Attorney Jeff Anderson, in a lawsuit filed in Hennepin County, said officials at Breck School committed fraud by hiring teacher Bill Jacobs in 1973, knowing he had a history of molesting boys and was considered a danger to children.
Jacobs sexually abused a 13-year-old Breck student in 1974, according to Anderson. Even after the boy and his father brought their allegations to the school’s headmaster, John Littleford, Jacobs remained on the faculty through the school year. The suit maintains that Littleford “begged” the boy and his father to remain quiet about the matter.
“This is really about institutional failure,” Anderson said.
Littleford, who no longer works at Breck, on Monday denied knowing about Jacobs’ past.
Anderson, at a news conference, suggested that the suit could grow to include other schools or employers who knew about Jacobs’ past and employed him anyway. The list of potential targets includes several well-known Minnesota institutions, from the Blake School, where Jacobs taught in 1972, to the YMCA’s Camp Warren in Eveleth, Minn., where he was a counselor and volunteer.
Boys at both places have alleged abuse by Jacobs, according to recent court filings and interviews.
Jacobs went on to become a police officer and rose to head the Minneapolis Park Police force until he retired in 2001. He also taught at Minneapolis Community and Technical College.
A 15-year-old boy came forward in January and told police that he had been abused for three years, beginning in 2007. Jacobs, 66, of Deephaven, was charged in that case.
Hennepin County prosecutors allege that Jacobs sexually assaulted 17 boys years ago who are now coming forward. A prosecution document filed on Friday says the alleged incidents involved boys whom Jacobs knew when he was a teacher, camp counselor or coach. Assistant County Attorney Judy Johnston claims administrators at YMCA Camp Warren, Breck and Blake all knew about such allegations no later than the mid-1970s.
One of the 17 is the plaintiff who sued on Monday. The man, whose identity is being withheld, and his mother spoke to reporters at Anderson’s office in St. Paul. Anderson said that once Jacobs won the parents’ trust, he invited the boy to sleep over. Days later, the boy told his parents that Jacobs had fondled him.
“When we confronted [Little ford], he went ashen,” the man said. “‘What do you want?’ is what he said.” Littleford told the family that Jacobs was getting help for his problem and that the family shouldn’t say anything, according to the man.
The plaintiff’s mother said she hopes the suit helps others to step forward and “not be ashamed.”
Response from the schools
A spokeswoman for Breck said the school is not yet prepared to comment on the suit. Blake, meanwhile, said last week that it has given authorities access to school personnel and files.
Littleford’s Minneapolis attorney, Daryle Uphoff, said Little ford was “unaware of any previous employment issues that Mr. Jacobs may have had prior to his hiring at Breck School. … ”
Littleford handled the Jacobs case “with the guidance and consent of the appropriate officers of the school’s Board of Directors and outside legal counsel,” the attorney said, adding that Littleford is cooperating with authorities.
Last month, Anderson sued the Vatican and the pope in federal court in Milwaukee on behalf of an Illinois man who says he was molested by the late Rev. Joseph Murphy, accused of molesting at least 200 children at a suburban Milwaukee school for the deaf.
‘Criminal for a long time’
Kelly Clark, an attorney who writes frequently about filing sex abuse lawsuits against institutions, said Anderson appears to have a strong case against Breck. “It’s a little bit tricky when you’re asking a jury in 2010 what someone would have done 20, 30, 40 years ago, but it’s not impossible,” said Clark, based in Portland, Ore. “This stuff has been criminal for a long time.”
Clark won an $18.5 million judgment against the Boy Scouts of America last week for sexual abuse a Scout suffered as a child.
Clark said that he was surprised by how long Jacobs’ alleged attacks went undetected but that it’s a hallmark of predators that they can evade authorities. “You have to remember that an accomplished pedophile has social intelligence that is off the charts,” Clark said. “Very rarely is it the guy with a trenchcoat who’s kind of a nerd that everyone suspects of being a child molester. It’s usually the Pied Piper.”
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ALLEGATIONS IN THE SUIT
AT CAMP WARREN: Jacobs was caught sexually abusing at least one child and forced to see a therapist. YMCA camp records from the early 1970s revealed Jacobs had “pedophilic tendencies.”
AT BLAKE: While Jacobs taught there in 1971-72, he sexually abused a child and then was fired.
AT BRECK: Administrators knew Jacobs, while a teacher there, was under psychiatric care; the father of the plaintiff in Monday’s suit confronted Jacobs about the abuse, and Jacobs admitted having a “serious problem” and needing help.
The suit says a former administrator “begged” the boy and his father to stay quiet about the molestation, adding that Breck “would handle Jacobs.” The suit says Jacobs continued teaching at Breck and the boy saw him regularly at school.