NY DA: Too late to prosecute school abuse case
NEW YORK (AP) — A systemic pattern of suspected sexual abuse existed at an elite New York City prep school from the 1970s until the mid-1990s, but the statute of limitations to prosecute them has expired, prosecutors said Friday.
The Bronx district attorney's office and the New York Police Department launched an investigation into allegations of abuse at The Horace Mann School after a New York Times Magazine article last summer that said the academy was plagued by teachers who sexually abused children in the 1970s.
A hotline was set up for victims, and more than 30 calls came in mostly in the first few months after the June report, prosecutors. More than 60 interviews were done, with investigators traveling to California, Colorado and Vermont to speak to people about allegations of abuse. During their 10-month investigation, they identified more than 25 victims and more than 12 suspected abusers.
Horace Mann is one of New York City's most prestigious private schools — and one of the most expensive, with an annual tuition of $39,100. Its alumni include media mogul Samuel Newhouse, O.J. Simpson lawyer Barry Scheck and Food Network chef Alex Guarnaschelli.
The Times article was written by Amos Kamil, a 1982 Horace Mann graduate. In it, former students — mostly identified only by letters in their names — accused at least three now-deceased teachers of repeatedly molesting them and other pupils. They described an atmosphere at the tony school where the social lines between teachers and students were routinely blurred and then taken advantage of by pedophiles.
Some former students spoke out publicly after the article. Part of the article is Kamil's personal recollections of his time at Horace Mann. He doesn't claim to have been abused himself but describes questionable interactions with some teachers, including being taken out for a drunken evening by a pair of faculty members at age 17 and being subjected to "long, creepy touches" by a swimming coach.
Attorney Gloria Allred said she represents 25 former students — three women and 22 men — who allege they were abused. She previously said most of the former students have reached settlements with the school. She said Friday that no civil lawsuits are pending.
"The District Attorney's conclusions, once again confirm to us, that we were correct in urging Horace Mann to conduct an immediate, independent and transparent investigation into what is clearly the worst case of child abuse in an American school in recent history," she said in a statement. "Now more than ever, the school must take immediate action to get to the truth and release it in a public report. To date, as far as we know, the Horace Mann Board of Trustees has not yet made a decision to approve an independent investigation."
School officials didn't immediately return a call for comment on Friday. Following the article, the board of directors at the school said the New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children would review the school's policies, provide training for faculty and staff, and develop prevention programs for students.
Bronx prosecutors said school officials also changed their policy on reporting child abuse by school employees to highlight the importance of immediate notification to law enforcement.
Prosecutors said Friday that they found a pattern of abuse that went even further than what was alleged in the article. They said they found instances of abuse from the 1970s up until 1996:
"The reported abuse ranges from what may be characterized as inappropriate behavior to child endangerment, actual instances of sexual contact, sexual intercourse and criminal sexual acts."
But to date, all the instances of reported sexual abuse occurring between 1962 and 1996 are beyond the state's statute of limitations, which for all felonies is five years and for misdemeanors is two years. The statute of limitations for child sex crimes is more forgiving but has still passed, prosecutors said. The district attorney's office says laws forcing private school workers to report cases of sexual abuse to authorities must be changed.
"We remain available to provide the services which our crime victim's assistance unit offers. We also remain available to continue to receive information from victims of sexual abuse at Horace Mann, as well as from all victims of sexual abuse," the office of Bronx District Attorney Robert Johnson said.
Associated Press Writer Karen Matthews contributed to this report.