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Doug Fierberg Comments on Dangers of Fraternities in the Wake of Phi Delta Theta Fraternity Pledge Maxwell Greuver’s Tragic Death

LSU Freshman and Phi Delta Theta fraternity pledge Maxwell Gruver died Thursday after possible fraternity hazing.

A preliminary autopsy found that Gruver had a “highly elevated blood alcohol level plus the presence of THC in the urine,” said a statement released Friday by the East Baton Rouge Parish Coroner’s Office.

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Louisiana State University Police are investigating a LSU students death as a possible fraternity hazing incident, at an on campus fraternity house, Phi Delta Theta. Maxwell Raymond Gruver, an 18-year-old LSU freshman from Roswell, Ga., died Thursday after he was taken to a Baton Rouge hospital to be treated for an unspecified “medical emergency,” said university spokesman Ernie Ballard. Hilary Scheinuk/The Advocate via AP

Doug Fierberg – a nationally acclaimed wrongful death attorney representing families who have sued universities, national fraternities and local chapter members for hazing and alcohol-related school deaths tells ABC News:

“Universities and fraternities are not taking the steps – and this goes back decades – to prevent these problems and reform their institutions that are fundamentally dangerous.”

Fierberg recently settled a lawsuit against Phi Delta Theta on behalf of a University of Chicago pledge and was featured on CNN to discuss the perils of fraternity hazing violence and death:

“The dangers of fraternities are not myths. They are reality. The failure by universities to tell the truth about the risks facing students in fraternities specifically related to hazing misuse and abuse of alcohol and other misconduct is the new battleground.” Fierberg tells CNN. “It needs to be changed nationally, because parents and students are entitled to timely and accurate information about the risks they face.  And universities have no basis, morally or legally, to withhold that information from the university community.”

Fierberg said universities violate their duties to students and parents when they create websites about Greek life and only include feel-good information, instead of an accurate and complete picture:

“[Universities] won’t give you the full information because it will confirm that what you believe is right. Of course you have a zero tolerance policy. [Hazing is] illegal. … But why wouldn’t you tell parents it’s still going on?”

Having represented victims of similar tragedies associated with fraternities, our  our hope is that the Gruver family finds answers related to how this terrible loss transpired.

Our thoughts are with Maxwell’s family and community during this extremely difficult time.

Doug Fierberg Comments on Criminal Charges Arising From Fraternity Hazing Death of Timothy Piazza at Penn State

Beta Theta Pi Fraternity pledge dies after hazing ritual

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Beta Theta Pi fraternity house at Penn State University. Google Maps

18 Penn State students are facing criminal charges – eight for involuntary manslaughter, aggravated assault, reckless endangerment and hazing, among other charges; four for reckless endangerment and hazing among other charges; and six for evidence tampering –  due to their involvement in the fraternity hazing death of Penn State University Sophomore, Timothy Piazza.

Douglas Fierberg – a national acclaimed wrongful death attorney representing families who have sued universities, national fraternities and local chapter members for hazing and alcohol-related student deaths – tells the New York Times:

“The central problem is that in a fraternity house, kids, most of whom cannot legally drink, are in charge of getting and serving alcohol.”

Fierberg is lead attorney for the family of Michael Deng, the Baruch College student who died as a result of a hazing ritual known to Pi Delta Psi brothers as “the gauntlet” or “glass ceiling”. The Deng’s brought a wrongful death suit against the fraternity and several of its members – 37 of whom now face a range of criminal charges for their involvement in Deng’s death, including third degree murder, assault, hindering apprehension and hazing.

Having represented victims of similar tragedies associated with fraternities, our hope is that the Beta Theta Pi members involved in Timothy Piazza’s death are held accountable to the fullest extent of the law.

School Violence Law and The Fierberg National Law Group offer our deepest condolences to the Piazza family during this unfathomably difficult time.

EX-MLB Player Chad Curtis’ Admission He Kissed Student Admissible at Civil Trial

The three former student-athletes sexually assaulted by Curtis are suing the ex-MLB player and Lakewood Public Schools.

Curtis, who played for the Detroit Tigers and New York Yankees during his 10 year MLB career, is serving seven to fifteen years in prison on six sexual assault convictions.

As the judge has already found Curtis liable for battery against the plaintiffs, the jury trial, scheduled for May 30 in Grand Rapids, Michigan, will determine damages. 

