2015-12-23 / Around Town

Former Coach to Serve Eight Years

By Olga Enger

After evading authorities for 11 years, James Bell, formerly of Middletown, is behind bars. Bell violated bail by not appearing in court after he was arrested in 2003 for molesting three young girls while employed as a gymnastics coach at the Newport County YMCA.

Bell, now 61, was listed as one of Rhode Island's top 10 fugitives, appeared on the FBI website, and his case was featured on the television show “America’s Most Wanted.”

Bell was first arrested in Allyn, Wash. on Aug. 7, 2003, after an investigation was conducted by the Middletown Police Department. He was brought back to Rhode Island where he was arraigned in Superior Court. Bell was released on $25,000 bail, but a local warrant for his arrest was issued when he failed to appear to court. A federal warrant was issued in 2006 on charges of an unlawful flight to avoid prosecution.

Although the trail for Bell went cold for several years, FBI investigators received a tip this April that Bell was in Spokane, Wash. FBI special agents in the Seattle division confirmed his location and took Bell into custody without incident on April 29, 2015.

On Dec. 18, he pleaded no contest to seven counts of seconddegree child molestation. He was sentenced to 20 years, with eight years to serve and the remainder suspended with probation. Additionally, Bell must undergo counseling and, upon release, register as a sex offender.

Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin said he hoped his incarceration would “bring a sense of relief” to the victims.

Kaylin Brietzke of Middletown, who has come forward publicly as one of Bell’s victims, said while she is relieved that he is behind bars, she feels eight years to serve is “pathetic” for his crimes.

“We express our relief for the victims, families and our community that this case has come to a close after more than a decade,” said Newport County YMCA CEO Michael Miller. “Child sexual abuse is a serious social issue and the Newport County YMCA has been a leader in implementing policies and protocols to ensure youth are protected.”

Middletown Police Detectives William Swierk and John Gatta, both now retired, led the initial investigation. Special Assistant Attorney General Roger Demers prosecuted the case.

Miller said the YMCA has put in safety protocols to ensure children’s safety:

. Conducting criminal background checks, sex offender registry checks, and reference checks on all staff prior to hiring.

. Conducting criminal background checks and sex offender registry checks on all volunteers.

. Mandating Praesidium risk management training for all volunteers/ staff on recognizing and preventing abuse.

. Prohibiting staff and volunteers from being alone with a child where they cannot be observed by others.

. Assigning staff to regularly conduct checks around the facility, with a particular emphasis on outof plain-sight areas.

. Forbidding staff contact with children outside of YMCA programs.

. Educating parents on how to recognize and prevent abuse.

. Adhering to 300 American Camping Association standards for summer camp accreditation; and preschool and afterschool programs are licensed by Rhode Island Department of Children Youth & Families/Bright Stars Certified.

Return to top