Man at the center of the Phoebe Prince bullying case is now accused of rape
The man who nine years ago egged on the “mean girls” who bullied 15-year-old South Hadley High School student Phoebe Prince until she killed herself is facing allegations of rape leveled by a student at Mount Holyoke College, where he worked as a bartender.
Sean Mulveyhill, 26, has been placed on administrative leave by the college. In an e-mailed statement to parents of undergraduates that did not name Mulveyhill, the college said it is “working in partnership with both local law enforcement and campus police as they investigate this reported assault.”
Meanwhile, some of those parents, including the alleged victim’s, ask with incredulity how Mulveyhill was able to land a job at an all-women’s school — much less a school in the same small town where Prince lived and died.
In 2011, when he was 18, Mulveyhill pleaded guilty to criminal harassment of Prince and was sentenced to a year of probation. Prosecutors, who described him as the chief instigator of the bullying campaign directed at Prince, dropped charges of statutory rape and a civil rights violation in exchange for his guilty plea.
The death of Prince, and the failure of adults at South Hadley High School to protect her, touched off an international debate about bullying and the extent that young people should be held accountable when harassment leads to the suicide of another person. It also led to the creation of antibullying laws in Massachusetts.
The sentence of probation, in effect, gave Mulveyhill a second chance, but he wasn’t done with getting in trouble, or with second chances. In 2013, when he was 20, he was placed on probation for another year after being charged with breaking and entering into a South Hadley home, court records show.
The current allegations against Mulveyhill were made by a 21-year-old junior at the college who told police Mulveyhill assaulted her in his home, about 2 miles from the campus, on Feb. 24, after she had given him a ride.
In an affidavit filed in Eastern Hampshire District Court in Belchertown, the alleged victim wrote, “Sean Mulveyhill raped me.”
On March 4, police served Mulveyhill with a protection order intended to prevent him from having any contact with or harassing the alleged victim. On Friday, during a hearing in the court, that protection order was extended by Judge Robert Santaniello for another 10 days.
Approached in the courthouse after the hearing, Mulveyhill’s attorney, Michelle Cruz, said that neither she nor her client would comment. During the hearing, Cruz told Santaniello that “the nature of the allegation is very serious,” and that she was in the process of securing an interview with a witness whose testimony could be crucial to the defense.
The alleged victim, who was accompanied at the hearing by her father, other relatives, friends, and advocates for sexual assault victims, and the family’s attorney, Vince DeMore, declined to comment, as did her family.
But Sandra Kuhl, a friend of the family who attended the hearing, said the family wants to know why and how Mulveyhill was hired by the college, given his past.
“They are very upset, and have a lot of questions,” Kuhl said.
The Globe generally does not identify alleged victims of sexual assault without their permission.
Mulveyhill’s hiring and the allegations now facing him have become a hot topic on a Facebook page for parents and families of Mount Holyoke students, with some parents expressing shock that he was hired to work at the campus bar, putting him in a position to socialize with students.
Mount Holyoke has a policy that forbids employees from having a romantic or sexual relationship with a student, even if it is consensual.
Asked why the college would hire someone with Mulveyhill’s past to a job involving direct interaction with students, Charles L. Greene II, a college spokesman, issued a statement saying, that “given the pending investigations” he could speak only generally about college policies and practices and not about “specifics concerning any individual, whether a student or an employee.”
Greene added, “The College provides students, faculty, and staff with training and resources on healthy and appropriate conduct.”
While the college declined to say when it hired Mulveyhill, a campus staff newsletter from March 2018 lists him as a new hire in the dining services department.
Asked if the college was aware of Mulveyhill’s past before it hired him, Greene said, “We perform reference and/or background checks and the College is in the process of reviewing those specific policies and procedures.”
He also said all employees are required to complete training in Title IX, the federal law that outlaws sexual harassment and sexual assault on campus.
Wendy Murphy, an adjunct professor of sexual violence law at New England School of Law, said that under Title IX, colleges and universities have an “affirmative duty” to prevent the hiring of someone with a past like Mulveyhill’s with a thorough background check.
“This guy wasn’t working for a hardware store,” she said. “He was hired at a women’s college. You would expect them not to hire someone who has a [breaking and entering] on his record and demonstrated the behaviors he did in the bullying case.”
South Hadley Police Chief Jennifer Gundersen said she “will not confirm or deny the status of an investigation.”
The office of Northwestern District Attorney David Sullivan declined to comment.
In the Phoebe Prince case, prosecutors said the girl, a freshman and a newcomer to town, was targeted after briefly dating Mulveyhill, a senior and captain of the high school football team, who had another steady girlfriend.
Prosecutors said that, in an attempt to deflect attention away from his own actions, Mulveyhill went to great lengths to encourage other girls to bully Prince. On the day Prince killed herself, Mulveyhill urged another girl, Ashley Longe, to pick a fight with Prince. As Prince was walking home from school, Longe hurled a soda can and insults at her from a passing car. It was the final insult. Prince walked into her home and hanged herself with a scarf her younger sister had given her for Christmas.
Anne O’Brien, Prince’s mother, described Mulveyhill as a predator in her victim impact statement in 2011. Phoebe Prince’s final text messages cited Mulveyhill’s complicity in her bullying.
“Her final text messages were about Sean and the girls that tormented her,” O’Brien said. “She wrote, ‘I think Sean condoning this is one of the final nails in my coffin. I can’t take much more, and it would be easier if he or any one of them handed me a noose.’ ”
O’Brien later noted that while some of the girls who bullied her daughter apologized for their behavior and showed remorse, Mulveyhill did not.
The message from Mount Holyoke officials to parents and family members sought to offer reassurance about how seriously the institution is taking the allegations.
“The College recently received a report of an alleged sexual assault by a Mount Holyoke College staff member against a Mount Holyoke student,” dean of students Marcella Runell Hall wrote. “As a parent myself, I know that you have entrusted Mount Holyoke College with your child’s well-being, and I want to assure you that we take that charge — and these allegations — very seriously. The College is working in partnership with local law enforcement and campus police as they investigate this reported assault, and we have initiated an independent Title IX investigation.”
A Title IX investigation would weigh whether the alleged conduct by an employee violated federal rules that treat sexual harassment, rape, and sexual assault as forms of discrimination on the basis of sex.