The jury will also hear the plaintiffs’ claim against Curtis for intentional infliction of severe emotional distress, and claims against the school district and board of education for Title IX violations for teacher-to-student harassment. The plaintiffs also alleged the school district failed to properly train staff.

Title IX and K-12 sexual assault victims attorney, Monica Beck of The Fierberg National Law Group and School Violence Law, represents the young women. While, Curtis, who – against the judge’s recommendation – will act as his own attorney. 

More on Curtis’ admission, the judge’s decision, and the upcoming jury trial, as reported by MLive.com reporter, John Agar:

Former student-athletes suing ex-MLB player Chad Curtis and Lakewood Public Schools can present at trial evidence of a school board member’s support for Curtis.

Curtis told Brian Potter, then a member of the school board, that he kissed one of the students who accused him of sexual assault. Potter told no authorities about their conversation.

A jury trial before U.S. District Judge Janet Neff is scheduled for May 30 in Grand Rapids.

The school district sought to exclude Potter’s testimony because “boards of education speak only through their minutes.”

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Former Major League Baseball player Chad Curtis walks into the courtroom during a re-sentencing meeting on Thursday, June 30, 2016 inside the Barry County Circuit Court in Hastings, Michigan. Tom Brenner / MLive.com

Attorneys for the young women want to present the evidence “not to show that the Lakewood School Board, as a body, performed these actions, but the highest-level administrators of the school publicly did so.”

The school district strongly condemned Potter for keeping Curtis’ admission secret before and after Curtis’ criminal trial for sexually assaulting three of the four plaintiffs.

Potter also showed support in notes to Curtis and his wife, and once said he sat on Curtis’ side of the courtroom rather than with the “accusers.”

Potter resigned shortly after he admitted in a deposition that Curtis told him of his feelings for a student-athlete and that Curtis had kissed her.

On April 28, 2012, a day after police told the schools about Curtis’ suspected abuse of student-athletes, Potter wrote to Curtis: “You have lived and continue to live a righteousness (sic) life that no one, or no words can take way.”

Days later, Curtis told Potter that he had kissed one of the girls at the high school, had been “inappropriate” and “just liked everything about her.”

Until he was deposed in late 2015, Potter had told only his wife and a close friend about the conversation, attorneys for the plaintiffs say.

He had also tried to keep the student-athletes from going forward with the criminal case. He met with one of the fathers and said “no good can come out of a trial,” filings by the plaintiffs show.

Potter provided a character reference letter in October 2013 when Curtis was sentenced. Another school board member, Gary Foltz, wrote a letter on Curtis’ behalf, too.

Meanwhile, the judge denied Lakewood’s request that “all evidence and testimony about alleged student-to-student sexual or sex-based harassment” be excluded.

She also rejected a motion by the plaintiffs to exclude evidence or arguments about “prior bad acts” or character evidence about the plaintiffs or their parents who are all expected to testify.

Based on questioning during depositions, the plaintiffs think the defense will try to impeach the character of the student-athletes and parents.

The judge could revisit the ruling based on testimony at trial.

 

Rolling Stone & The Fierberg National Law Group Take Aim at Frat’s Reputation in VA Defamation Suit

The Fierberg National Law Group Is Part of The Legal Team Representing Rolling Stone Magazine in Defamation Lawsuit Brought By Phi Kappa Psi Fraternities.

A synopsis of The Fierberg National Law Group‘s recent briefing on behalf of Rolling Stone – as reported by Ashley Cullins of The Hollywood Reporter – reads:

Rolling Stone argues records involving sexual assault at nationwide Phi Kappa Psi fraternities are paramount to its defamation fight against the Virginia Alpha Chapter over its since-redacted story of the gang rape of a University of Virginia student named “Jackie” that purportedly occurred at its campus frat house. And while the magazine knocked out a defamation suit from a handful of fraternity brothers, this is but the first round of a $25 million fight with the chapter itself. 

PKP has filed motions to quash subpoenas for documents regarding “claims, investigations, risk assessments, and disciplinary actions relating to incidents of sexual misconduct, alcohol abuse, and/or fraternity hazing” that involve PKP as a whole and other local chapters. Rolling Stone argues the documents are relevant because the national organization’s brand and the local chapter’s reputation are “inextricably intertwined.” 

