Bridgeport school board settles sex assault claim

By Daniel Tepfer
Published 9:32 am, Wednesday, October 4, 2017

BRIDGEPORT - The Board of Education has agreed to pay up to $600,000 to the mother of a mentally disabled student who was sexually assaulted by another student in a bathroom at Harding High School, while half a dozen other students cheered the assailant on.

The amount appears to be enough because in exchange the mother agreed to withdraw her lawsuit against the school board in Superior Court. The woman's lawyer, Antonio Ponvert III, declined comment.

School board member Dennis Bradley said board members watched a video of the students in the school hallway following the assault which he described as being disturbing.

"It's an unfortunate set of circumstances that led us to this point," said Bradley. "Our hearts go out to the victim and his family. As a school district we are working every day to ensure that our schools are safe."

On Aug. 31, 2013, police were dispatched to Bridgeport Hospital. There, officers met with the victim's mother, who said her 14-year-old, mentally disabled son had been sexually assaulted in a cafeteria bathroom at Harding the previous day, according to police.

The lawsuit states that the victim was on his way to lunch with the rest of the special education class when he was allowed to enter the bathroom unattended and unsupervised. Other students, including then 19-year-old Patrick Nolan, entered the bathroom and while laughed and encouraged and recorded, Nolan sexually assaulted the victim, according to police and the lawsuit.

The victim was left crying and bleeding on the bathroom floor as the other students ran outside of the bathroom laughing and viewing the video of the incident, police said.

Even though the victim later told police he told two teachers about the attack, the boy's mother didn't learn about it until her older son heard that a video of the attack was circulating through the school, the suit states.

Police said they reviewed a video of the hallway and saw the victim enter a bathroom along with Nolan and five other students. Police said the video shows another student standing outside the bathroom, apparently acting as a lookout.

Nolan was charged with first-degree sexual assault, risk of injury to a child and third-degree abuse but the charges were later dropped after he suffered a brain aneurism and was unable to assist in his defense. No other students were arrested.

The victim's mother sued the school board, the two special education teachers, Judith Rutter and Ruta Leonard and paraprofessionals Ellyn Sitten, Renu Zammarieh and Marisol Baez.

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