School band director accused in sex abuse case

The Baltimore Sun

The longtime band director at a Howard County high school has been accused of sexually abusing a female student over the past two years, police said yesterday.

Robert Douglas Johnston, 61, who has taught at Mount Hebron High School for more than 30 years, was charged yesterday with sexual abuse of a minor, third- and fourth-degree sex offenses, and obscene telephone misuse, according to Howard County police. Johnston surrendered to police Monday night and was arrested; he was being held yesterday on a $350,000 bond, police said.

Sherry Llewellyn, a police spokeswoman, said a school official received copies of alleged e-mail exchanges between Johnston and the 17-year-old student and turned them over to investigators. The content of the e-mails was not sexual but suggested a close personal relationship, police said. An interview with the alleged victim led detectives to conclude that Johnston had been sexually abusing her at the school since she was 15, Llewellyn said.

Johnston was placed on administrative leave Dec. 8, said Patti Caplan, spokeswoman for the school system. A substitute director led the band during two recent concerts, Caplan said yesterday.

Johnston has taught in the Howard schools since 1969, and started at Mount Hebron High in 1974, Caplan said.

The school's band has earned numerous awards during Johnston's tenure. In 1996, the band won superior ratings in each category of the All-American Music Festival in Orlando, Fla., winning first place in every event but one.

At the Fiesta-val competition in Myrtle Beach, S.C., in 1997, the school won first place in its division for the parade category. In 1999, the band was the only high school group invited to perform as part of America's Millennium, a New Year's celebration on CBS.

Johnston is the fourth Howard public school teacher in the past two years to be charged with inappropriate contact with students. The previous three were arrested in a two-month period during the 2006-2007 school year and charged on a variety of counts. All three were convicted.

News of the arrest rocked the community.

"He had such a great program going on, and I think all of us who were there all those years are all kind of heartbroken," said Betsy Bryant, an Ellicott City resident whose daughter played in the band.

Cindy Ardinger, president of the school's PTSA, said: "I'm actually speechless. I can only hope that the matter will be addressed fully."

Baltimore Sun reporter Larry Carson contributed to this article.

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