School district pays $2.2M to settle suit by parent of sex-assault victim

Lawsuit argued the district failed to handle reports of predatory behavior by a teacher

Posted 7/2/18

The Douglas County School District paid $2.2 million to settle a federal lawsuit filed in 2014 by the parents of a sexual-assault victim, a copy of the agreement released to Colorado Community Media …

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School district pays $2.2M to settle suit by parent of sex-assault victim

Lawsuit argued the district failed to handle reports of predatory behavior by a teacher

Posted

The Douglas County School District paid $2.2 million to settle a federal lawsuit filed in 2014 by the parents of a sexual-assault victim, a copy of the agreement released to Colorado Community Media shows.

The parents filed a lawsuit against the school district, former Rocky Heights Middle School principal Patricia Dierberger and former RHMS assistant principal James McMurphy for allegedly ignoring reports of predatory behavior toward the victim by a former teacher. Richard Johnson is now serving a 20-year prison sentence for two counts of sexual exploitation of a child.

The suit states parents and students made reports of disturbing interactions between the then eighth-grade student and Johnson several times during the 2010-11 academic year and the following summer.

The filing describes “specific, detailed and repeated reports” given to Dierberger, McMurphy and at least one other administrator, “including pleas by some parents to investigate Mr. Johnson’s behavior with (the victim).”

Dierberger and McMurphy later admitted to a Douglas County Sheriff’s Office detective they did not conduct an investigation.

Johnson left the Douglas County School District in March 2012 after serving as both an eighth-grade teacher at Rocky Heights Middle and as a basketball coach at Rock Canyon High.

He was arrested in connection with the sexual assaults in November 2012, after the victim and her parents reported him to the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office.

The federal lawsuit filed by the parents of the victim alleged the former administrators and others did not follow mandatory reporting obligations outlined by the state, and failed to protect the then 13-year-old victim. It also alleged that prior to August 2012, DCSD failed to instruct and train its employees in the proper way to handle reports of sexual misconduct.

The school district signed the confidential settlement agreement on May 23, 2016. According to the Denver Post, Wendy Jacobs, the incoming acting general counsel for the school district, says the settlement was covered by the district’s insurance policy and the district only had to pay the deductible.

As part of the settlement, the victim, her parents and their lawyers agreed to keep the terms of the agreement confidential. There is no language in the settlement that requires the school district to keep the information confidential. Upon request, a copy of the agreement was provided to Colorado Community Media by email from a spokeswoman at the district.

In the settlement agreement, the school district did not admit any wrongdoing. “In addition, the Defendants specifically deny all allegations made about them in the Lawsuit,” the settlement says.

If asked about the settlement or confidentiality agreement, the parents and their lawyers are required to say, “This matter has been resolved.”

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