“If other chapters of PKP nationwide have been disciplined and/or suspended in response to incidents of sexual assault and hazing, those incidents affect the value of the reputation that goes along with being recognized in the world as a ‘Phi Kappa Psi brother’ and, accordingly, are relevant to the damages claimed by VAC,” writes attorney Robert Hall.

In its motion to quash, PKP argues that VAC is a separate entity from the national organization and any harm to its reputation and membership are specific to the local chapter. “In regards to PKP and the Other Chapters, the information requested is not relevant to the litigation nor is it likely to lead to admissible evidence,” writes attorney Dirk McClanahan. “For example, assuming arguendo there was a hazing or sexual misconduct incident in Ames, Iowa, that incident would not prove or disprove the truth of an article that wrongly accused a party of a detailed and specific gang-rape allegation in Charlottesville, VA.” Alternatively, the organization asked the court to designate any materials produced as in camera only, attorney’s eyes only or confidential. 

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Phi Kappa Psi fraternity, Virginia Alpha Chapter house at The University of Virginia in Charlottesville, VA.  Jay Paul / Getty Images

The magazine’s lawyers pulled no punches in the responding memo filed March 27, indicating the fraternity chose not to speak up before the story ran. 

“While numerous criticisms have been leveled at Rolling Stone, entirely missing from that discourse, until now, are the conscious decisions by VAC, guided by multiple lawyers, public relations experts, and national and alumni advisors to assume the risk of remaining largely silent and not sharing with Rolling Stone…the factual discrepancies in Jackie’s story of which they were aware before and immediately after the Article was published,” writes Hall. “For had they done so, the Article never would have been published.”

Rolling Stone argues that for at least two months before its article was published, both the local chapter and national organization were “regularly advised” by university staff regarding the allegations.

“The initial failure by VAC and PKP to instantly and categorically deny the allegations is evidence that they believed, like multiple trained personnel at UVA, that these extreme allegations of sexual violence and wrongdoing at a VAC event were plausible,” writes Hall.

Further, the magazine argues that the fraternity had “the knowledge, power, choice and wealth of opportunity to mitigate or avoid the harm it allegedly suffered from the Article,” and the motivation for the lawsuit is money.

“The award sought would underwrite VAC’s operations for some 160 years, or until approximately the year 2177,” writes Hall. “This is a particularly egregious demand given that VAC did not lose any members post-publication.” 

The magazine also argues that PKP failed to show that the records sought warrant in camera only or attorney’s eyes only protection. It does not object to a confidential designation under a previously stipulated protective order.

A hearing on the matter is set for Wednesday afternoon in Charlottesville Circuit Court. Trial is currently scheduled to begin Oct. 23.

Rolling Stone also is appealing a highly controversial ruling in the defamation suit brought by then-UVA associate dean Nicole Eramo. The court found story itself wasn’t defamatory, but rather the magazine defamed the dean when it appended the original story with a retraction. Many in the legal industry and the press have warned that the ruling, if it stands, will likely chill media apologies.

Client Testimonial Of Parent of Elementary Sexual Assault Survivor:

When my seven-year-old son was sexually assaulted about 20 times on school property by a classmate, I reported to the school what was happening. I also filed a police report, secured a restraining order, and filed a report with social services. The school not only refused to protect my son from the perpetrator, they wanted me to send him back to the same classroom so they could hire “extra eyeballs to observe and document their interactions,” essentially asking my traumatized son to act as bait so they could catch the student in the act.

Their combined actions and lack of actions further traumatized my son and absolutely violated Title IX law. He was forced to change schools six weeks before the end of the school year and subsequently developed PTSD. My husband and I incurred tens of thousands of dollars in expenses over the next 12 months related to therapists, doctors and time off from work.

I soon became aware of three other families in the same school district with eerily similar situations – one at the middle school level and two at the high school level. There was student-on-student sexual harassment or abuse, school administration was aware but refused to do anything to protect the victims or ameliorate their situations and the victims were being further traumatized. This obviously was a systemic problem that needed fixing, and after filing a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights, our family was offered mediation.

Typically, mediation functions only to remediate an individual student’s situation, but nothing less than a systemic fix was going to be satisfactory for me. Finding a law firm with the expertise needed to advise us in this type of case was nearly impossible because it’s a very specialized area of law. Local law firms with expertise in Title IX law refused to take our case because they deemed it not big enough to justify their time. Fortunately, Monica Beck and The Fierberg National Law Group not only became a lifeline for us during an exceptionally trying time in our lives, they were instrumental in achieving a spectacular outcome — all without a lawsuit.

