A new lawsuit against an Oregon private school alleges administrators were warned eight times about a part-time coach and physical education teacher sexually abusing students and failed to protect them.
A former student at The Catlin Gabel School alleges officials there received at least eight warnings about former employee Deonte Huff’s sexploitation of students during the time he took advantage of her, The Oregonian reports.
Huff worked for the school from 2010 to 2013, when he was fired following his arrest for sexual abuse. He was ultimately convicted of second-degree sexual abuse and sentenced to 18 months in prison. That case was followed by an internal investigation that found “a handful of teachers groomed, intimidated, groped and had sex with their students,” according to the news site.
The report, released last year, revealed administrators were reluctant to intervene or report suspected abuse and ignored pleas from students for help. The bulk of those findings stem from the 1970s and 1980s, but the unidentified plaintiff in the new lawsuit alleges it was the same deal with her.
School officials “failed to take reasonable steps to warn or protect Plaintiff or similarly-situated children,” according to the complaint.
“Instead, Defendant Catlin School created a foreseeable risk of Huff abusing minor students, including Plaintiff.”
The victim in the lawsuit was effectively expelled from Catlin after undergoing treatment for the sexual abuse, Rolling Stone reports.
Megan Johnson, a former Washington County prosecutor who led the case against Huff, is now representing his victim in the new lawsuit.
“During my 17 years as a prosecutor handling sex abuse crimes, Catlin was by far the least cooperative regarding child abuse allegations of any youth-serving organization I ever dealt with,” she told The Oregonian.
Johnson said she was unaware of the past allegations with she prosecuted Huff, and the requested $24.5 million in damages is intended to send a message.
“After the 2019 report came out about Catlin’s internal investigation I was outraged,” she said. “With this lawsuit, we intend to prove that Catlin engaged in a clear and consistent pattern of trying to handle things quietly and internally, without involving law enforcement. That has to change – and we are hopeful the suits we are filing on behalf of victims will help encourage that change at Catlin.”
Catlin spokesman Ken DuBois refuted claims in the lawsuit that school officials were unresponsive to suspected abuse.
“In 2013, upon learning from a parent that Deonte Huff was possibly engaged in sexual misconduct with one of our students off campus, the school notified the Washington County Sheriff’s Office and promptly terminated Huff’s employment,” he said. “He was arrested the following day. Catlin fully cooperated with the subsequent criminal investigation and prosecution (he was convicted and sentenced).”
Johnson is working with Peter Janci, a Portland attorney, who pointed to the email sent to parents after Huff’s arrest as evidence the school has been less than forthcoming with parents about the situation.
That 2013 email read:
In the spirit of transparency and open dialogue, I am writing with troubling news. Today (Wednesday) the Washington County Sheriff’s Department arrested and charged Deonte Huff, a part-time coach at Catlin, for alleged misconduct with a student. When we learned of the allegations yesterday (Tuesday), we filed a report alerting authorities and terminated Deonte’s employment immediately.
Janci contends the message was more than misleading.
“The email to parents gives the impression that Catlin acted immediately upon learning of any concerning information about Huff – and we intend to prove that was not the case,” he said.