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Dismissal of rape victim’s lawsuit against Pawtucket overturned

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PAWTUCKET, R.I. (WPRI) — The decision to dismiss a multi-million dollar lawsuit filed by a teenager who was raped in a school bathroom has been vacated, giving the case new life in federal district court.

The special education teenager was sexually assaulted in June of 2016 inside the Pawtucket Learning Academy (PLA) by Ivander DeBurgo, who was 18 at the time.

DeBurgo was not supposed to be allowed in the school, and pleaded no contest to first-degree child molestation. He was sentenced to 25 years in the ACI in 2017, with 10 to serve.

The First Circuit Court of Appeals vacated U.S. District Judge John J. McConnell’s 2019 decision to dismiss the case against the City of Pawtucket and its school department but affirmed the dismissal of the claims against school personnel named in the complaint.

The victim’s attorney George Hovarth said his client is very pleased with the decision.

“The First Circuit Court of Appeals has agreed that she has alleged a plausible narrative of deliberate indifference by school officials to the repeated and severe sexual harrassment she was forced to endure,” Hovarth said. “We look forward to continuing to seek justice for my client and to prevent these atrocities from befalling any other child.”

Pawtucket School Superintendent Cheryl McWilliams said the district does not comment on pending litigation.

“We rely on our legal team to review it,” McWilliams wrote in an email. “We have confidence in the courts and the case has to proceed. Our district legal counsel is taking it under review.” 

About two months before the assault in the bathroom, another male student “grabbed [the victim’s] buttocks and attempted to thrust his genital area” on her, the lawsuit alleged.

According to the lawsuit, the girl had also been raped by another student and was assaulted by PLA teacher David Morton, who the filing alleged “smacked and grabbed” her butt.

Court records indicate a simple assault and battery charge against Morton was filed as a not guilty plea, meaning it would be dismissed if Morton stayed out of legal trouble.

Judge McConnell granted the motion to dismiss the lawsuit, concluding the complaint did not “allege plausible facts that support” the claims teachers and administrators did not adequately protect the teen.

The 15-count lawsuit, which sought $3.5 million in damages, alleged the defendants failed to protect the teenager, violated her Title IV civil rights to learn in a safe school and retaliated against her for filing the complaint.

Target 12 will have more on this case tonight on Eyewitness News. Send tips to Target 12 Investigator Walt Buteau at and follow him on Twitter @wbuteau.

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