Catlin Gabel faces $4.5 million sex abuse lawsuit
A former Catlin Gabel student has filed a $4.5 million lawsuit against the private school for sexual abuse she endured in the 1990s.
Kim Wilson, 36, of Portland, filed the complaint in Multnomah County Circuit Court Monday, Jan. 13, alleging she was molested repeatedly during her sixth grade year at the school by former teacher Richard Shoemaker, when she was 11.
Her complaint seeks damages for negligence, fraud, sexual abuse and negligent infliction of emotional distress.
Wilson's legal complaint reiterates findings from an investigative report commissioned by Catlin Gabel and released in December 2019, which found that the school dismissed or failed to fully investigate complaints by students about Shoemaker and several other teachers, resulting in decades of abuse by more than 20 staffers.
Catlin Gabel is in Washington County, serving tri-county area students, but also has business activity in Multnomah County.
The civil lawsuit is the first to be filed against the school in the wake of the public release of that investigation.
Shoemaker taught at the school from 1964 to 2001. He was a well-known teacher at the time, but during his tenure, students alerted Catlin Gabel staff that he allegedly behaved inappropriately with them.
Wilson told reporters Monday that she first spoke out to school officials about the abuse when she was 19, a few years after she stopped attending Catlin Gabel in her junior year. Years later, Wilson said, other young students alerted the school of misconduct from male staffers, to no avail.
It wasn't until 2018 that Wilson's claims were vetted, when she and several other former students were interviewed during an investigation the school initiated, to look into numerous claims of sexual abuse by Shoemaker and other teachers at the school. Shoemaker died that same year.
In all, 21 staff members at the school were witnessed engaging in sexual molestation or inappropriate behavior with students, from the mid-1960s up until 2016, the investigative report concluded.
Catlin Gabel released that report to the public on Dec. 11, along with an apology to the community and a vow to do better with new procedures and protocols to prevent abuse, and avenues to easily report abuse. That report found Shoemaker was known to invite young students to sit on his lap during class and was witnessed placing his hands underneath their clothing. Wilson was one of those students.
Her complaint alleges Shoemaker, a math teacher at the time who served in other roles at the nonprofit private school, placed his hands underneath her clothing and touched her inappropriately on numerous occasions while she was in his class.
"While she sat on his lap, he ran his hand up under the front of her shirt, on her skin, touching her nipples," according to the complaint. "This happened at least 80 times during her sixth grade year, when she was 11 years old."
Wilson's attorney said that after repeated molestation from Shoemaker, Wilson eventually became frightened and embarrassed, and stopped asking her teacher for help in class.
School apologizes to victims
Wilson was one of 23 students who reported being molested by Shoemaker from the 1980s up until his retirement.
"Defendant CGS knew prior to Shoemaker's abuse of Plaintiff during the 1994-1995 school year that Shoemaker had sexually (molested) minor girls," according to the lawsuit. "Prior to Plaintiff's abuse, several girls had gone to CGS teachers or administration on different occasions to complain that Shoemaker had molested them. On more than one occasion, CGS employees responded to these complaints by telling the girls that they had to confront Shoemaker themselves."
Wilson appeared alongside her brother, Sam, and attorney, Gillion Dumas, during the Jan. 13 press conference.
"Catlin Gabel showing the public a report of decades, generations, of abuse is just a step in rectifying the systemic issues of a long-standing institution," Wilson said, reading from a prepared statement.
"Brave victims that as children or young adults had come forward and were not protected. … As a devoted member of the Portland community, as a mother of a sixth grader, as a victim of abuse at Catlin, I encourage my fellow alumni and the Portland community as a whole to stand behind the brave victims that step forward."
In early January, the Washington County Sheriff's Office launched a criminal investigation into sexual abuse at the school. Like Catlin Gabel, the sheriff's office also had been alerted to claims of abuse from Shoemaker in 2000, according to the investigative report released in December. The sheriff's office investigated at the time, but no charges were filed.
Catlin Gabel officials released a statement Jan. 13, saying the school "takes these allegations very seriously" and apologizing to students who were "subjected to sexual misconduct."
"In October 2018, Catlin Gabel's Board of Trustees became aware of alumni reports on social media of sexual misconduct by a former faculty member," according to the school's statement. "The board responded by hiring independent investigators Lori Watson of Watson Law Workplace Investigations to formally engage in a broad inquiry of any educator sexual misconduct at any time at Catlin Gabel.... We apologize to any students who were subjected to sexual misconduct and abuse when they attended Catlin Gabel, and deeply regret their suffering. The school is committed to truth, transparency, and accountability as we support our survivors. We want to hear from our survivors and to establish a meaningful dialogue with each one who reaches out."
Wilson's attorney said the initial investigative report was damning but incomplete. She said her law firm, Dumas & Vaughn, would file additional lawsuits on behalf of other victims. "We know there are others out there who have not come forward yet," Dumas said. "The conduct that was going on at Catlin Gabel since the '60s is just shocking. Ms. Wilson is the first person to file a civil lawsuit against the school, but I don't believe she will be the last. My law firm has other clients who went to Catlin Gabel. We'll be filing other lawsuits for some of them in the next few weeks."
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