Bailey Glasser Files Negligence Suit Against Hancock County Board of Education and Administrator
Bailey & Glasser, LLP and Carey & Stewart, PLLC recently filed a lawsuit against the Hancock County West Virginia Board of Education and then-Oak Glen Middle School Assistant Principal David Smith claiming they had a duty to protect their client, a woman sexually abused 12 years ago by her teacher, and that they failed to do so.
Admitted pedophile Ronald Paul Harris is serving a 10-to-20 year prison sentence in West Virginia’s Mount Olive Correctional Complex after pleading guilty in 2022 to one count of sexual abuse by a person in a position of trust.
Harris, 63, initially was charged with six felonies — second degree sexual assault, two counts of first degree sexual abuse and three counts of sexual abuse by a person in a position of trust. Investigators told a magistrate in 2021 that during their initial interview with Harris, he’d admitted to molesting the child.
As part of his 2022 plea deal, Harris must register as a sex offender for the rest of his life.
His now 27-year-old victim, who is not being named to protect her identity, came forward “to attempt to do what’s right (and) to share what happened to her because it might help some other person,” said attorney Mary Pat Statler, a partner at Bailey & Glasser and an Oak Glen graduate herself. “Everyone has their own time and their own way of doing things.”
The complaint, which seeks unspecified monetary damages, was filed March 15 in Hancock County Circuit Court by Statler and co-counsel P. Zachary Stewart of the Weirton firm of Carey & Stewart.
In it, the victim alleges Harris began “grooming” her when she was in his eighth grade West Virginia history class at Oak Glen Middle School. She claims he gave her his cell phone number and requested she give him hers, then began texting her, and during her freshman year arranged for her to be his classroom helper after school. Not long after she began going to his classroom after school, he “began to express his romantic love and sexual feelings” for her and told her he was saving money so they could elope when she turned 18, she said.
“Shortly after (she) began visiting defendant Harris on OGMS property during her ninth-grade year Harris began sexually abusing her,” the 19-page complaint alleges. “Defendant Harris would take (her) into the storage closet of the media room, which was connected to his regular classroom by an interior door, and request that (she) remove her shirt and proceeded to remove his own shirt.”
The lawsuit suggests the victim was sexually abused on at least 10 occasions.
The lawsuit contends Smith turned a blind eye to Harris’ proclivities despite catching him alone with the girl in a locked classroom when he did his routine room checks at the end of the school day.
According to the complaint, Smith on at least one occasion encountered the locked door while Harris was inside molesting the victim and said the assistant principal “simply ceased trying (to get in) and began walking away.”
His victim claims Harris abruptly exited the classroom with her in tow and “nervously” called for the principal, who returned for a brief conversation.
“… Harris was profusely sweating, visibly and audibly nervous and outwardly anxious, yet defendant Smith did not address either the locked door situation … or his extremely odd, guilty behavior,” the complaint states.
The lawsuit also states Harris kept a “Top 10 List” of the most attractive middle school students and suggests it was “common knowledge” he was twice caught masturbating in school–once in his classroom and once in the restroom during basketball practice.
“Neither the board nor OGMS administrators kept a close eye on (Harris) or adequately supervised the students under his care, including (the victim),” it stated. “At no time did the board or any employee of the board raise concerns regarding (Harris’) closed door, one-on-one continual meetings with (her) in general and, given the classroom setup–that (it) included connection to a media room through an interior door.”
It states the girl struggled in school and at home, “feeling isolated, ashamed and constantly worried/anxious” throughout her high school years, and feared for other young family members who might land in Harris’ class when they reached middle school. She also said she has difficulty returning to Hancock County, even to visit her family, finding it “emotionally overwhelming.”
The lawsuit contends the board and its employees did nothing to prevent the abuse and actually “facilitated” it by allowing her to go to his classroom alone after school.
It also pointed out his marriage to a former student should have “put them on notice of his character and moral turpitude.”
The victim is seeking damages from the board of education and Smith or negligent supervision, negligent retention, negligent training from the board of education and Smith; and for assault and battery, sexual assault/sexual abuse and intentional infliction of emotional distress against Harris.
It also alleges all three defendants violated the West Virginia Human Rights Act and caused a loss of “filial consortium” for the girl’s parents, who, the complaint states, “witnessed and experienced daily the effects of the trauma sustained by their young-teen daughter despite not knowing the source of the trauma until years later.”
Thomas E. Buck of the Wheeling law firm Bailey & Wyant, who is representing the school district, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Smith, now principal at Oak Glen High School, was not available Friday and office personnel did not know if he had retained counsel on his own.
Statler said she and Stewart “believe the school system failed (their client) as a whole.”
“Obviously the acts are terrible,” Stewart said. “But there are also failures here by the Hancock County school system and the personnel who failed to protect her.”
Statler said parents send their children to school expecting them to be safe, and “that didn’t happen here.”
“She’s a tough young woman, but certainly this has shaped her entire life,” Statler said. “She went through a trauma no child should ever go through — she struggles daily, just fighting to overcome everything.”
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