National News

St. Paul’s School Called ‘Haven for Sexual Predators’ in New Lawsuit

Posted May 3, 2018 5:43 p.m. EDT

BOSTON — A new lawsuit has accused St. Paul’s School, an elite boarding school in Concord, New Hampshire, of a decadeslong “pattern of negligence” related to sexual misconduct and accused a former teacher who had not previously been publicly named in connection with the abuse.

The suit, filed on behalf of two alumni of St. Paul’s and one of their wives, accused Gerry E. Studds, a former U.S. representative from Massachusetts who had taught at the school, of inappropriate conduct. Studds died in 2006. His family members could not be reached Thursday for comment.

“St. Paul’s was a haven for sexual predators, and the school was negligent in failing to prevent the sexual abuse of its students,” said the lawsuit, which was filed this week in Merrimack County, New Hampshire, Superior Court. It also accused four other educators of sexual misconduct, all of whom have previously been named in investigations released by the school.

The lawsuit marks a new round of allegations against a boarding school that has been mired in reports of years-old abuses and questions about its handling of more recent allegations of sexual misconduct by students. Last year, investigators hired by the school named 13 former faculty and staff against whom “substantiated” claims of sexual abuse and misconduct have been made; the investigators added more names in a follow-up report. The school is the subject of an investigation by the New Hampshire’s attorney general.

In a letter to the school community, the president of the board of trustees, Archibald Cox Jr., apologized for the new lawsuit’s claims, which he did not dispute.

“Their stories are terrible,” Cox said of the plaintiffs. “We are truly sorry for the pain they experienced and for any failure of the school to protect them.”

Studds was not named in the earlier reports released by the school, which declined further comment.

The lawsuit described an alleged incident in the late 1960s involving one of the plaintiffs, Keith Mithoefer, when he was a student at the school and Studds was a teacher. According to Mithoefer, the two went out to dinner and along a deserted road on the way home, Studds pulled over, offered Mithoefer a cigarette, and later placed his hand between Mithoefer’s legs and suggested that he perform a sex act.

Mithoefer, now 67, said he was shocked and asked to go home.

“He was kind of a hero to me — he was a liberal Democrat,” Mithoefer said. He said he did not know if he ever again spoke to Studds, and he did not tell people at the time what had happened. “I guess I thought I must have done something wrong.”

Studds, who served in the House from 1973 to 1997, was the first openly gay member of Congress. In 1983, he was censured for having an earlier relationship with a 17-year-old congressional page.

The lawsuit also claimed that Mithoefer experienced inappropriate conversations or touching by three other faculty members at St. Paul’s. He also said a member of the administration was aware of at least some of misconduct, and suggested that Mithoefer could receive his diploma only if he kept quiet.

Another plaintiff, George Chester Irons, said that in 1973 or 1974 he and other students were taken to New York City by Coolidge Mead Chapin, an administrator at the school, who ordered them to have sex with prostitutes as he yelled commands. Chapin was identified last year in the school’s report.

The lawsuit said the plaintiffs were seeking “enhanced compensatory damages,” but it did not say how much.

In an interview, Mithoefer said he began to think about what had happened to him only in recent years, as headlines about sexual misconduct at the school piled up.

“I hope that old men will stand aside the young people and say, no, we’re not going to be quiet,” Mithoefer said. “Let’s not keep denying it and pretending that nothing ever happens.”