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Private firm to probe claims of abuse by Pittsburgh Public Schools police officer

| Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012, 12:48 a.m.

Pittsburgh Public Schools officials have hired a private firm to investigate allegations of child abuse by a district police officer, the school solicitor said Wednesday.

The district hired Monaca-based Corporate Security and Investigations to look into allegations that Robert Lellock, 43, of Beltzhoover sexually assaulted students, at least one of whom came forward last month.

Authorities this week said they were investigating claims of abuse, some dating to 1999. Internal district communication obtained by the Tribune-Review show district officials knew about at least one incident involving Lellock and a male student in a North Side school in 1999.

The district suspended Lellock for 20 days after that incident.

“Under these circumstances, the length of time that elapsed, I felt we needed a professional investigator to do it,” said Ira Weiss, solicitor for the district. “Initially it was not clear the city police were going to pursue this case because of the elapsed time. Normally, we let the criminal investigation run its course.”

Lellock did not return calls on Wednesday. No one answered the door at his home. It was unclear whether he has an attorney.

Nina Esposito-Visgitis, president of the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers, said she has not spoken with Lellock since the allegations were brought against him. She said the district is doing its best to balance the safety of students with Lellock's rights to due process.

“We know that child molestation charges are serious and must be handled urgently and thoroughly, and we want to assure every parent the district is doing its best to protect the students,” Esposito-Visgitis said.

Pittsburgh police are handling the investigation and Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. said his office is looking into how much and when administrators knew about the accusations.

Lellock has not been charged. Officials would not say how many accusers have come forward.

Weiss said if he knew Pittsburgh police were going to investigate, the district likely would not have hired its own firm. He could not provide a cost.

The district suspended Lellock with pay on July 25 when a male former student came forward with allegations.

Lellock has worked for the district since 1990. He is paid $51,180 a year.

Superintendent Linda Lane this week declined to discuss the allegations.

Longtime school board member Jean Fink recalled the 1999 incident that led to a suspension, but said she has not heard anything negative about Lellock since.

“It's hard to know how much of (the most recent allegation) is real. ... I don't know what to believe at this point,” Fink said.

The 1999 internal investigation showed Lellock pulled a student from class and wrestled with him in a closet.

“I think they handled it right at the time with the information they had,” Fink said.

Lellock likely passed a rigorous background check several years ago.

Court records show that a judge in 2008 approved Lellock as legal custodian to a child.

Marcia Sturdivant, deputy director of the county Department of Human Services for the Office of Children, Youth and Family, said she could not comment on that case. She described a typical investigation.

After passing criminal history and child-abuse background checks, foster parents undergo a home inspection, then are required to take classes covering child development, abuse, neglect and CPR training, Sturdivant said.

Lellock was a driver for former Superintendent Mark Roosevelt for “quite a few years,” Fink said. Roosevelt, who led the district from 2005 to 2010, could not be reached.

Dale Frederick, who was superintendent in 1999 and is superintendent of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Community Schools in Arizona, said he did not recall the 1999 incident because he was in the midst of moving to Arizona.

“If there was an abuse issue or something like that, it would have been handled as far as I'm aware. That stuff is very serious,” Frederick said.

Adam Brandolph and Bill Zlatosare staff writers for Trib Total Media. Brandolph can be reached at 412-391-0927 or abrandolph@tribweb.com. Zlatos can be reached at 412-320-7828 or bzlatos@tribweb.com.

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