the back of Valentine’s hand allegedly resting on his crotch – did not seem clearly sexual or intentional to investigators, or even to Cutler, police records show.
In the Independence Middle allegation, Mintus concluded there was insufficient evidence that a crime had occurred.
From the Jupiter Police report:
"After completing my investigation, I had intentions to file this case with the State Attorney's Office, but then realized that the statute of limitations for this case, a misdemeanor, had expired already. I called [redacted] and his parents and explained to them that I could not file this case due to the time delay in reporting it, which went past the two year statute of limitations. Therefore, I am reclassifying this case from pending to exceptionally cleared as the statute of limitations has expired."
Jupiter Police Detective Danielle Hirsch
'I could not file this case'
In the second case, a year later at Valentine’s studio, the alleged crime was much more explicit. But at the time, Cutler was 16.
The lead detective in the Jupiter case, Danielle Hirsch, wrote in a police report that she had decided she had enough evidence to send the case to prosecutors.
But then she realized a critical point.
Because Cutler was 16 at the time, the case could not be investigated as a felony. And in Florida the statute of limitations for misdemeanors is only two years.
By the time Cutler had reported his allegation, nearly three years had passed.
“After completing my investigation, I had intentions to file this case with the State Attorney’s Office, but then realized that the statute of limitations for this case, a misdemeanor, had expired already,” she wrote.
“I called Cutler and his parents and explained to them that I could not file this case due to the time-delay in reporting it, which went past the 2-year statute of limitations.”
With that discovery, Hirsch wrote that the case had been “exceptionally cleared,” meaning that, under Jupiter police rules and national guidelines, she had identified a suspect and had gathered enough evidence to make an arrest but could not because of exceptional circumstances — in this case, the state’s statute of limitations.
She forwarded her report to the school district and closed the case.
Both criminal cases were now complete, with one concluding that a crime had occurred in Valentine’s townhouse and the other finding insufficient evidence to conclude a crime occurred at Independence Middle.
Now the school district was responsible for deciding whether to discipline Valentine.
With the power to remove teachers from the classroom and – if necessary – fire those who violated its policies, school district administrators were not bound by statutes of limitation.
To make a disciplinary action, they did not need to establish proof beyond a reasonable doubt. They also did not need to demonstrate that a crime had occurred — only that a teacher had violated school district policies, such as rules against cheating, obscene language or inappropriate relationships with students.
During the criminal investigation, Valentine had declined to speak to police. But as his employer, the school district had the right to compel Valentine to answer questions or face termination.
Nothing he said in a compulsory interview could be used against him in court. But his answers could be used to decide whether he would be allowed to continue to teach.
And if he refused to answer, he could be fired for insubordination.
'You didn't deny these things right at first'
In June, Valentine sat down again with Mintus, who conducted the administrative interview as well. Joining Valentine was his attorney, Beers.
Early on in the interview, Valentine did something that he had not done previously – as his lawyer looked on, he categorically denied inappropriately touching Cutler.
“I don’t think I’ve ever touched him in any way that could be misconstrued as inappropriate conduct,” he said.
Mintus told Valentine he had some “concerns” about Valentine’s previous reactions to the accusations.
One, he said, was the way Valentine reacted during the recorded phone call when Cutler accused him of fondling him.
“Typically, I’ll hear somebody adamantly denying that,” Mintus said. “Somebody makes an allegation, the comment will be, ‘What the hell are you talking about?’ "
“Listening to your conversation (with Cutler),” he continued, “I didn’t get that feeling.”
Valentine pushed back, saying that he had denied the allegation on the phone call with Cutler.
“About the first thing I said was, ‘Why are you saying this?’ and ‘It never happened.’”
“You didn’t deny these things right at first,” Mintus said.
Mintus continued: “When listening to that, I personally got the feeling that you had a lapse of judgment.”
“I don’t think there was any lapse of judgment,” Valentine responded.
Mintus interrogated him about another major concern: his spontaneous comment in their first interview – the one when Valentine had said: “If anything did happen, it wasn’t a decision.”
“That comment by you troubles me,” he continued. “Help me to justify (it).”
“I can’t,” Valentine said. “It doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t make sense to me. And so I think at that juncture, I was looking to… I don’t know.”
Mintus pointed out that Cutler’s allegations were very detailed. Not only that, he said, Cutler had admitted that in the first encounter he was unsure whether the contact between him and Valentine was intentional.
“I felt that the kid was being honest and really concerned,” Mintus said.
