Indian Mountain School has settled two federal lawsuits by former students who said they were sexually abused by a teacher while attending the school in the 1980s.
The school reached settlements, with terms remaining confidential, in suits brought in U.S. District Court by Matthew Bernstein, who claimed he was abused from 1980-83, and with William Brewster Brownville, who said he was abused from 1983-87. Both plaintiffs said the abuse began when they enrolled at the school at age 12 and continued until they were 15, according to court documents.
The settlements were announced jointly by Antonio Ponvert III, of Koskoff Koskoff & Bieder in Bridgeport, who represented the plaintiffs, and Jeffrey White of Robinson & Cole in Hartford, who represented the school. Brownville’s case was closed in November and Bernstein’s was closed the following month, according to court documents.
Both plaintiffs asserted that they were sexually abused by Christopher Simonds, an English teacher. They also asserted that Simonds sexually abused dozens of boys at the school over the course of a decade. Their suits also said headmaster Peter Carleton and other faculty members knew Simonds was a pedophile and that he had abused students, but Simonds remained on the school’s faculty. Simonds and Carleton are both deceased.
Bernstein’s suit said Simonds sexually abused dozens of boys at the school and that he took photographs of them to blackmail them into silence. School staff witnessed boys entering Simonds’ apartment after “lights out” and saw Simonds visiting the dormitories late at night. The school instituted a policy prohibiting faculty from visiting the boys after lights out, specifically to address Simonds’ after-hours crimes, the suit claimed, but he flouted the rule and continued his visits. Bernstein’s suit also asserted that Simonds drove him to New York to buy cocaine and heroin and that he showed his victims pornography and gave them marijuana, alcohol, cigarettes and LSD.
No one was prosecuted for the abuse at the school, according to court documents.
Brownville claimed that he and three other boys were forced to live in the basement of Carleton’s on-campus home.
Ponvert said in a joint statement that the settlement “is in the best interest of all involved, and goes a long way toward ending this tragic chapter.” Defense lawyer White said in the same statement that “the school is committed to educating future generations of students and providing a safe and healthy environment for students to grow to their full potential. The school also remains steadfast in its commitment to prevent a recurrence of the misconduct on its campus in the 1970s and ‘80s.”
Indian Mountain, in Lakeville, is a private boarding and day school for students in prekindergarten through 9th grade.
The latest settlements bring to three the number of suits Indian Mountain has settled with students who claimed they were abused by Simonds. Court documents indicate another plaintiff, Peter Buck Jr., who claimed he was abused from 1982-84 starting when he was 14 years old, reached a confidential settlement with the school last March.