On Tuesday, January 12, 2016, Deerfield Academy agreed to pay $500,000 to settle a sexual abuse lawsuit filed by a former Deerfield student.
The victim, who has chosen to remain anonymous, claimed that on more than one occasion after sporting events, two former coaches left him with English teacher Bryce Lambert, who allegedly sexually assaulted him. No criminal charges have been brought against the two coaches or against Bryce Lambert, who died in 2007. However, the lawsuit named the two former coaches, in addition to Deerfield Academy, as defendants.
The alleged abuse occurred during the plaintiff’s time at Deerfield between 1983 and 1985, when he was between the ages of 15 and 17, according to his attorney, Mitchell Garabedian, a lawyer who specializes in cases of sexual abuse. Garabedian filed a civil suit on behalf of his client.
According to Garabedian, “In a civil case, the plaintiff is looking for monetary damage. In a criminal case, the victim is looking to put criminal sanctions against the defendant, such as putting the defendant in jail. In both instances, victims of sexual abuse want to try to heal, and they try to use the legal system as a vehicle to heal, in order to try to gain a degree of closure.”
In 2013, after evidence of a similar incident came to light, Philip Greer, the former President of the Board of Trustees, and Head Of School Dr. Margarita Curtis released a statement acknowledging that another former faculty member, Peter Hindle, had abused former student Whit Sheppard. The statement read, “While the reported behavior occurred many years ago, we recognize that it continues to cause great pain. There is no greater violation of our values than broken trust between student and teacher.”
In a 2013 article about his experience published in The Boston Globe, Mr. Sheppard wrote, “[Dr. Curtis] displayed a clear moral authority and offered unconditional support from the start.” Dr. Curtis also flew down to Mr. Sheppard’s home, where, according to Mr. Sheppard, “she offered a sincere and heartfelt apology on behalf of the school. Her’s was the first acknowledgement I had ever received that the school bore some measure of responsibility for my troubling experience there.”
In 2013, after the current school administration was informed of the events involving Mr. Sheppard, the Academy hired an independent investigator to look into the circumstances. He confirmed Mr. Sheppard’s allegations against Hindle and also discovered that Mr. Lambert had sexually abused two students during his time at Deerfield. In June 2015, one of these students brought a civil suit against Deerfield Academy—this is the suit that Deerfield has just recently paid $500,000 to settle.
Mr. Garabedian said, “My client felt validated by the settlement amount of $500,000. He also felt that the world should know about this settlement so that institutions such as Deerfield would feel the need or the pressure to watch children, to take care of children, and to supervise children properly.” He added that “the damages to a sexual abuse victim are ongoing and everlasting.”
Mr. Garabedian also represents another former Deerfield student, Moss Krivin, who claims that he was sexually abused by Hindle. Krivin, a Deerfield student from 1979 to 1981, filed a $40 million lawsuit on Tuesday, January 26, 2016, that names Hindle and three unnamed “John Doe” defendants. Krivin is not suing the school; he is suing four individuals, including Peter Hindle, who were employees of Deerfield at the time of the incident.
The text of the suit states, “Defendant Peter Hindle engaged in explicit sexual behavior and lewd and lascivious conduct with the Plaintiff…all for the purposes of Defendant Peter Hindle’s sexual gratification.” The suit alleges that as a result of the incident, Krivin continues to suffer from “emotional distress and physical harm,” which includes thoughts of suicide, depression, sadness, anger, anxiety, sleep disorder, and panic attacks, and claims “financial expenses for medical and therapeutic care and treatment; long term lost earning capacity; as well as other damages.”
In August 2013, after Sheppard’s claim was investigated, the Northwestern District Attorney David Sullivan launched an investigation into Hindle’s actions, concluding that it was too late to pursue criminal charges against him, because the statute of limitations had expired.
Dr. Curtis stated that in order to prevent sexual abuse from occurring again on Deerfield’s campus, Deerfield has strengthened internal procedures by subjecting the employee and student handbooks “to a comprehensive review” and by establishing an Employee Code of Conduct, which outlines expectations for adult-student interactions. Employees receive annual training on the Employee Code of Conduct and annual boundary training aimed at facilitating healthy student-teacher relationships.
In addition to updating school policies on sexual harassment and misconduct, Deerfield also removed Hindle’s name from the Deerfield squash courts and changed the name of a fund and a fellowship originally named for Lambert.
Dr. Curtis also stated, “The Academy empathizes with survivors of abuse, and we seek to respond with compassion and understanding.” She added, “We believe that forthrightness and fairness is the best way to show respect for the survivors, and to improve safety for students, now and in the future.”