Former student sues St. Paul’s alleging abuse by English teacher

  • St. Paul's School in Concord, Monday, May 22, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz

Monitor staff
Published: 2/18/2020 5:46:22 PM

A former St. Paul’s School student who says he was sexually abused by his English teacher in an on-campus apartment in the 1970s has filed a civil lawsuit against the institution.

The civil lawsuit, filed on behalf of “John Doe,” accuses the Concord prep school of continuing to employ teacher Steven David Ball, even though at least two students and one faculty member had put administrators on notice about instances of sexual misconduct in the early 1970s, before the man says he was victimized.

“SPS’s willingness to protect predators of sexual harassment and abuse at the expense of victims, kept Ball in a position where he could continue to sexually harass and abuse students, including John,” wrote Concord-based attorney Charles Douglas, who has previously represented other sexual assault victims in cases against St. Paul's.

After hearing the stories of other sexual assault survivors at St. Paul's, John Doe could no longer suppress the memories of his own abuse from decades ago when he was 17. He realized he was not alone and that he wanted the school to be held accountable for its inaction, the lawsuit says.

John Doe is seeking a jury trial and unspecified damages. He has brought forward six claims against St. Paul's: negligence; negligent hiring, retention, training and supervision; breach of contract; breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing; breach of fiduciary duty and fraudulent concealment. 

In a statement emailed Tuesday afternoon to the Monitor, the school said it is aware of the lawsuit and is currently reviewing the claims. 

“The claims pertain to matters that allegedly occurred in the 1970s and rely on information investigated and documented by the Casner & Edwards firm in 2017,” the school wrote. “Respectfully, we have no further comment at this time.”

St. Paul’s hired Boston-based law firm Casner & Edwards to conduct an independent investigation in 2016 following news reports about Rev. Howard “Howdy” White, a former St. Paul’s teacher who was fired from St. George’s School in Rhode Island for sexual misconduct in 1974, later convicted and sentenced to 18 months in prison.

Since the law firm’s work began, attorneys have documented claims spanning six decades of the school’s history. A total of 67 victims of sexual abuse have come forward about inappropriate touching, sexually suggestive comments and rape committed by 20 named faculty and staff and more employees not identified. Victims, who remained anonymous in the reports, also went on to publicly sue the institution.

One of those former students, Keith “Biff” Mithoefer, who also attended St. Paul’s in the 1970's, accused Ball of making sexually suggestive comments and of groping him. Mithoefer has since settled with the school out of court.

John Doe recounts in his lawsuit against the school how Ball offered “extra help” after he received a failing grade on an English assignment. He said Ball invited him to his faculty apartment on campus, where he “sat directly next to John and caressed John’s shoulders and back multiple times during the meeting.”

Although John Doe prepared twice as long for the second assignment, he barely received a passing grade. Again, Ball invited him over and touched him in what the lawsuit describes as a “more intense way” than the first time and told him, “Don’t worry, everything is going to be alright.”

During the third time that John Doe met with Ball, the lawsuit alleges that Ball groped him and grabbed his crotch. John Doe said he ran and was able to escape Ball’s grasp. He described himself as “in shock” and “scared to death.”

John Doe didn't report the abuse to then-Rector William Oates or another administrator because he suspected there would be “negative consequences” for accusing a faculty member of sexual misconduct, the lawsuit says.

Because he barely received a passing grade in the course, he was rejected by all of the colleges he applied to his senior year, including Princeton University where his father and grandfather attended.

As an adult, he turned to alcohol as a coping mechanism.

“As a result of the sexual grooming, harassment and multiple sexual assaults, John has struggled with lack of sexual interest, dislike of being touched and has endured headaches, nightmares, sleep disturbances, insomnia, exaggerated startle response, disturbing memories and depression.”

He said he only recently realized through reading the Casner & Edwards report and its supplementals, as well the other lawsuits filed by former St. Paul's students that “Ball’s actions were not isolated and had been fraudulently concealed by SPS to avoid liability.”

Ball was an English teacher at the school from 1963 to 1999. At the time the Casner & Edwards report was released, he was believed to be living in France.

The Casner & Edwards reports and sexual-conquest rituals such as the “Senior Salute” that took center stage at Owen Labrie’s trial in 2015 were among the reasons the attorney general cited in launching its investigation in summer 2017. St. Paul’s is now under the oversight of the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office after a 14-month-long criminal investigation found evidence of wrongdoing. An independent overseer has been tasked with ensuring the school’s compliance with New Hampshire’s mandatory reporting laws.

(Alyssa Dandrea can be reached at 369-3319 or at
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