The school district reimbursed us for a percentage of our documented out-of-pocket expenses, but more importantly, they agreed to train every principal in the school district and their bosses on how to respond appropriately to reports of sexual harassment and assault. They agreed to let Monica and me review the curriculum before they taught it, and I also got to meet with the district’s Title IX coordinator to impress upon him the important of his role in keeping students safe.

After 12 long months of fighting this battle to prevent other families from going through the torture of our experience, I couldn’t be happier with the end result. Thank you, Monica!

Binghamton University Student Dies After Fall from Balcony at Fraternity House

Conor Donnelly, a Binghamton University freshman and Alpha Sigma Phi Fraternity pledge, dies after falling from balcony during fraternity house party.

Alcohol has been named a factor in Conor Donnelly’s death, ruled accidental by the Binghamton Police Department.  

With any devastating circumstance, questions mount – how does a community prevent future tragedies and who should be held responsible?

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The Alpha Sigma Phi Fraternity house where Binghamton University student, Conor Donnelly, fell to his death. Andrew Thayer / Press & Sun-Bulletin

The Alpha Sigma Pi Fraternity house at Binghamton University, where the party and terrible tragedy occurred, offers a text book example of potential code violations. Moreover, while over 1,000 fraternities in the International Conference have gone dry, Alpha Sigma Pi is not one of them.

Douglas Fierberg – a nationally acclaimed wrongful death attorney representing clients who have sued universities, national fraternities and local chapter members for alcohol-related student deaths – cautions:  

“Even if a party is held at an off-campus fraternity house, the hosts and the organization may still be liable. These organizations need to be rendered safe, there is no excuse for not intervening.”

Fierberg represented the family of Brett Griffen, the University of Delaware student who died as a result of alcohol poisoning in 2008. The Griffen’s brought suit against University of Delaware calling for its Greek life websites to list all violations against fraternities and sororities.  Despite the attainment of policy change at University of Delaware, Fierberg urges families to remain cautious:

“Colleges and universities continue to publish vague information – if they publish it at all – about fraternity interactions, including deadly hazing rituals and sexual assaults. We’re still facing significant problems because most universities refuse to tell the truth about student deaths at Greek organizations.”

Having represented victims of similar tragedies associated with fraternities, our hope is that Conor Donnelly’s family finds answers related to how this terrible loss transpired.

School Violence Law offers our deepest condolences to the Donnelly family during this difficult time.

Click here to read the article in its entirety.

Allegations of Sexual Assault and Use of Date-Rape Drugs at Northwestern University

Four female students may have been given a date-rape drug last month at Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity. Two allege sexual assault.

As CNN reported on February 7, allegations of sexual assault and the use of date-rape drugs have surfaced at Northwestern University:

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The Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity house on the campus of Northwestern University in Illinois. Chris Walker / Chicago Tribune

Northwestern received tips about two alleged incidents, one on January 21 and the other this month, according to campus security alert issued Monday night.

Four female students may have been given a date-rape drug last month at the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity, campus security reports.  Two of them “believe they were also sexually assaulted,” the report states.

The school received another report that a female student was sexually assaulted on February 2, “possibly involving use of a date-rape drug after attending an event at another fraternity house.” the alert said.  It is not clear where the alleged assault might have happened.

In its security alert, the university stressed its concern about its students’ safety.  It said anyone with knowledge about the alleged incidents should contact the school’s Title IX coordinator. Northwestern’s Sexual Harassment Prevention Office is investigating. Sigma Alpha Epsilon’s national organization has also launched an investigation into the allegations.

These are the latest claims associated with a chilling problem that is significant on US college campuses, as a recent survey by The Association of American Universities found.

Conducted in the spring of 2015, the survey documented the problem of sex assault on campus by polling over 150,000 students from 27 universities.  Among female college students, 23% said they experienced some form of unwanted sexual contact — ranging from kissing to touching to rape, carried out by force or threat of force, or while they were incapacitated because of alcohol and drugs, the survey found.  Nearly 11% said the unwanted contact included penetration or oral sex.

Click here to read article by CNN reporter, Joe Sterling, in its entirety.

