Lawsuits allege molestation of disabled Broad River Elementary student

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BEAUFORT COUNTY

Lawsuits allege molestation of disabled Broad River Elementary student

By RACHEL HEATON
rheaton@beaufortgazette.com
Published Friday, July 27, 2012   |  953 Words  |  

Lawsuits filed against the Beaufort County School District allege a disabled student was sexually abused by at least one employee and another student.

The suits say a Broad River Elementary student, identified only as John Doe, was molested and sodomized by an unnamed employee or employees and an unnamed student from May through December 2010.

The suits also allege the student was frequently secluded and physically restrained as punishment.

School district spokesman Jim Foster declined comment.

A spokesman for the S.C. Department of Education, First Student bus company, and Praesidium Inc. -- an abuse risk management firm the district has contracted with in the past -- also declined comment.

Those organizations, along with the Beaufort County Board of Education and the S.C. Board of Education, are being sued in one or more of the suits.

THE ALLEGATIONS

The five lawsuits detail several alleged incidents between May and December 2010:

  • Between June and December, one suit filed May 31, 2012 alleges, John Doe was molested and sodomized by one or more employees at the school. The employees are not named. The acts occurred in one of the school's bathrooms and in other areas of the school, the suit says.
  • On May 28 and on other occasions, John Doe was molested and sodomized by a student, who is not named, according to a suit filed May 31, 2012. That incident, too, occurred in a school bathroom, the suit alleges.
  • Two of the suits, filed June 25, 2012, detail the use of physical restraint and seclusion as punishments, tactics the state Department of Education advises against. In one case, two seclusion "time outs" in October are described. John Doe was secluded, the suit alleges, because he did not want to come inside from recess. He was made to strip naked and was locked in a room, the suit says.
  • In the other physical-restraint case, the suit alleges that on Nov. 10, 2010, a teacher held the student down and forced his mouth open with her fingers so a teacher's aide could pour liquid soap down his throat and stuff paper towels in his mouth.
  • In the fifth suit, filed June 25, 2012, it is alleged that John Doe was forcibly put on the school bus Nov. 10, 2010. John Doe was repeatedly and consistently abused by other students on the bus, the suit says, and teachers and the school knew about it.
  • SOAP INCIDENT REPORTED

    It's not clear if criminal charges were ever filed in the alleged sexual-assault incidents. John Doe's lawyer, J. Olin McDougall of Beaufort, said he wasn't aware of any criminal charges. When asked if his clients had gone to the police, he declined to answer.

    The Beaufort County Sheriff's Office released four reports for incidents at Broad River Elementary between May and December 2010 in response to a request by The Beaufort Gazette and Island Packet.

    None of the reports was for sexual assault.

    One detailed a 9-year-old disabled student's complaint that he had been held down and had soap poured into his mouth Nov. 8, 2010.

    The boy's mother says in the report that her son had a cut on the corner of his mouth. When she asked what happened, the boy cried and said that one of his teachers had "squeezed" his mouth open and that another one put soap and a wet paper towel into his mouth.

    The mother also said her son had been hitting himself, mostly in the groin area, leading her to believe he had been sexually assaulted. She asked that Hope Haven, a children's advocacy and rape crisis center, conduct a forensic interview of her son.

    Hope Haven found the boy had not been sexually abused, the report states.

    Two teachers said in the sheriff's report that the student had hid under a table. When he was taken out, he cursed at one of the teachers.

    That teacher said she wet a paper towel and dabbed it with soap, then rubbed it around the student's mouth because he had cursed, according to the report.

    The other teacher denied knowing about the soap.

    The report states that two teachers were placed on leave until the investigation ended. It could not be confirmed Friday whether the teachers still worked in the district.

    No criminal charges were filed in the incident.

    DAMAGES SOUGHT

    The lawsuits request a jury trial and seek damages for John Doe and for his mother, Jane Doe, for emotional, physical and financial distress, among other things.

    According to one of the suits, the student has suffered from poor self-esteem, engaged in self-mutilation and became suicidal after the alleged incidents.

    McDougall declined to say whether John Doe was still enrolled in Beaufort County public schools.

    The school district and the other defendants have not filed a response to the lawsuits.

    Related content

    1. Advocacy groups allege Beaufort schools mistreated disabled students; June 12, 2012
    2. Details of complaint about handling of disabled students revealed; July 2, 2012
    3. Guidelines on the use of seclusion and restraint