June 22 – DANVERS – In the months leading up to the October 2013 murder of Danvers High School math teacher Colleen Ritzer, the state of the newly renovated Danvers High School’s security system was a significant concern, according to the emails described in court on Tuesday. .
“I’ve never seen worse software,” an employee of contractor American Service wrote in an email in 2012. “It’s like putting lipstick on a pig.”
In another email, in February 2013, the project’s architect, Richard Rice, admitted having “great difficulties” in making the system work.
The following month, then-assistant manager Keith Taverna said in an email that the system “seems flimsy at best” and “unable to meet specifications”.
As of July, there was still no resolution, just “all kinds of charges,” attorney Dan Murphy told Lawrence Superior Court Judge John Lu during a Tuesday afternoon hearing.
The hearing was on a motion by DiNisco Design Partners, the only remaining defendant in a wrongful death lawsuit filed by Peggie and Tom Ritzer, of Andover, to dismiss the case before trial.
This is a hearing that Danvers officials did not want to hold in an open courtroom. Earlier this year, they took the unusual step of seeking to reenter the case with the sole purpose of asking that all documents related to the hearing be sealed, The Salem News first reported.
Then, at the request of now-retired Superintendent Lisa Dana, they went even further, asking that the entire hearing be closed to the public. Lu rejected this request.
John Davis, a district attorney, had argued that revealing details about the school’s security system would put student safety at risk.
Much of Tuesday’s hearing on the architect’s summary judgment motion focused on the security — or lack thereof — in place in 2013.
And the school has been blamed on both sides, with DiNisco attorney Katherine Kenney claiming it fulfilled its contract to design a “live view” camera system with motion-activated cameras.
“The city could have been watched live if they had chosen to do so,” Kenney told the judge. “They do not have.”
She said only the City of Danvers was in a position to decide whether the cameras would be monitored live.
Instead, she argued, Taverna and former school resource officer Steve Baldassare said in depositions that the intent was to use the cameras for deterrence and forensic purposes. , or afterwards, surveys and visualization.
She also argued that it was just speculation that someone monitoring the cameras live might have prevented Ritzer’s death.
Murphy, who represents the Ritzer family, urged Lu to allow the case to proceed to trial, saying the central facts of the case remained in dispute, including whether the system was working as intended at the time.
“The chosen software was never going to integrate properly with Danvers High School’s hardware,” Murphy told Lu. “That’s the disastrous outcome.”
To this end, he referred to a series of emails exchanged between school officials, the architect and the contractors in 2012, when compatibility issues between the software used by the system and the computers used by the school became apparent.
The problems persisted as the school opened.
Taverna was still pushing for answers in September.
“This is obviously very important for the safety of the building,” Taverna wrote.
Finally, a workaround was devised. But it will not be implemented until November.
By then, 14-year-old freshman Philip Chism had raped and murdered 24-year-old Ritzer on the afternoon of October 22, 2013.
“There is no doubt that the system was not working, not operational, on the day of Ms. Ritzer’s death,” Murphy told Lu during the hearing.
And while Kenney pointed out that the system video was used to successfully prosecute Chism, Murphy pointed out that it took Baldassare four days of work to find those videos.
“It’s barely a working video system,” Murphy explained.
Additionally, the cameras were motion-activated and the system designed to send alerts to authorized individuals whether or not the person is viewing the cameras live on a monitor.
Murphy said it’s possible someone got an alert and the system worked, revealing a student following Ritzer into the women’s bathroom, his death could have been prevented.
Lu did not immediately act on the motion.
Forensic reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, by email at [email protected] or on Twitter at @SNJulieManganis
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