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Lawsuit alleges sexual assault, bullying by football team at Torrington High School

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TORRINGTON — A former student is suing the Torrington Public School District, as well as a number of administrators and staff, for their alleged inaction and action related to ongoing bullying and assaults of the student.

The student was not named in the suit, but rather referred to as “John Doe.” His mother was referred to as “Jane Doe” throughout the suit.

The suit alleges that a culture of entitlement, harassment and violence was created by staff and administrators because they were deliberately indifferent to the safety of John and dismissed his claims of severe physical, emotional and psychological abuse by student athletes. This was especially true related to student athletes, who got preferential treatment, according to the suit.

In fact, the suit alleges that the adults called the actions “horseplay” and “boys being boys,” saying that John was embellishing what happened and was too sensitive. The suit says that the dismissal of John’s claims indicated a discriminatory nature within the school, and emboldened the perpetrators to escalate their harassment and assaults.

Besides the Torrington Board of Education, the suit names the following co-defendents: Superintendent Cheryl Kloczo; Torrington High School Principal Joanne Creedon; Vice Principal Charles McSpirit; athletic director Michael McKenna; head football coach Dan Dunaj; guidance counselor Johanna DeZurik; special education teacher and John’s case manager, Gerald Carbone; and school social worker James Dziekan.

John Doe attended Torrington High School from August 2011 until April 5, 2013, at which point he was transferred to the Alternative Educational Opportunity program. That program, typically used by students who have been expelled, allowed John to be tutored for three hours a day starting April 23, 2013 and continuing until July. At that point John’s family moved to another school district.

John was diagnosed with a learning disability and other health impairments that qualified him for special services before he started high school. His disability was a key factor in what his peers ridiculed him about.

The abuse started when John joined the football team at the beginning of his freshman year in August 2011.

Things were fine at first, but in October John was physically assaulted in the locker room by someone identified as Student A. A threw John to the ground, causing his glasses to break, and then took John’s hat and rubbed it against his own genitals.

John reported the assault, and A was suspended for fewer than 10 days. Although John was assured that the report would remain confidential, staff and students learned that the suspension came after John’s disclosure, which led to further bullying.

In January of 2012 John suffered a significant injury, which limited his ability to play football. This led to ridiculing by the coaches and students, who called him names. The coaches participated encouraged the harassment.

John was bullied daily for the rest of the school year by students B and C, who threw rocks at him and tried to fight him.

That spring John was physically assaulted by another football player, student D, who “karate chopped” him on the back of his neck. When John defended himself by doing the same staff said it was mutual, and both boys got in school suspensions.

The football coach, Dunaj, told the team about John’s in school suspension even though that’s a violation law, and he disciplined the whole team. Dunaj knew this would lead to retaliation from teammates, according to the suit, but that was the point—Dunaj said it was to hold members of the team accountable to each other through the threat of retaliation.

In August 2012 John was sexually assaulted. He was playing football in the park with several peers when student B, who had been bullying him for months, came to the park with other students and football players. When the kids who John was playing with left, student B sexually assaulted John in front of the kids he was with. John didn’t report this because he believed the coaching staff perpetuated the violence against him based on the consequences after previous reports he made.

John started staying home out of fear and severe anxiety, and his grades dropped.

In the winter a meeting was held to address the issues; John’s mother called the meeting, and several administrators attended. The school minimized his harassment, saying it was “everyday banter between the boys, back and forth,” as if they were attacking each other. It was decided that John would get 30 minutes of counseling each week by the school social worker to learn skills to deal with his “sensitivity.” He was also allowed to leave resource room early so his peers wouldn’t make fun of him having special needs.

Two months later those counseling sessions still had not occurred.

On April 1, 2013 John was in study hall in resource room when the paraprofessional in charge, Dorrette Murphy, opened the blinds on the classroom. John didn’t want other kids to see him, so he turned his desk. Murphy said, “What? Are you embarrassed? You should be embarrassed. About the only thing you should be embarrassed about is yourself. You are a hider.”

The other kids started calling John a hider, and he asked to leave five minutes early, which he was permitted to do after the winter meeting. However, Murphy mocked him further, asking why they all couldn’t leave and just get their guidance counselors to write them notes to leave early. She recommended that the other kids use paint to put John’s name on the door for everyone to see.

Finally, John disclosed the torture to police. He was a junior cadet with State Police during the 2012 to 2013 school year, and one of the troopers became a mentor to him. He revealed the sexual assault and other harassment, and the police began investigating.

The officers told John’s mom about the sexual assault, and she took him out of school on April 5. She called another meeting with the superintendent, and the police attended. When they told the superindentent, Kloczko, of the sexual assault, she said John could go to the alternative school program. His mom agreed since it was the only option.

Because the alternative school was meant for kids who had been expelled, he was treated as a disciplinary issue instead of a victim. The family moved in July.

On September 26, 2014 student B, who had sexually assaulted John, was convicted after a trial of sexual assault. He was sentenced to six months served and three years of probation.

The lawsuit contends that the school knew of the abuse, and yet did nothing about it. Besides John, in fall 2012 the administration was informed of other significant and severe acts of hazing, harassment, physical assault, as well as sexual assault, among players on football team. They were told a student was sodomized in the locker room and had items placed in his mouth, causing injuries.

Parents of that victim were asked not to report the incident to police; the request was likely made by either police or the superintendent.

In all, four students were suspended for five days and for two football games; they were allegedly not disciplined farther because it would have cost them college scholarships.

Also, in November 2012, two football players were arrested on charges of raping females. One of them pleaded guilty to risk of injury to a minor with illicit sexual contact, and both were expelled from school for one year.

Then in March 2012 a third student, who was voted the MVP of the football team, was charged with felony robbery after jumping three 14-year-old boys. The student was allowed to play the following season, but was eventually arrested for sexually assaulting two 13-year-old girls.

At least one of the victims of rape was bullied on social media afterwards.

John asks for: compensatory damages in an amount warranted by evidence at trial; punitive damages in an amount warranted by the evidence at trial; injunctive relief; reasonable attorney fees and costs incurred in this action; such other relief as permitted by statute and as this court shall consider fair and equitable.

FOX CT reached out to Torrington Board of Education officials but no one wished to comment on the allegations or the lawsuit.

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