Student Sues School Board That Failed To Protect Him From Sexual Abuse By Janitor

Attorney Monica Beck Files $10M Lawsuit on Behalf of Third-Grader Who Suffered Extreme Sexual Abuse at Hands of  School Custodian. 

The federal lawsuit has garnered national attention and ignited a firestorm illuminating the scope of Title IX in K-12 schools. Further spotlighted in the article below by PEOPLE reporter KC Baker, Monica Beck discusses the severe sexual abuse her client suffered, Title IX obligations in K-12 schools, and her hope to help other victims. 

A young victim of sexual abuse is suing his school board and two of its employees in federal court, for $10 million, alleging they failed to protect him and other students from a sexual predator who worked as a janitor at their school, PEOPLE confirms.

The lawsuit claims the school board in Russell County, Virginia, and two principals at the district’s Lebanon Elementary School in Lebanon, Virginia — Phillip Henley and Kimberly Hooker — “turned a blind eye” to “blatant sexual misconduct” against the victim and other male students.

The victim is identified as John Doe in the complaint, which was filed on Dec. 8.

The suit also names Bobby Gobble as a defendant. Gobble, 42, was Lebanon Elementary’s former head janitor and was sentenced in 2014 to 100 years in prison after confessing to sexually abusing four boys ages 14 or younger over a four-and-a-half-year period, according to court records obtained by PEOPLE.

Gobble was reportedly arrested in February 2014. He later pleaded guilty to 150 counts of aggravated sexual battery, forcible sodomy and attempted forcible sodomy and is serving a sentence of at least 70 years, according to records.

The Russell County schools superintendent declined to comment to PEOPLE, citing the pending litigation. Neither Henley nor Hooker, who both worked as principals at Lebanon, could immediately be reached. It was not clear if either still worked as a principal in the district.

Attorney Jim Guynn, who is representing the school board and its employees, did not respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment. But he told the Washington Post, “I haven’t seen anything that indicates to me that any of the defendants had any idea that this was going on.”

Not so, according to the boy’s lawyer.

Monica Beck tells PEOPLE the defendants allegedly left John Doe and the other victims vulnerable to Gobble’s abuse — which, according to the lawsuit, was predicated on behavior such as Gobble spending long periods of time alone with children and appearing “obsessive” and “overly friendly.”

At one point John Doe lived with Gobble, though he had no legal custody of the boy. Henley, the school principal at the time, assumed Gobble was a relative or friend, the suit claims.

“The school had a duty to protect John Doe and other students from Gobble’s sexual abuse,” Beck says. “The school, which is federally funded, is obligated to comply with a federal law called Title IX, which prohibits sexual discrimination, which includes sexual assault.”

But school officials did not follow Title IX’s requirements, the boy’s suit claims, causing him to suffer “extreme and severe emotional distress” including fright, horror, grief, shame and psychological trauma.

Escalating Abuse: ‘The School Trusted Gobble’

Gobble began sexually abusing John Doe in 2011, when the boy was in third grade at Lebanon Elementary, the complaint states. The sexual violence was “so extreme in degree that it went beyond all possible bounds of decency.”

The abuse continued for almost two years, when Gobble convinced the boy’s grandmother, who had legal custody of him and his three siblings during the 2011-2012 school year, to allow the boy to come live with him, according to the suit.

As for why the child’s family allowed him to live with Gobble, Beck says: “My understanding is that the grandmother trusted Gobble because the school trusted Gobble.”

The boy lived with Gobble at his home for more than a year before moving to Gobble’s sister’s house, the complaint states. Gobble slept with John Doe, bought him extravagant gifts, drove him to and from school and took him on trips across state lines, during which he sexually abused the boy.

Gobble threatened to kill or harm the boy and his mother if he told anyone about the abuse, the complaint states.

Henley, who was Lebanon’s principal when John Doe was in third grade, knew that Gobble had the child stay at his house and took him on trips, the complaint alleges. Yet “he failed to take any action to protect John from Gobble’s sexual abuse.”

In the spring of 2013, when John Doe was a fourth-grader, Kimberly Hooker, who became the school’s principal, learned that a complaint had been filed with the Department of Social Services about Gobble sexually abusing the child, the lawsuit says.

The complaint was later dismissed as lacking evidence, after both the boy and Gobble denied any inappropriate behavior. Hooker was present when both the child and Gobble were interviewed by DDS, according to the complaint.

