PAWTUCKET, R.I. (WPRI) — A special needs teenager who was the victim of multiple sexual assaults in a Pawtucket school, including a rape in a bathroom, is asking a federal court of appeals to take a look at her lawsuit.
The girl was 13 years old in 2016 when Ivander DeBurgo raped her at the Pawtucket Learning Academy (PLA), which is one floor down from the superintendent’s office.
DeBurgo, who made headlines for his involvement in an October 2015 resource officer assault case that spawned a protest at Tolman High School, pleaded no contest in 2017 to first-degree child molestation. (He’s currently at the ACI on a 25-year sentence with 10 to serve.)
The lawsuit also alleges a 17-year-old student raped the victim in the bathroom a month before DeBurgo did, and that she was sexually harrassed before the two incidents by other students.
Information on whether or not anyone was charged or punished in those cases is unavailable since the suspects were minors.
A fourth incident involved a now-retired PLA teacher accused of hitting and grabbing the 13-year old’s butt at the school.
Court records indicate a simple assault misdemeanor charge was filed for one year in February 2018 as a not-guilty plea, allowing it to be dismissed if the defendant stayed out of legal trouble.
The case is now closed, according to court records.
The 2018 lawsuit claims Pawtucket violated Federal Title IX by allegedly failing “to provide appropriate response and redress after notice of ongoing assault that left [the victim] vulnerable, ultimately resulting in more” sexual assault and harassment.
In his dismissal, U.S. District Judge John J. McConnell Jr. acknowledged the incidents were “horrible” but concluded the complaint did not “allege plausible facts” that proved the defendants knew about, yet ignored the incidents.
“Here, the Plaintiffs have filed three complaints, yet they still do not allege plausible facts that support any cause of action against these Defendants,” McConnell wrote.
In his appeal to the First Circuit Court of Appeals, the plaintiffs’ attorney George Hovarth argued the victim’s complaint did contain several believable facts showing PLA teachers and administrators were deliberately indifferent to the “the severe, intimidating, hostile, and offensive and abusive education environment” faced by the victim.
The initial complaint sought $3.5 million in damages.
Hovarth said he could not comment on the appeal.
The defendants’ attorney Jonathan Anderson said his clients are “confident” the Court of Appeals will uphold Judge McConnell’s decision.
“The District Court has rejected the plaintiff’s arguments in a thoughtful, well-reasoned opinion,” Anderson said.