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Charges dismissed against Watertown teacher alleged to have provided minors alcohol

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A town of Watertown justice has dismissed both charges against a Watertown High School English teacher alleged to have allowed minors to consume alcohol at her residence on New Year’s Eve.

Justice Andrew N. Capone ruled Thursday that the evidence against Kate D. Harrienger, 44, was based on hearsay, or second-hand statements, making it insufficient to support the charges of first-degree unlawfully dealing with a child and second-degree criminal nuisance.

Mrs. Harrienger, of 24287 County Route 67, was charged with the crimes by state police, who alleged that she provided the alcohol to underage drinkers without parental consent and that she allowed her home to be used as a place where people could gather for the purpose of engaging in unlawful conduct.

Mrs. Harrienger’s attorney, Anthony M. Neddo, Watertown, challenged the sufficiency of the accusatory instruments, arguing that a single incident of alleged illegal conduct was inadequate to support the criminal nuisance count. Justice Capone agreed, stating that the state Court of Appeals has held that the statute is intended to prevent narcotics users from gathering in one location “with some degree of regularity” and “there must be more than an isolated incident of unlawful activity” to sustain the charge.

He further ruled that a trooper’s supporting deposition was “completely devoid of any non-hearsay facts” that would support the charge. While troopers obtained statements from three people at the residence on Dec. 31 who said they consumed alcohol, there were no non-hearsay facts provided to support that Mrs. Harrienger gave or sold alcohol to a minor.

Justice Capone agreed with prosecutors that, at some point, Mrs. Harrienger learned that minors were consuming alcohol, but, citing case law, found that merely hosting a party in which minors are drinking, without stopping it, is not enough to support an unlawfully dealing with a minor charge.

Justice Capone wrote that, as a teacher, Mrs. Harrienger’s “role in this affair may be very ill advised and bordering on the reprehensible,” but was not criminal. He granted Mr. Neddo’s motion to dismiss the accusatory instruments.

Mrs. Harrienger has been on administrative leave from her job since her arrest. School Superintendent Terry N. Fralick could not be reached for comment as to how Justice Capone’s ruling may affect her employment status.

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