Sentencing for James Corbett upsets an alleged victim
BY SAMUEL PICCOLO
A North Pelham stable owner has been given 12 months probation and will be placed on the sex offender registry for a decade, following his October conviction for sexual assault of a teenage girl.
James Corbett, 61, the owner of Cedar Ridge Stables on Sixteen Road, was charged in 2015 for fondling an 18-year-old member of the stable’s riding team. The girl alleged that Corbett put his hands on her back inside of her shirt. After being rebuffed by the girl, Corbett put his hands on her buttocks and tried to kiss her.
Last October Corbett was convicted for sexual assaulting the girl, as well as on two counts of assault by unwanted hugs.
After the sexual assault charge was laid in November 2015, numerous other allegations against Corbett were made, and he was eventually charged with eight counts of sexual assault, two counts of sexual interference, and three counts of sexual exploitation, though Judge Tory Colvin did not convict Corbett on all of these charges. Colvin found that inconsistencies in the accusers’ testimony meant that he could not find Corbett guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
Corbett admitted only to hugging the woman and to giving here a peck on the cheek.
The Crown did not respond to a request for comment.
One of the women whom Corbett was not convicted of assaulting is Cassie Dawson, now 22.
“It’s pretty tough to swallow,” said Dawson of the judge’s dismissal of her allegations against Corbett, as well as the fact that Corbett was sentenced to a year’s probation rather than jail.
Dawson, who rode at Cedar Ridge for three years, alleges that Corbett assaulted her twice. Both occasions occurred when she was 16 and Corbett was in his mid-50s.
“The first time he gave me a hug and then put his hands on my bum,” said Dawson. “Then he tried to kiss me, I turned my head away, and at that point he grabbed my face with both of his hands so that I couldn’t get away, and started kissing me until I finally got away.”
Dawson said that she ran out of the barn, where the incident allegedly occurred, right to her mother’s waiting car. She didn’t tell anyone at the time.
“I was super-embarrassed. I felt guilty,” she said. “I had been in and out of the hospital for suicide attempts, and Jim knew that. I was in a vulnerable spot, and I didn’t want anyone to think that I was doing it for attention.”
Corbett could not be reached, while his lawyer, George Walker, did not respond to a request for comment.
Dawson attempted to kill herself afterward, and spent a month in the hospital recovering.
“I’m not going to say that Jim is the sole reason that I tried to commit suicide, but it was a part,” Dawson said.
On her first day back at the barn after getting out of the hospital, Dawson says that Corbett again hugged her and put his hands on her buttocks, telling her that he was happy that she was back. This time, Dawson says, she held on to a nearby horse until Corbett let go of her, something she says he didn’t do for nearly half a minute.
According to Dawson and her mother, Nicole, the judge said that Corbett had taken advantage of Dawson’s vulnerability—and that he had done it to another girl, too.
“For one of the convictions, the judge even said that what Jim had done to [another girl] was the same that he’d done to Cassie Dawson,” said Nicole.
Even after the assault that allegedly occurred after Dawson returned from the hospital, she didn’t tell anyone. Not until a few years later did she learn that other women were pressing charges against Corbett.
Nicole recalled Cassie calling her at work one early morning.
“She told me that Jim had been charged with sexual assault. I said that wasn’t right, that it couldn’t be true. Then Cassie said, ‘It’s true mom. He did it to me, too.’ And then I just started crying.”
At her mother’s urging, Cassie went to the police.
Since Corbett was charged, and even since his conviction last fall, Dawson and her mother say that many in the horse circuit continue to stand by him.
“A lot of parents wrote letters for the court, supporting his character,” said Dawson. “He’s still hosting horse shows. No one thinks that it’s true.”
“I can understand why they’re on his side,” said Nicole. “I didn’t believe it when Cassie first told me that he was charged, until she said it happened to her. We don’t want to believe that someone we know would do things like that.”
Nicole said that given Corbett’s influence in the Niagara Cup Series, many people are willing to sweep the issue under the rug.
“If Cassie hadn’t told me about what happened to her, would I still be on that side?” said Nicole. “I’d like to think that after all these girls came forward, after the court case, after the guilty verdict, that I’d believe it.”
She wonders what it would take for those standing by Corbett to change their minds.
“He’s on the sex offender registry,” she said. “I wish that it was made public, or printed in the newspaper. Maybe if people saw it in black and white they’d see that it’s real. They think it’s a game, or, I don’t know, that these girls are mad because Jim didn’t let them ride a certain horse sometime.”
During the lead-up to the trial, Dawson was not permitted to know the names of the other women testifying against Corbett. But since the trial, they have remained in contact.
“It’s tough to go through this at any age, but it’s particularly hard when you’re that young,” she said.
During the sentencing, Judge Colvin said that while the victim was “seriously emotionally scarred by this incident,” the sentence was required to be appropriate for the acts committed.
“You are no less talented, no less intelligent, and no less capable than before you were victimized,” he told Corbett’s victims.
A source familiar with the Niagara horse circuit told the Voice that Corbett had a reputation for being “handsy” prior to his arrest, but that victims were unwilling to go to police—in at least one case for fear of not being believed without a corroborating witness.
In a 2010 profile in Niagara This Week, Corbett advised that parents looking for riding lessons for their children should “thoroughly do their research” to find “an accredited coach or instructor.”
Much of the piece revolved around Corbett’s deep love for horses and his apparently preference for them over people.
“If things are going kind of crummy, or I’m up in the middle of the night, I can always go out and shoot the breeze with one of the horses,” he said. “And they understand a hell of a lot more than most people do. Or at least I think they do.”
Nicole is dismayed that Corbett has been permitted to remain involved at his stable.
“His lawyer fought really hard against having any sort of counselling be a part of the sentence,” she said.
Nicole was emotional as she spoke. “He was someone that the girls looked up to—he was their coach. It’s a position like a teacher.”
“I don’t think that this is going to be any deterrent for him. He’s showed no remorse, and he’s never admitted anything he did was wrong. He’s not going to be rehabilitated,” she said.
She said that she’s been continually disappointed that no body or agency has prevented Corbett from continued involvement in the horse training circuit, and said that a similar conviction for a hockey coach would be the end of his time near an arena.
The effects of what happened to Dawson still linger, something that adds to her frustration that people continue to stand by Corbett.
“I’m scared to be alone in a room with my family,” she said. “They can deny it all they want. What happened isn’t going to go away.”