The attorney for the Riverhead High School student whose accusations of sexual abuse led to disciplinary action against high school principal Charles Regan has filed a federal lawsuit against the school district, Regan, current and past administrators and current and past trustees.
Anastasia Stapon, a high school senior, accused Regan of grooming her for a sexual relationship over a period of a few months, then engaging in explicit sexting with her for a month before forcibly kissing her in his office at the high school on April 29. (See prior story.)
In response, the district administratively reassigned Regan, with pay, pending an investigation into the student’s allegations. The district subsequently brought disciplinary charges against Regan in June. To date, the district has not announced any resolution of those charges, which, if not settled, would be determined by an impartial hearing officer.
The 40-page complaint, which was filed Thursday in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, alleges sexual assault, sexual battery, sexual harassment, statutory sex discrimination and civil rights violations, as well as intentional infliction of emotional distress, breach of fiduciary duties, professional counseling and psychological malfeasance, negligent supervision, fraud and negligent hiring and retention.
The suit seeks damages, punitive damages and attorney’s fees for each of 14 stated causes of action, though it does not specify claim amounts, leaving the determination of the amounts to the trier of fact.
Stapon’s attorney John Ray of Miller Place, said in a phone interview today he anticipates the claims together would amount to $20 million dollars. He filed a $10 million notice of claim on behalf of Stapon in May.
Stapon’s lawsuit claims Regan “knowingly, willfully misused his position, authority and powers in order to sexually harass, sexually seduce, assault, batter, and sexually abuse” the student, who, according to the complaint, was suffering deep depression and had become dependent on alcohol and marijuana. Regan, the suit says, is a sexual predator who took advantage of her vulnerability.
The complaint alleges that Regan had “sexually preyed upon young girl students under his charge” when he was previously employed as a teacher in South Manor schools and Eastport/South Manor schools, as well as “when he was employed as a teacher and “dean” at BOCES.
Ray said this afternoon he is filing a lawsuit again Eastport-South Manor School District as well.
Stapon’s lawsuit accuses district officials of “complicity and collusion” as Regan “sexually groomed” Stapon, having her spend hours in his office with the door closed and windows covered.
The complaint paints a picture of a man in a position of authority over a vulnerable female student who uses his position to pursue sexual gratification through at least 12,000 sexually explicit or sexually charged text messages and Facetime calls during a one-month period culminating on April 29, when Regan forcibly kissed her on the mouth. The principal made the calls and sent and received the texts on a district-issued cell phone as well as on a personal cell phone partially funded by the district, according to the complaint. He also sent sexually explicit photos of himself to Stapon, the complaint says, as well as “sexually-charged videos”
According to the complaint, Regan isolated Stapon from family, friends, her counselor and teachers in order to have her rely rely solely on him and become dependent on him and attached to him. He shielded her from discipline for using marijuana and alcohol at school, the complaint says. He altered her attendance record to cover up for missed classes and did her homework for her, according to the complaint. In these ways, the complaint says, Regan persuaded Stapon to have a physical and emotional attachment to him, making her vulnerable to his sexual advances.
Stapon was also fearful of physical violence by Regan, the complaint says, because he texted violent threats and death threats against students whom he perceived to have romantic interest in Stapon.
After becoming physical with Stapon in his office on April 29, according to the complaint, he sought to have her destroy evidence of his behavior, directing her and assisting her in deleting text messages and photos from her cell phone and pressuring her to lie to authorities.
On April 29, Stapon told a friend what had happened in the principal’s office and the friend informed a school official, who reported the incident. The student’s parents were notified and the district administratively reassigned Regan to his home on April 30.
District officials say they have strictly followed protocol for handling these allegations as soon as they learned of them, filing reports with police and state education officials as required.
They have faced criticism for not suspending Regan without pay during the pendency of the investigation and disciplinary proceedings. That decision was based on advice of legal counsel, they said.
The school district’s attorney Christopher Venator said at a public meeting in May that state education law requires the district to continue to pay Regan, a tenured employee administratively reassigned to home pending investigation and in consideration of charges. He said there are times when a tenured employee may be suspended without pay, but that was not the case with Regan, since he has not been convicted of any crime.
“Riverhead school district is required to pay Mr. Regan during the investigation and during the pendency of these charges. We don’t have any discretion in that. That’s firmly established in Section 3028 of the New York State Education Law,” Venator said.
Riverhead Town Police have not brought any charges against Regan. Stapon, though a high school student in his charge, had already turned 18 when the alleged abuse occurred.
The district hired a second law firm to conduct an independent investigation of the matter. Officials have not made any statements regarding the results of that investigation, or whether it remains ongoing.
District officials could not immediately be reached for comment today.
In addition to the district, Regan, Superintendent Aurelia Henriquez and board members Susan Koukounas, Christopher Dorr, Laurie Downs, Gregory Meyer, Elizabeth Silva, Therese Zuhoski and Brian Connelly, the complaint names as defendants past superintendents Nancy Carney and Paul Doyle, past assistant superintendent Joseph Ogeka, former principal James McCaffrey and past board members Lori Hulse, Nancy Gassert, Kathleen Berezny, Brian Stark, Mary-Ellen Harkin, Timothy Griffing, Christine Prete and Angela DeVito.
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