“Although DSS found the case unsubstantiated, Principal Hooker — who knew Gobble spent vast amounts of money on and time with John, both during and outside of school hours — failed to undertake any independent investigation, monitor Gobble or take any action to protect John,” the complaint alleges.

Once a school receives a report that a student is being sexually assaulted or abused, Title IX obligates that school to take action, Beck says.

“Russell County Schools did not investigate the report and took no action, other than to tell Gobble it would be a good thing if John would be in an after-school program instead of spending time with Gobble,” Beck says.

“But there is no indication that the school ever increased supervision or undertook any kind of disciplinary action against Gobble or made any effort to ensure that he wasn’t sexually abusing John.”

The defendants allowed Gobble to remove children, including John Doe, from classrooms, failing to bring them back for long periods of time, the complaint alleges. They also allegedly allowed Gobble to be alone and unsupervised with John Doe and other children during and after school.

They failed to provide training to personnel and parents about the sexual abuse of students by school staff, the complaint claims.

The abuse against John Doe began to decrease once he left Lebanon Elementary for middle school, according to his suit.

“During the summer between fourth and fifth grade, he had less contact with Gobble because his mother was concerned,” Beck says.

Helping Other Victims

Beck says she hopes the lawsuit helps other children who are left vulnerable to sexual abuse by adults.

“With cases like this, one of the things we always hope for is justice for the individual plaintiff, and that schools make sure that their administrators and staff are trained in Title IX and recognize signs of sexual abuse and receive grooming techniques that adult perpetrators use to gain the trust of children,” Beck says.

“Often times, predators like Mr. Gobble will threaten children and frighten them so they are afraid to report the abuse.”

Gobble’s lawyer could not be reached for comment.

“When there is a report, we want to make sure educators know what their obligations are and what the steps [are] to take to make sure a student is protected and that other students are not subjected to the same abuse,” Beck says.

“I also hope that this case helps initiate a national discussion on schools’ obligations in keeping our children safe from sex harassment and sex assault in school.”

School Violence Law Represents Elementary Student Sexually Abused By Janitor In Title IX Lawsuit

Our Client Was Subjected to Years of  Sexual Abuse by Elementary School Custodian while School Board and Personnel Turned a Blind Eye.

The horrific and long-term sexual abuse our client endured at the hands of Lebanon Elementary School janitor, Bobby Gobble, on and off school grounds, is reported by Washington Post reporters Moriah Balingit and Andee Erickson.

The $10 million federal lawsuit, filed by School Violence Law attorney, Monica Beck, asserts that Russell County School Board and school personnel “turned a blind eye to Gobble’s blatant sexual misconduct against John and other male students” and “created and fostered an environment in which John and other male students were vulnerable and subjected to Gobble’s deplorable sexual abuse.”

In the gripping article, “A boy was sexually abused in a janitor’s closet. Is the school responsible?” Balingit and Erickson discuss the lawsuit itself while simultaneously casting a spotlight on the larger issue of sexual assault and Title IX mismanagement occurring all too frequently in K-12 grade schools across the nation.

Bobby Gobble was a janitor at Lebanon Elementary School when he began luring a boy to the custodian’s office and sexually abused him behind closed doors. Gobble later was able to convince the third grader’s family that the boy should move in with Gobble, and the abuse continued in Gobble’s home, where he slept in the same room as the boy, according to court papers.

Gobble pleaded guilty in 2014 to 150 counts of aggravated sexual battery, forcible sodomy and carnal knowledge in connection with his abuse of four boys — two of them elementary school pupils.

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Bobby Gobble plead guilty in 2014 to 150 counts of aggravated sexual battery, carnal knowledge and sodomy in connection with the abuse of four boys. He is currently serving 70 years in state prison. // WCYB

Although the abuse occurred behind closed doors in Gobble’s office, in a stockroom and in Gobble’s home, the boy who suffered abuse while living with Gobble claims that the school board and school personnel in Lebanon, Va., should have done more to protect him. A new lawsuit filed in federal court alleges that school employees were ill-equipped to prevent the abuse and to spot the signs that the boy was being regularly victimized.

The boy, who goes by the pseudonym John Doe in court documents, filed the $10 million federal lawsuit last month, alleging that the Russell County School Board and school personnel “turned a blind eye to Gobble’s blatant sexual misconduct against John and other male students” and “created and fostered an environment in which John and other male students were vulnerable and subjected to Gobble’s deplorable sexual abuse.”

