The former West Tisbury library director who abruptly resigned last March after less than a year on the job pleaded guilty last Thursday in Salem superior court to two counts of rape, stemming from an incident while he was a Boy Scout leader in Haverhill over 20 years ago.
Howard Curtis, 58, who worked as the library director in West Tisbury from June of 2006 to March of 2007, was sentenced to two consecutive terms of four to six years to be served concurrently in state prison. Mr. Curtis initially pleaded not guilty to two counts of sexual abuse of a child under 15, but changed his plea last week after two former scouts came forward and said he had repeatedly abused them in the 1970s.
Mr. Curtis worked as the library director in Haverhill from 1981 to 1996, and also served as an assistant Boy Scout troop leader. According to court records, Mr. Curtis had an ongoing sexual relationship with a scout under his supervision that started when the boy was 13.
The victim, who now lives in New Hampshire, has filed a civil complaint against Mr. Curtis, the city of Haverhill and the Boy Scouts of America claiming that he was emotionally damaged by the abuse.
Mr. Curtis no longer lives on the Island and the criminal and civil charges have no connection to West Tisbury.
But allegations of possible sexual misconduct in his past likely played a part in his departure as West Tisbury library director last year. According to minutes from the town library trustees, the trustees first heard the allegations last February from town counsel Ronald H. Rappaport, who had received a tip from West Tisbury police chief Beth Toomey.
A settlement agreement drafted by labor counsel Jack Collins was signed by Mr. Curtis and library trustee and board chairman Hermine Hull on April 26, although records indicate he resigned on March 21 and moved out of his office on March 23.
Ms. Hull said yesterday that Mr. Curtis’s conviction brings to a close a difficult chapter in the history of the West Tisbury library. She said the initial allegations came as a surprise to the trustees and noted that a screening committee thoroughly reviewed his application, performed a criminal background check and contacted references before they hired him.
“We were all shocked . . . you can’t possibly anticipate that a volunteer board would ever have to deal with such a terrible situation. We had to walk this line between protecting Mr. Curtis and protecting the library and the town,” she said, adding:
“It was a tough time for everyone involved.”
Mrs. Hull emphasized that the board did not force Mr. Curtis to resign because of the allegations. The board agreed to extend his mandatory probation period for six months after certain job performance issues surfaced. The settlement agreement came about after Mr. Curtis indicated he would be willing to resign to avoid bad publicity, Mrs. Hull said.
She said the library is now prospering under the guidance of new director Beth Kramer.
“If there is a silver lining in this dark cloud, it is that we were able to hire someone as qualified and wonderful as Ms. Kramer. I think everyone is eager to put this whole thing behind us so we can move forward, and the future looks bright.”