A southern Illinois school district is asking an East St. Louis judge to toss out a civil lawsuit that charges school officials with ignoring a teacher’s child sex crimes.
Lawyers for the Massac Unit School District in Metropolis, IL filed a motion last week asking that the case be rejected, claiming there’s no evidence that the district superintendent or a school principal “was aware of the alleged sexual abuse. . .or allegations of any such abuse” by ex-teacher Darryl Bentson.
Last April, a young woman sued Bentson and three other individuals in the district saying that Bentson repeatedly assaulted her - physically and sexually – when she attended Franklin Elementary School in 1985.
Leaders of a support group called SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, are blasting school officials for their legal move.
“Alleged child sex abuse victims deserve their day in court,” said Barbara Dorris of SNAP. “It’s wrong when institutions that profess to care about kids act like cold-hearted CEOs exploiting legal technicalities to evade responsibility.”
Because the case was filed in Benton and is being heard in East St. Louis, SNAP leaders worry that many in the Metropolis area aren’t aware of the abuse or cover up allegations. Bentson is believed to be living in Metropolis now.
The victim says the sexual assaults took place in a P.E. storage room and the physical abuse occurred on the school playground. She also alleges that Bentson was verbally derisive and referred to her repeatedly as “fat and lazy.”
According to the suit, the girl’s mother was approached in 1982 by a teacher who warned her to look out for her daughter saying the daughter “was the type that Bentson liked to pick on.”
Despite knowledge of the school officials – who apparently had chastised Bentson in the early 1980s for “leering” at girls in the locker room – the suit says that Bentson was allowed to have continued, unsupervised access to children and the school never investigated the claims brought against him.
The suit was filed in the US District Court in Benton. In addition to Bentson and the district, it names three other defendants: William Hatfield, the district’s current superintendent, Donald Smith, the ex-superintendent who headed the district when the alleged crimes happened, and Reuben Bremer, who was the principal of Franklin Elementary when the alleged assaults took place.
Bentson was employed by the district “in various capacities, including at various times, teacher, lunch monitor, and recess supervisor,” the suit says. The eleven-count suit seeks unspecified compensatory and exemplary damages for the harm and stress caused to Jane Doe.
“We strongly suspect that there are other victims of this teacher and we hope they will contact the police as soon as possible,” said Dorris. “If that move seems too scary, we hope those victims will contact us. It’s crucial that no one suffer in silence while a child predator and those who helped him escape responsibility for heinous wrongdoing.”
The suit was filed last spring in Benton. But it was assigned to Judge Michael Reagan in East St. Louis federal court. If the district’s motion fails, the trial will be held in East St. Louis.
The defendants are represented by attorney Merry Rhoades (618-692-4120) from Edwardsville, IL.
The plaintiff is being represented by St. Louis attorneys Chackes (314-880-4465; firstname.lastname@example.org) and Nicole Gorovsky (314-880-4469; email@example.com). Gorovsky is a former Assistant United States Attorney in the Southern District of Illinois. Their firm has been representing victims of sexual abuse for many years in civil lawsuits against school districts and religious organizations.