Mintus asked Valentine if he would be willing to take a voice-stress test, a test that uses small variations in a person’s voice to attempt to determine whether a person is being truthful.
The tests’ accuracy is hotly debated and the results are inadmissible in court, but they are sometimes used by investigators, employers and insurers.
Beers, Valentine’s lawyer, told Mintus that Valentine would not take one.
“I don’t have the confidence in these things that you do,” Beers said.
A criminal case quietly vanishes
Mintus closed the case in June 2010, telling the school district’s Department of Employee Relations that his criminal probe “was unable to substantiate the criminal allegation of sexual molestation.”
His report did not mention the Jupiter police case, in which detectives determined that they had enough evidence to make an arrest.
And it made no recommendation about what disciplinary actions, if any, should be taken against Valentine.
The following day, Mintus wrote a letter to Cutler saying the closed case would be forwarded to employee relations “for further administrative review.”
But the school district has no record that any additional review ever took place.
How we got the story
In reporting the story of this case, The Palm Beach Post relied primarily on investigative reports and audio recordings obtained through public records requests from the Jupiter Police Department and the Palm Beach County School District. The Post also interviewed 11 people who participated in or had direct knowledge of the events at the time.
Valentine was never formally disciplined, sanctioned, reprimanded or placed on leave. There is no indication that the evidence uncovered by Jupiter police was examined or weighed against Valentine’s denials.
Instead, the allegation, the two investigations and the evidence quietly disappeared. Today, there is no mention of them in Valentine’s personnel file. Even Bak’s current principal was never informed of the case when she took charge of the school in 2013, the school district said.
Since state law requires districts to maintain employee discipline case files for only five years, administrators say it it is possible that some records from the case were later destroyed.
In the weeks that followed, Cutler said his mother called the director of the Employee Relations Department, trying to find out what would happen next.
In late June she reached Sonia Hill, who told her the review likely would not be complete until the school year resumed.
In the ensuing weeks, Cutler and his mother called the Bak principal to follow up, but their calls were not answered.
Finally, in late August, the family’s attorney, Rebekah Poston, spoke with Hill. Poston wrote in a memo afterward that she asked what had come of the review, and Hill told her that the district had completed its review and considered the matter closed.
When Poston asked what the review had entailed, Hill said that it had amounted to a private meeting between Valentine and the school’s principal, Elizabeth Kennedy.
Hill told the attorney that they could not take action against Valentine without “clear and convincing evidence” of wrongdoing and that “the school determined that it was unable to meet its burden of proof,” Poston wrote at the time.
Hill said she was aware that Cutler and his mother had been calling the school.
She asked that they stop calling.
Principal: 'I did not have discretion'
The school district’s contract with the county teachers union requires “clear and convincing evidence” of wrongdoing in order to discipline a teacher. That is a higher standard than the “preponderance of the evidence” standard used in civil court to determine who prevails in a lawsuit, but lower than the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard used to determine guilt in criminal cases.
There is no record that the findings from the Jupiter case – which concluded there was enough evidence to make an arrest – were ever evaluated.
Kennedy, who retired in 2013, declined to discuss details of the case but said that she had no say over how it was handled. She denied that she had any authority to remove Valentine from the classroom herself.
“All actions taken were determined by the district,” she said in an email. “As principal, I did not have discretion over decisions regulated by district policy.”
Hill did not respond to multiple messages seeking comment. Former Palm Beach County Schools Superintendent Art Johnson, who was at the helm at the time, did not respond to questions about the district’s handling of sex abuse claims.
Mintus, who recently reiterated to The Post that he believed Cutler’s allegations, said he could not explain why the criminal investigations resulted in no administrative action.
“I think somebody dropped the ball,” he said.
When the case was closed, Paul Cutler, Bryce’s father, consoled his son by telling him he had done everything that he could do.
“There was always an understanding that this could be his word against the teacher’s word,” Paul Cutler said, “but he was willing to put himself out there.”
But Cutler’s parents said they never understood why more wasn’t done to investigate. Why weren’t other students interviewed? Why wasn’t Valentine required to give a more substantive explanation in order to remain in the classroom?
“As a mother, I’m still not happy,” said Judy Cutler, Bryce’s mother.
That fall, Cutler returned to college. By then, several of his close friends were aware of the allegations.
In November 2010, one of them relayed some disturbing news — news that he would later relay to Detective Mintus via email.
A new allegation, a quick dismissal
Mysel, Cutler’s close friend, called him a few days before Thanksgiving and said another schoolmate had told her Valentine had once fondled his groin, too, Cutler said in the email to Mintus.
