An internal investigation commissioned by the board of trustees at the Catlin Gabel School in Portland, Oregon has found 21 former employees have been accused of sexual misconduct ranging from inappropriate boundary crossing to criminal sexual abuse. The private school released the summary of findings of the yearlong investigation on December 11, 2019.
According to the report, the investigation was initiated in October 2018 after a series of Facebook posts alleging past teacher sexual misconduct at Catlin Gabel. The school hired a private investigation firm that specializes in “workplace and school investigations regarding harassment, discrimination, retaliation, and other sensitive matters.”
According to the report, the investigator reached out only to those who were self-identified victims or survivors who came forward on their own. The school provided the investigator’s contact information to the broader school community and established an anonymous voicemail service.
The report states that Catlin Gabel administration would only identify alleged perpetrators where there were multiple, credible first-hand accounts of misconduct, an admission of guilt, or supporting documentary evidence. The report identifies six former employees by name who were accused of sexual misconduct over a four-decade period ending in 2013: Richardson Shoemaker, Robert Ashe, Mark Petersen, Stephen Richmond, Samuel Crawley, and Deonte Huff. While some of the reports made to the investigator were the first the school learned of specific incidents of misconduct, other reports had been made to school faculty at the time or close in time after the misconduct took place.
In at least one suspected perpetrator’s case, students came forward to complain on two separate occasions to report sexual abuse. Sixth-grade teacher Richardson Shoemaker was employed by Catlin Gabel from 1964 to 2001 and was repeatedly accused by female students of inappropriate touching and groping. Former students reported that he frequently asked girls to sit on his lap during class, placed his hand inside their clothing, and groped and rubbed their breasts and bottoms.
In the 1990s, a group of sixth-grade classmates went to a middle school faculty member and told her that Shoemaker had kissed one of the girls and touched her and the others inappropriately. The student who reported being kissed by Shoemaker further reported that after the group expressed their concerns, she was told she could decide whether Shoemaker kept his job, placing the responsibility of determining her teacher’s fate on the middle schooler’s shoulders.
The report does not clearly address any discipline that Shoemaker may have received and suggests that nothing much happened as a result of the disclosure.
Several years later, another group of sixth graders approached another teacher and reported Shoemaker’s inappropriate behavior. They were encouraged to go to Shoemaker directly and let him know how uncomfortable his behavior was making them feel. According to the report, the girls did confront Shoemaker, who reportedly responded emotionally, teared up, and apologized to the girls.
Again, the report indicates that nothing much appears to have come of the disclosure.
In 2000, Catlin Gabel administration was notified by the Washington County Sheriff’s Office that they were investigating a report of sexual abuse not involving a current or recent student and that had not taken place on the school’s campus. Administration determined that the law enforcement investigation, together with a recent report of past misconduct from a 1970’s alumna, was enough to force Shoemaker to resign at the end of the school year.
Law enforcement eventually determined they had insufficient evidence to prosecute Shoemaker.
Another employee named in the report, Stephen Richmond, was employed by the school from 1973 to 1982 as a theater teacher. Richmond was accused of engaging in sexual misconduct with multiple male students. In one case the report alleges he groomed a middle school student who was struggling socially. He took pictures of him, kissed him, and initiated nude full-body contact with the student.
According to the report, five of the six named alleged perpetrators did not appear to suffer any consequences for their sexual misconduct. The sixth, Deonte Huff, a former coach at the school, was convicted in 2013 on criminal charges for his sexual abuse of three Catlin Gable students. Huff was sentenced to 18 months in prison.
In addition to the six named alleged perpetrators, the report identified three other former school employees who are believed to have engaged in sexually abusive behavior. Their names were withheld because, while the allegations made against them are believed to be credible, they are based on single first-hand accounts and were not corroborated in some other way.
Their misconduct ranged from obscene phone calls to sexual abuse of middle and upper school students.
In a letter to the Catlin Gabel Community, issued along with the investigation findings, the school apologized, stating “It is clear that Catlin Gabel failed on multiple accounts—in protecting students and in addressing the abuse. We profoundly apologize for the pain and suffering that these alumni endured. What happened is inexcusable.”
Crew Janci has represented many victims of sexual abuse by teachers and coaches, including against large and prestigious private schools. Most recently, Crew Janci successfully represented 21 victims of sexual abuse against the elite Pingry School – an effort that was detailed in media across the country, including The New York Times.
Crew Janci is currently investigating on behalf of victims of abuse at Catlin Gabel. Crew Janci LLP is a Portland-based law firm known for representing victims of sexual abuse around the country in cases against schools and large institutions of trust. In 2017, Crew Janci LLP was featured in the New York times in relation to their successful advocacy on behalf of 21 victims of sexual abuse at an elite private school in New Jersey. Anyone with information about misconduct from Catlin Gabel teaches or staff should contact us confidentially at 1-888-407-0224 or by using our online form.