Metro

Assault victims demand outside review at St. George’s School

Angry and tearful survivors of sexual assaults at St. George’s School called on the school Tuesday to scrap its own investigation and hire an independent investigator to fully unearth the extent of abuse at the prep school, much of it in the 1970s and ’80s.

Their comments came at a packed press conference called by attorneys Eric MacLeish and Carmen Durso, who say they have been contacted by more than 40 former students with stories ranging from molestation to rape at the oceanfront Episcopalian school in Middletown, R.I.

The attorneys revealed the names of two alleged staff perpetrators of the abuse; in an earlier report by St. George’s, the men had been identified only by number.

Advertisement

“Employee Perpetrator #2” was identified by Durso as the Rev. Howard W. White Jr. The school’s report said this perpetrator was fired in 1974 after a parent reported “inappropriate conduct” with a male student. St. George’s recent investigation revealed such conduct with at least three students, and said his name has been given to Rhode Island State Police.

Get Metro Headlines in your inbox:
The 10 top local news stories from metro Boston and around New England delivered daily.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

Durso released a letter Tuesday from former headmaster Tony Zane to White, written on Sept. 19, 1974, indicating that the school gave White some money that he requested and paid his moving expenses.

Zane also wrote that White should seek psychiatric help and not work in a boarding school. “Please do not return to St. George’s until one generation has gone through, that is, not for another five years,” he wrote.

Reached by the Globe on Tuesday, White said “I have no response whatsoever,” before hanging up.

He is now on the “supply team,” or a substitute minister, at St. James Church in Bedford, Pa., and according to his online bio, spent decades working at other schools after leaving St. George’s.

Advertisement

Also identified at the press conference, as planned, was the person known as “Employee Perpetrator #3,” fired in 1988 for sexual misconduct with students. Lawyers said he was Franklin Coleman, the former choir director.

“He was not reported to police or child protective services,” MacLeish said.

Coleman went on to work as a music teacher at Tampa Preparatory School in Florida from 1997 to 2008. Kevin Plummer, the current headmaster at the Florida school, said in an e-mail Tuesday that he is unaware of any student complaints about Coleman.

The Globe could not reach Coleman, 74, who lives in the Newark area. Coleman’s alleged victims, as well as others, are cooperating with Rhode Island State Police, the attorneys said.

Three victims attending the press conference gripped one another’s hands at times as they detailed what happened to them at St. George’s.

Advertisement

One of them, Harry Groome, who says he was raped by another student in 1978, called for the current headmaster, Eric Peterson, to be fired or to resign. Groome said that he revealed his assault, carried out with a broomstick in front of at least five other boys, in a 2002 letter to a former headmaster and 10 years later to Peterson. Neither, he said, did anything.

“Peterson, instead of reporting this to the police or advising me on what I could do, gave me a school handbook,” said Groome, who lives in Arlington. “I want the school to be a place to be proud of. But it cannot thrive until it flushes out the bad. . . . It can still be a great place tomorrow, if Eric Peterson goes today.”

In a statement to the Globe after the conference, Peterson apologized for “the harm done to alumni by former employees and former students,” and for the fact “that the way in which the school addressed these incidents has served to compound this harm.”

The school’s own investigation of sexual misconduct has come under fire by victims and the attorneys, who argue that because investigator Will Hannum is the law partner of the school’s attorney, he is not independent, as the school has claimed. The school released its report on its investigation on Dec. 23. It described six staff and three student perpetrators, but identified only one by name, at the request of law enforcement officials.

That perpetrator was former trainer Al Gibbs, who died in 1996. Two of his victims, Anne Scott and Katie Wales, spoke at the press conference. Scott said she and other survivors want to have a “reconciliation process” on campus, but both women said it would be difficult to return as long as former headmaster Zane’s name remains on a girls’ dorm. It was Zane who oversaw the school during the period of their abuse, and who eventually fired Gibbs, but without reporting him to authorities.

The school’s report had acknowledged that it had failed to report Employee Perpetrator #3 to the state “on the advice of then legal counsel.” The attorney advising St. George’s at the time was identified by the school this week as William P. Robinson III, who in 2004 was named to the Rhode Island Supreme Court.

Justice Robinson would not speak to the Globe on the matter, but in a statement released by his law clerk Tuesday said: “In the 1980s, while engaged in the private practice of law, I represented St. George’s School in certain litigation in the federal court, which has recently become the subject of interest in the media. I represented the client as an attorney must — zealously, ethically and to the best of my ability. I do not believe that further comment is necessary or appropriate.”

Bella English can be reached at english@globe.com.