A former middle school pupil is suing the City of Waltham and a past high school principal, charging that the failure of officials to investigate sexual abuse complaints about a teacher-coach nearly a decade ago left the teacher free to abuse more students.
Michael Phillips Jr., now 20, said in a lawsuit filed Friday that former Waltham High School principal John Graceffa was informed of abuse accusations against a former drama teacher and assistant high school football coach on three occasions in 2002, yet failed to investigate or report the accusations to police or other authorities.
As a result, Phillips said, the late Robert Dacey sexually abused him and a friend three times in 2005, tricking them into wearing blindfolds and accepting massages that Dacey performed while dressed as a woman, wearing a wig and fake fingernails.
Dacey told Phillips and his friend that he was training masseuses on behalf of the Mafia and offered to pay each of them $50 for accepting the blindfolded massages, during which Dacey removed their clothes and fondled their genitals, according to the lawsuit.
“We both had trust in Dacey. We both looked up to him,’’ Phillips said during a news conference yesterday, adding that, “at 14, we thought $50 was a lot of money.’’
Graceffa, now dean of students at Arlington Catholic High School and a recently elected member of the Waltham School Committee, did not return messages left at his office and home.
Waltham Mayor Jeannette A. McCarthy declined to comment on Phillips’s accusations because she was not familiar with the details of his lawsuit.
“I’m not going to be able to comment on something I haven’t read,’’ she said.
Carmen L. Durso, who filed the lawsuit on behalf of Phillips in Middlesex Superior Court, compared the case to that of former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, whose alleged abuses were reported to school officials years before he was finally indicted. Legendary Penn State football coach Joe Paterno was forced to resign amid questions about why he did not do more about the accusations.
“People are reluctant to blow the whistle on someone they know,’’ said Durso. “Instead of erring on the side of protecting children, they err on the side of protecting the person they know.’’
The 2002 allegations against Dacey surfaced in 2006, when Phillips learned that Dacey, the drama teacher at the John W. McDevitt Middle School and the assistant football coach at Waltham High School, would become the drama teacher at the high school.
After learning about the move, Phillips told a friend that Dacey had lured him into the sexually abusive massages.
The friend, the lawsuit says, told his father and the friend’s father notified Waltham police.
Police investigated and, in 2006, Dacey was indicted on charges that he sexually molested three boys, including Phillips. Dacey died in 2007 while awaiting trial.
During their investigation, police discovered that another pupil had complained that he, too, had been tricked into accepting blindfolded massages by Dacey. That boy was first abused when he was in the seventh grade, the lawsuit says, and the abuse continued through his high school years, when he played for the football team.
In 2002, this victim and his mother separately informed Dan Keohane, who was then the Waltham High School head football coach, about Dacey’s abuse. Keohane, in turn, informed Graceffa, who, according to the lawsuit, replied that he would “look into it’’ and instructed Keohane to keep the victim and Dacey separated.
After additional conversations with the victim’s mother, Keohane again informed Graceffa of the abuse allegations against Dacey, according to a police report distributed yesterday by Durso. Keohane’s wife also contacted Graceffa, who apparently took no further action, the suit says.
“Had defendant Graceffa properly supervised, disciplined and discharged Dacey, [the assaults] upon the plaintiff and others at the school would not have occurred,’’ the lawsuit said.
During yesterday’s news conference, Durso credited police with unearthing the information at the core of Phillips’s lawsuit. “We would not know much of what we have here if the Waltham police had not been so careful and detailed in their investigation,’’ he said.
Under Massachusetts law, school officials are required to report child sexual abuse to the state Department of Children and Families. Durso said he did not know whether Graceffa could be criminally prosecuted.
Phillips said he decided to file his lawsuit for two primary reasons: to show persons in authority that they should report sexual abuse when they learn of it and to prevent future episodes of sexual abuse of minors.
Phillips also said he decided to take legal action against Graceffa and the City of Waltham before Graceffa won a seat on the school committee.
“I had spoken to Carmen about doing this before he was elected,’’ Phillips said.