Cutler said he immediately tried to speak to the schoolmate. On Thanksgiving Day, they talked on the phone.
Cutler said that the schoolmate told a story eerily similar to his own.
While in middle school, the schoolmate said he was working on a show with Valentine and ended up in a room with him alone.
Sitting together, the schoolmate told Cutler, they looked over a book and gradually the book and Valentine’s hand drifted onto the boy’s lap, then Valentine “started to stroke him with his pinky,” Cutler wrote to Mintus.
Thinking Valentine’s straying hand was inadvertent, the schoolmate pushed it hand away, Cutler told the detective, but the schoolmate recalled thinking it was strange and never forgot it.
Cutler begged the schoolmate to come forward, he said.
But the schoolmate “swiftly told me he wouldn’t,” Cutler wrote. “He said that Valentine was too important to him and that Valentine would be crushed.”
In an interview with The Post, Mysel confirmed that a schoolmate had told her Valentine had touched him inappropriately. She said that she then told Cutler.
Reached by The Post, the schoolmate declined to discuss the case. “I’m not going to talk about this,” he said. The Post does not identify potential victims of sexual abuse without their consent.
On Dec. 4, nine days later, Cutler wrote to Mintus to alert him to his discovery.
“I am reaching out to tell you this,” Cutler wrote to Mintus, “because even though this case is over I just wanted to show you that this man, Richard Valentine, has taken action on others.”
“There is a clear pattern,” he added, “and (my schoolmate’s) admittance to me and others about what occurred to him proves this.”
But Mintus dismissed it.
“As you must understand, I am not able to investigate this matter unless the victim intends to cooperate and file a complaint,” Mintus wrote to Cutler. “I have no reason to believe that what had been disclosed to you is untrue but can take no action without a cooperating victim.”
“If there is a change,” he added, “please feel free to contact me.”
Years later, case's handling sparks 'concerns'
Asked about his handling of the new information, Mintus conceded that he never contacted the schoolmate.
He said it is possible that he may have contacted one of the schoolmate’s parents instead, though he said if he did, he would not have asked directly about Valentine to avoid triggering a false allegation.
“Unless I have something to go on,” he added, “I don’t go out and create victims.”
The school district’s police department has no record that the schoolmate or his parents were ever contacted in the case.
The district should have done more to investigate the second claim, said Elizabeth Parker, a former state prosecutor who sits on the advisory committee for the KidSafe Foundation,a Boca Raton nonprofit dedicated to protecting children from sexual abuse.
“The detective has an absolute duty to investigate other victims and in this incident described, it would have been a felony because of the age of the victim,” she said. “If the detective believed the information, he should have done more to document.”
The school district said that “if someone came forward today with such an allegation, district personnel and school police would make every effort to speak with the alleged victim and report the incident to (state child-welfare officials).”
Mintus, a veteran detective who handled several major sex abuse investigations for the school district, defended his handling of Valentine’s case.
“I got Jupiter involved,” he said. “I pulled him (Valentine) in (for questioning). I put him on the defense right away, tried to get him to give it up. We were right there until he said he wanted to talk to a lawyer.”
Cutler said the entire case caused him long bouts of depression and self-doubt. He and his parents mulled suing the school district but decided against it. His grades fell, and at one point he considered dropping out of college.
But he earned his degree and found work in stage design in New York City, where he works today as an independent set and video designer.
After receiving questions about Cutler’s case from The Post, the school district re-examined the case against Valentine. Unlike 2010, the school district this time decided to remove him from the classroom as the review took place.
On Jan. 10, the school district assigned Valentine to his home with pay while the case was reviewed. The same day, a school district police sergeant called Cutler with new questions about the case.
Around the same time, Valentine took down the website of his acting camp.
Six days after being removed from the classroom, he retired.
The school district said in a statement that the handling of the case in 2010 alarmed administrators.
“We obviously have some concerns about the initial response to the events described in the police reports,” the district said. “In the short amount of time we’ve had to look at the reports, we can confidently say that based on (current policy), the current administration would have reacted differently to the allegations.”
It wasn’t an endorsement of Cutler’s allegations. It wasn’t a formal finding against Valentine. But eight years later, Cutler said it was a form of validation.
“It’s something that’s been in my life for a decade,” he said, “and not that there’s closure, but I’m just glad that other people will not be in harm’s way.”
Design and production: Michele Kelley, Mahima Singh.