40 tell of sex abuse by students, staff at R.I. prep school
Two attorneys representing victims in the burgeoning sex abuse scandal at St. George’s School say that more than 40 people have contacted them with stories ranging from molestation to rape by staff and students at the Episcopalian prep school in Middletown, R.I., most of it in the 1970s and ’80s.
Some of those victims and the attorneys will hold a press conference Tuesday criticizing the school’s own investigation, detailed in a report last month, which identified 26 victims of sexual abuse at the prestigious school. The critics are also expected to call on the school to hire an independent agency or law firm to look into what happened to students on the hilltop campus overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.
“Their report was just damage control,” said Hawk Cramer, a school principal in Seattle, who said he was molested by a St. George’s faculty member when he was a student there from 1981 to 1985.
Attorneys Eric MacLeish and Carmen Durso say that while most of the people who have come forth were abused by St. George’s staffers, the attorneys have also have heard from two male and one female alumni who report being raped by fellow students. All three “can name alleged perpetrators, and two can name witnesses,” said MacLeish.
Rhode Island State Police detective commander Joseph Philbin said that “a very active, ongoing investigation” began several weeks ago, though he would not comment on specific cases. Rhode Island is one of the few states that have no statute of limitations for rape.
St. George’s own investigation was handled by Will Hannum, whose law partner is St. George’s legal counsel. The victims and their attorneys question his independence.
The school’s December report acknowledged a list of abusers at the school in years past, including six staffers and three students, but at the request of law enforcement officials identified all but one only by number, not name.
However, MacLeish and Durso said they plan Tuesday to publicly identify “Employee Perpetrator #3” in the school’s report as Franklin Coleman, the former choir director at St. George’s who was fired in 1988 for misconduct. According to the school, that perpetrator engaged in nude encounters with students, touching them sexually, showing them pornography, and giving them alcohol.
After leaving St. George’s, Coleman served as choral director at Tampa Preparatory School in Florida from 1997 to 2008, according to his LinkedIn page, which was recently deactivated. Officials at the Tampa school did not respond this week to requests to discuss Coleman’s time there.
Attempts to reach Coleman were not successful.
But three former students told the Globe about abuse at St. George’s by Coleman, their dorm master. They said that Coleman would “groom” them by rubbing their shoulders to “relieve stress,” and then invite them to his apartment, which was attached to the dorm.
On Saturday nights, they said, Coleman would invite a select group — mostly blond boys — into his apartment, feeding them snacks, showing movies, and playing classical music and jazz. Coleman called his group the “Culture Vultures.”
Coleman sent them love notes and showered them with gifts like Walkmans and Brooks Brothers shirts and ties, and would give them full-body naked massages, the men told the Globe. They said he also took them to Boston or New York on choral trips, usually three boys and one room with two beds, so that one boy had to sleep with him.
Hawk Cramer was one of those boys. His grades were mediocre, but Coleman, he said, told him he could help get him into a music school and offered to take him on a college tour.
“I felt dependent on him, and he had the full trust of my mother, who thought this wonderful man was looking out for me,” said Cramer, whose father died the summer after his sophomore year.
They went to Indiana, Oberlin College, and the University of Illinois, staying in motel rooms. “I would wake up with his arms around me,” said Cramer. Asleep in the front seat of the car, he once awoke to Coleman fondling him, he said.
After graduating, Cramer went to Boston University. He has had problems with intimacy, he said, and was married and divorced, but is now happily remarried, has four daughters, and is the principal of a school.
He said his interest in finding out what happened to Coleman increased a few years ago, after he fired a school staffer for inappropriate behavior. He tracked Coleman down, finding him at Tampa Prep.
“I called him at the school and confronted him directly,” Cramer said. “I told him what he did was a terrible thing and I was still trying to get over it. I told him that he could not be teaching, he could not be with kids. I told him I was going to call the headmaster and St. George’s.”
Coleman replied that he was “sorry I felt this way,” said Cramer. Cramer followed through by calling Tampa Prep, he said, and then calledEric Peterson, then in his first year as headmaster at St. George’s.
“I told him the whole story. . . . I told him that he’s down there working with kids and needed to be stopped.” Peterson, he said, thanked him, apologized, and said he would follow up.
“At that point, I felt I had done what I needed to do,” said Cramer. “But I just found out that Coleman didn’t retire from Tampa until 2008. So how many other kids suffered?”
On Monday, a public relations spokesman retained by the school said: “Franklin Coleman left St. George’s eighteen years before Eric Peterson arrived as head of school. At no time did Eric Peterson recommend Coleman for a job at Tampa Prep or elsewhere.”
Although Cramer is the only former St. George’s student to speak publicly about Coleman, another student from St. George’s told the Globe about Coleman showing pornographic movies. On one trip to Boston his sophomore year, he said, Coleman fondled him in bed.
“I couldn’t get away from him,” said the man, a 45-year-old attorney who doesn’t want to be identified, because, he said, “Coleman tarnished me, but my wife and I don’t want him to tarnish our son.”
He said that at the time, he and another student spoke to the school psychiatrist about Coleman, who was then fired by headmaster George Andrews, an Episcopalian chaplain. But Andrews did not report Coleman to child protective services, according to the school’s own recent report, on advice of legal counsel — a violation of state-mandated reporting laws.
The Rev. Andrews, who runs a chaplaincy search firm in Hobe Sound, Fla., could not be reached for comment.
The victim, whose mother said the family always wondered why their son grew depressed during his time at St. George’s, said he is now a recovering alcoholic who has been sober nine years.
Since reports about abuse at St. George’s have come to light, Coleman, 74, who lives in Newark, N.J., has taken down his profiles on LinkedIn and CouchSurfing, a site where travelers can find a free bed.