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Brunswick seeks gag order, defends against lawsuit

October 13, 2018

GREENWICH — Brunswick School is seeking a gag order on a lawsuit filed against the school by the family of a young woman who claims she was sexually assaulted by a Brunswick student at an out-of-school pool party.

In court papers filed late this week, the school also disputes many of the claims made in the lawsuit, laying out a more robust defense of the Brunswick administration’s handling of the matter than a statement sent out by the school in August.

The lawsuit, filed in state Superior Court, claims the Brunswick administration was negligent and inflicted emotional distress on the then-16-year-old girl in the aftermath of the pool party in 2016. A federal lawsuit is also pending, contending that the Greenwich Police Department acted improperly in investigating the case, which did not result in an arrest.

Brunswick is seeking to remove the anonymity of the family suing the school, if they communicate further with the media. The school’s filing takes exception with news articles about the suit in this newspaper, and elsewhere, claiming they were “prejudicial.”

According to the filing, submitted by attorney James Sconzo: “Connecticut courts have been clear: Plaintiffs who engage in publicity campaigns and cooperate with the news media are not entitled to anonymity.”

Continuing, the Brunswick attorney wrote, the young woman and her family “have been using their anonymity as a sword when attacking Brunswick in the press and a shield in this Court asking for protection from purported emotional harm.” He said the family was making “false accusations while hiding behind their cloak of anonymity.”

Meredith Braxton, the Greenwich lawyer representing family suing Brunswick, declined comment, citing the recent court filing requesting a gag order on the case.

Court documents to date have shielded the identities of the alleged perpetrator as well as the alleged victim.

Brunswick, and the town of Greenwich, are being sued in the wake of an end-of-school party held by the family of the 16-year-old girl on June 3, 2016. The lawsuit says a then-16-year-old Brunswick student forced himself on her, pulled her clothing down and groped her genital area as she struggled to get away from him in a pool house at the party. The girl was attending Greenwich Academy, which has an affiliation with Brunswick for shared classes and social events.

The lawsuit maintains that Brunswick should have expelled the student after the incident came to light, and that the young woman was exposed to her alleged attacker at combined social and school events, causing her additional emotional distress.

The Brunswick court filing presents a different portrayal of events. The GA student voluntarily chose to take an English class at Brunswick, the filing states, and she also voluntarily came to a dance at Brunswick at which she saw the young man.

“She chose to attend a Brunswick dance on Saturday, October 22, 2016, where she allegedly saw (the Brunswick student) from afar, although the two never directly interacted,” the filing states.

The school did what it could to limit interactions between the two, Sconzo wrote, including prohibiting the boy from going to Greenwich Academy.

Another point of contention involves the consumption of alcohol at the party. The father of the girl stated in court records and in a recent interview that he aimed to screen party guests who appeared intoxicated from entering, and was taking steps to make sure the event was alcohol-free, with the assistance of his son.

According to the Brunswick court filing, as well as the application for an arrest warrant obtained by Greenwich Time through a Freedom of Information request, there was alcohol being consumed on the property. The application states that the girl told police “she did not supply any alcohol to any guests the night of the party, but that some guests did bring their own alcohol.” She told investigators she was not intoxicated on the night in question.

The lawsuit against Brunswick contends that the alleged attacker was put on “disciplinary warning,” which Braxton said previously was “meaningless.” The recent court filing from Brunswick, however, said it was a significant sanction — the young man could have faced expulsion for any other offense, even a minor one.

While Greenwich police submitted an arrest warrant application for the Brunswick student, aiming to charge him with fourth-degree sexual assault, a felony, the application was declined by state prosecutors. He later graduated from Brunswick.

The lawsuit against Brunswick charges that security staff at the school, former Greenwich police officers, had a “back channel” within the police department, exercising influence on the investigation. The lawsuit also contends the school administration worked to create a narrative among the participants who went to the party — making it was impossible to determine with certainty what happened that night.

The court filing this week denies that the Brunswick administration tried to interfere with the police investigation, and states: “Brunswick attempted to fully investigate this matter but was unable to do so because of the family’s refusal to permit (the girl) to meet with Brunswick.”

Sconzo concluded the school’s case in the recent filing: “This lawsuit is ultimately about misplaced anger; unsupported allegations about what happened at Plaintiffs’ home, a fundamental disregard for due process, and a concocted theory that Brunswick conspired or interfered with the police investigation.”

The police investigation, carried out principally by Det. Krystie Rondini, presents a range of different viewpoints on the pool party from different participants, a number of whom said the young woman appeared distressed after the encounter in the pool house with the young man. The documents from the investigation, obtained through a FOIA request, also present interviews from several friends of the young woman who said she told them not long after the event that she had suffered a sexual assault and was deeply upset by it. They later encouraged her to seek help and report the matter, which took place when the young woman told a counselor at Greenwich Academy.

The Greenwich Academy student, and others, were trying to help the young man vomit into a toilet inside the pool house, as a way of purging alcohol from his system and sobering him up, according to records. When the two were alone together, the assault allegedly took place. He later went home with others in a car ordered through Uber. Court documents say the young man later contacted her on social media and apologized for his behavior and claimed he couldn’t remember the evening due to heavy drinking.

The communications office at Brunswick did not respond to a request for comment Friday.

Besides the lawsuit against Brunswick, a federal lawsuit is also pending against the town and the Greenwich Police Department. It claims police allowed the Brunswick headmaster to interview Brunswick students before officers did, allowing the the school to lay out a case that no probable cause existed for criminal charges, and highlights what it claims were other deficiencies. Lawyers for the department and its officers have stated a “thorough and proper investigation” was conducted and denied there was any impropriety.

rmarchant@greenwichtime.com

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