PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — A staffer at a public school that’s the subject of a $3.5 million federal lawsuit alleging pervasive sexual misconduct has been charged with assaulting a 13-year-old student after she reported that he smacked her in the buttocks.
A police report obtained by The Associated Press and court records show that David Morton was arrested in October and charged with misdemeanor simple assault for the April 7 encounter at the Pawtucket Learning Academy. He pleaded not guilty in November, and the case is scheduled for another hearing Jan. 3. The charge has not previously been reported.
The same girl sued the school district in August for $3.5 million. The lawsuit alleges that officials knew sexual harassment and molestations were pervasive at the school and that her civil rights were violated under Title IX, the federal law that prohibits sex-based discrimination in federally funded programs.
The girl was raped in 2016 by an 18-year-old student in a school bathroom. The older student was convicted and sentenced to 10 years in prison.
The police report says Morton was on paid leave in April, but his job status wasn’t clear Tuesday. His lawyer and city and school representatives didn’t immediately return messages seeking comment. A man who answered the phone at a listing for Morton said he was unaware of the charge and hung up.
The girl’s lawyer, George Hovarth, told the AP on Tuesday that he believed more serious charges were warranted, given the nature of the touching. He said his client was in a hallway at school and being carried on the back of another female student when Morton came along and told her to get off.
“He came by and he slapped her in the butt. He grabbed her and said get off. She freaked out,” Hovarth said. “You can’t have schoolteachers grabbing school children in their privates, or touching them in their private areas.”
Hovarth said his client reported the incident soon after it happened in April and did not learn that Morton had been charged until December, when she was served with a witness subpoena. He said he believes the city is trying to minimize the charge due to the pending lawsuit.
“It is to their benefit if they can sweep it under the rug,” he said.