Jim Guynn, a Salem, Va.-based attorney who is representing the board and school personnel, said he has not spoken at length with his clients about the lawsuit and could not respond to the accusations in detail. But he said school personnel cannot be held responsible for Gobble’s crimes: “I haven’t seen anything that indicates to me that any of the defendants had any idea that this was going on.”

A lawyer for Gobble, who is serving 70 years in state prison, did not respond to requests for comment.

The lawsuit centers on a fundamental question: What obligations do the nation’s public schools have to prevent and investigate sexual assault on school grounds? As attention to sexual assault on college campuses has grown, it has become clear that colleges have specific responsibilities to protect students under Title IX, a federal law that bars sex discrimination. Some experts say people are less aware that K-12 public schools have similar obligations to investigate and curb sex assault. There was a sharp rise last year in the number of federal civil rights complaints alleging that K-12 schools had mishandled a complaint of sexual assault, according to government data.

Monica Beck, a Michigan-based attorney who is representing the boy in Russell County, said Lebanon Elementary School officials violated Title IX because they failed to conduct their own investigation after they learned of allegations against Gobble.

According to the lawsuit, Principal Kim Hooker learned that the Department of Social Services was investigating Gobble after a complaint was filed. Hooker sat in when the department interviewed both Gobble and the boy; both denied anything inappropriate was happening.

While the complaint was unsubstantiated, Beck argues that the school should have conducted its own investigation. Instead, according to the lawsuit, Hooker told Gobble that “it would be ‘best’ if John did not stay after school unless he was in the after school program,” the lawsuit says. Hooker referred a request for comment to Guynn, her lawyer.

Phillip Henley, who was principal of the school when the boy was in third grade, was aware that the child had moved in with Gobble and that Gobble was taking him on out-of-state trips, according to the lawsuit. But the lawsuit says he never ascertained whether Gobble had legal custody of the boy and assumed he was a relative or family friend, according to the lawsuit. Henley did not respond to a request for comment.

The lawsuit also alleges that teachers saw signs something might be amiss but did nothing. Gobble disclosed to one teacher that his marriage had dissolved because his wife was “jealous” of the boy, and the boy’s fourth-grade teacher had observed Gobble’s “obsessive” and “overly friendly” behavior toward the child, the lawsuit states. One teacher noticed Gobble always seemed to have his hands on the child and sometimes took the boy out of class to give him money, the lawsuit says.

Although the teacher was uncomfortable with Gobble’s actions, she took no action to protect the child from his abuse, according to the lawsuit. The teacher sometimes allowed Gobble to spend time in her classroom with students, even letting the janitor bring children to the custodian’s office with him, the lawsuit says.

Another Russell County teacher also noticed Gobble’s suspicious behavior toward the boy one summer day in 2013 when visiting her classroom to prepare for the upcoming school year. The room was dark when the teacher entered, but after about 10 minutes she noticed Gobble and the boy hiding behind several stacked boxes.

Guynn, the attorney for the school board and school employees, said his clients cannot be held liable for Gobble’s crimes when everything they observed about his interactions with the boys was legal.

Defendant Involved in Fatal Hazing of Michael Deng Pleads Guilty

The Pi Delta Psi brothers present the night our client lost his life in a violent fraternity hazing ritual face a range of criminal charges including assault, hindering apprehension, and hazing.

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Deng was killed during a trip with the Baruch College chapter of the Pi Delta Psi fraternity.

School Violence Law represents the family of Michael Deng in its pursuit of civil justice in his behalf.

As reported previously, 37 members of an Asian-American cultural fraternity – Pi Delta Psi at Baruch College in Manhattan – were arrested December 2013 after Michael Deng died of head injuries sustained during a brutal hazing ritual known as “the glass ceiling.”

Ka-Wing Yuen is the first of the Pi Delta Psi defendants to stand trial. He plead guilty to charges of conspiracy to hinder apprehension by evidence tampering, and conspiracy to commit hazing Tuesday in Monroe County Court of Common Pleas in Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania. 

Yuen will be sentenced January 23 and could received several months in prison.

Five of the remaining 36 defendants face third-degree murder charges.

Click here and here to review our previous coverage on the events that transpired that fatal night.