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DHS teacher suspended with pay following arrest

Maggie Gordo, dariennewsonline
Published 1:03 am, Thursday, December 10, 2009
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DHS English department coordinator Douglas Paulsen, 58, was suspended with pay Tuesday, according to Darien Public Schools Superintendent Donald Fiftal.

Paulsen was arrested for public indecency on Nov. 24 after another man accused him of performing a lewd act in the showers at an LA Fitness in Norwalk. He was released on a written promise to appear, and was scheduled to be arraigned in a Norwalk court on Monday, Dec. 7.

Fiftal said last Wednesday that the arraignment would be key in deciding whether to suspend the teacher, who has been employed by the district since September of 1976.

According to Paulsen's attorney, William Westcott, the case was continued to Jan. 12, at which point Paulsen will enter a not-guilty plea.

"Mr. Paulsen will be entering a straight not-guilty plea at all times," Westcott said.

"He hasn't done anything wrong at all. He's denied these allegations from the second he was first contacts by law enforcement. He has no intention of changing that position at this point," Westcott said.

Westcott also released a statement, written by Paulsen. It read:

"I have done absolutely nothing wrong and the criminal claims against me are completely false. I directly refuted this allegation from the moment I was first contacted by law enforcement authorities. I thank the many friends and colleagues who have expressed their support for me in the community. I look forward to fully addressing every aspect of this matter as the legal process goes forward."

Paulsen told police that he was lathering his body with soap when the alleged incident occurred, said Sgt. Lisa Cotto of the Norwalk Police.

In February 2006, Paulsen had to have his jaw wired shut after suffering facial fractures and a broken nose after being struck on the right side of his face in the men's sauna of another Norwalk gym, according to police.

When police arrived, Paulsen reported that he was sitting in the sauna with another man, later identified as John Rodas, then 20, Cotto said.

When police found Rodas, who has been arrested several times, he told them that while the two were in the sauna, Paulsen performed a lewd act while watching him, Cotto said. Rodas told police that when it looked like Paulsen was about to reach over and touch him, he punched Paulsen, the police report said.

Rodas, who was arrested for second-degree assault, decided not to press charges against Paulsen, Cotto said.

In December 2006, Rodas pleaded guilty to second-degree assault and was given a five-year suspended jail sentence and five years probation, court records show.

The 2006 incident "framed the situation further," Fiftal said.

"You have to operate based on fact," Fiftal said. "And if a situation has what appeared to be a narrower set of facts then there's the possibility that maybe that investigation can go more quickly. If the facts seem to expand, then you're in for a longer term."

Fiftal said he is uncertain how long the school's investigation into the issue will take, but said it will "certainly be at least up to and beyond the next court date, which I believe is Jan. 12."

The school district's decision about how to handle the situation will not necessarily reflect what happens in the court room, Fiftal said.

"There could be one judicial outcome, and the district's outcome could be in a different kind of direction," Fiftal said.

Paulsen's lawyer said the discussion about the 2006 incident is "extremely disturbing."

"The only thing that is significant about 2006 is that he was the victim of a vicious attack, and in a system that pays a lot of attention to victim's rights, it's just incredible that people would be discussing that incident as some aspect of wrongdoing on his part," he said.

The incident was "an anti-gay attack on him," from which Paulsen "suffered nearly life-threatening injuries," Westcott said.

Paulsen has had an "impeccable record" throughout his more than three decades at DHS, Westcott said.