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Horror at Hotchkiss: New Lawsuit Adds to Allegations of Sex Abuse at Prestigious School

The Hotchkiss School in Lakeville

The Hotchkiss School in Lakeville. Photo: Wikimedia

On the heels of a report detailing decades of sexual abuse of children at the prestigious Lakeville-based Hotchkiss School, a Rhode Island man has filed a lawsuit alleging he was groomed for abuse and sexually assaulted by a former English teacher in the 1990s.

In the federal lawsuit filed late Friday evening in U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut, a former student, identified with the pseudonym of Richard Roe, said he was sexually assaulted in his junior year by Roy G. Smith Jr., also known at the school as "Uncle Roy." The same attorneys who filed suit Friday alleging Smith sexually assaulted the boy wrote a similar complaint against the school in 2015 alleging Smith abused another boy. That suit is still pending, and was filed soon after Smith died in January 2015 at age 72.

Attorneys Respond to Decades of Sex Abuse at Hotchkiss School: 'There Is Always a Trail'

The latest suit seeks unspecified monetary damages. Both complaints name the school as the defendant, claiming Hotchkiss knew about a culture of sex abuse and did nothing about it.

The state statute of limitations provides a five-year window to bring criminal charges. In Connecticut, the law allows victims of childhood sex abuse to file lawsuits up until their 48th birthday. Roe is either in his late 30s or early to mid-40s, but younger than 48.

In August, the Hartford law offices of Locke Lord released a report stating sexual abuse against both boys and girls dated back decades. The report acknowledges sexual abuse by seven former staffers against 16 students from 1969 to 1992. That report, according to Annika Martin, one of Roe's four attorneys, "is woefully incomplete."

"There were instances that we know of where people tried to report and were turned away," said Martin, a partner with New York City-based Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein. She told the Connecticut Law Tribune Monday the alleged victim in the latest lawsuit blamed himself for the assaults.

"He is processing something that he has been keeping inside and pushing away mentally for a long time," said Martin, who spoke to Roe on Friday. "He spent a long time saying it never happened and blaming himself and hating himself. It is very common for victims of childhood sexual trauma to pretend it did not happen and to blame themselves."

Martin said Smith began grooming her client, who is now married with children, in the beginning of his junior year at the school, when he was 16 years old. "The teacher graded harshly on his exams and required students to come to his apartment and work on those exams," she said. "The abuse escalated over time."

The lawsuit says it was "well-known and accepted among the Hotchkiss family that Smith groomed and abused boys in his school." Smith, also a trainer at the school, was employed there from about 1970 to about 2000.

According to the lawsuit, early on Smith had a ritual with Roe. That included working on papers in Smith's apartment, the lawsuit said.

Roe "always had to sit side-by-side next to Smith on the couch. Smith frequently made it a point by rubbing or squeezing Richard's upper thigh, or putting his arm over Richard's shoulder as they looked at a document or a book together during these study sessions," according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit said on the day of the alleged sexual assault, Smith made Roe a form of herbal tea, which was an odd yellow color and bitter tasting. Sometime after drinking the tea, the lawsuit states, the boy started to feel lethargic. The boy closed his eyes for a brief period, the lawsuit says, only to see that "Smith was pulling off Richards' pants and then his boxer shorts. Roe could not move or speak; he felt like he could not breathe." It was then, the lawsuit states, that the teenager was sexually assaulted.

Hotchkiss spokeswoman Danielle Sinclair did not respond to a request for comment Monday. In addition, neither of the school's two attorneys, Robinson & Cole's Brad Babbitt or Jeffrey White, responded to a request for comment.

In addition to Martin, the former student is represented by Lieff Cabraser's Wendy Fleishman, and Hugh Cuthbertson and Glenn Duhl of New Haven-based Zangari Cohn Cuthbertson Duhl & Grello.