Court docs: Greenwich Boys’ Club leadership negligently ignored rampant sexual abuse
GREENWICH — The leadership at the Greenwich Boys Club in the late 1970s and early ’80s knew a counselor was sexually abusing boys as young as 6 and did nothing to stop it, court documents say.
The counselor, accused of molesting and raping multiple boys hundreds of times, was allowed to continue to work alone with children in the club’s locker room after a child told an administrator there about the abuse, according documents filed in state Superior Court in Stamford.
Five men now in their late 40s and early 50s have come forward in two lawsuits to say that Andrew Atkinson, who was affiliated with the Boys Club from 1975 through 1984, permanently damaged their lives through repeated sexual abuse when they were children. The men say Atkinson began abusing them as a Boys Club member, and once he gained a leadership role as a counselor, used his status to isolate them and assault them frequently at the Boys Club facility on Horseneck Lane and at off-site club gatherings at Camp Simmons, Island Beach and the Greenwich Polo Field.
Jeffrey Starcher, then-assistant director of the Boys Club under his father, club Director Jim Starcher, had “direct knowledge of Atkinson’s conduct” in 1981, according to the lawsuit, and didn’t take any serious measures to end it.
“Even if (Boys Club administration) including Starcher, did not have direct knowledge of the abuse, they still failed to discover the sexual abuse or seek to prevent it, despite having reasonable opportunity to do so during the protracted period of time in which Boys Club members were being abused by Atkinson while in the care and custody of (the Boys Club),” the lawsuit says.
Each of the now-grown victims says in affidavits that Atkinson’s abuse permanently impacted his life, and each still struggles with processing his trauma. They all say they suffer from depression, embarrassment, humiliation, fear and shame as well as permanent physical injury from the abuse.
Several of the victims have struggled with drug and alcohol dependency, according to the lawsuit, and led troubled lives. One man said he is claustrophobic because of the way Atkinson tried to smother him when he assaulted him, others say they have panic attacks and fear of authority figures. Most of the men said they still haven’t told their families about the abuse.
Attorney Phillip Russell, who brought the lawsuits, said there are at least two more victims in addition to the five listed in the court documents, but their claims are barred by the state statute of limitations.
Jeffrey Starcher did not respond to several attempts to reach him, nor did representatives of Boys & Girls Clubs of America. Attempts to reach Atkinson for comment were not successful; Jim Starcher is no longer living.
The lawsuits name the Boys & Girls Club of Greenwich as defendant. Current administrators at the club have not publicly denied the allegations. They say they are not able to comment yet on the case. Attempts to reach the attorneys representing the nonprofit were not successful.
But those attorneys have argued in a memorandum filed with the court that the plaintiffs’ claims that negligent supervision resulted in their alleged abuse are unfounded according to Connecticut case law.
“Connecticut requires more than that to prove negligent supervision,” the memorandum reads. “Connecticut law requires that the Plaintiff plead and prove that the Club knew or should have known of Atkinson’s propensity to abuse before the Club could be held liable for negligent supervision.”
One of the plaintiffs, using the pseudonym John Clark, said in an affidavit that he told Jeff Starcher that Atkinson was abusing him at the time, but the only punishment the counselor received from the administrator was a “time out.”
Clark, now 48, said Atkinson’s abuse began with smacks on the head, escalated to punches in the upper chest and shoulders “for no apparent reason,” and eventually became sexual assault.
“I remember feeling pain from the strikes, and remember not knowing why I was being hit, but thought it was because I was Asian and was more similar to the bullying I was experiencing from my fellow Boys Club members,” said Clark. “I believe that I never reported this to anyone because I thought I was just being picked on for being different.”
Atkinson began molesting him when he was about 10, Clark said. More than a dozen times, Clark said Atkinson isolated him in the locker room, where he would corner him, smother him and forcefully grab his penis and testicles, causing severe and lasting pain. The abuse began when the two were alone, Clark said, but began happening in front of other boys, which made him feel like he was never safe.
“Something changed in me,” he said. “I remember feeling shocked that I was not safe from Atkinson no matter where I was or who I was with.”
One day when Atkinson hit him on the chest in front of others, Clark said he “snapped.”
“I chased after Atkinson and began kicking him and screaming at him in front of staff and other Boys Club members,” said Clark, adding the fight lasted a few moments before the two were separated.
“I am almost certain that the staff member who pulled me away was Jeff Starcher, though there is a possibility it could have been Jim Starcher,” said Clark. “When Jeff asked me to explain what happened I remember crying and telling him that Atkinson was hurting me. I remember now that I could not find the words to explain what was happening, but just kept repeating that Atkinson was hurting me, and that he was hurting me in the locker room.”
Clark told Starcher that Atkinson was touching his private parts, according to the complaint.
“Starcher put Atkinson on a ‘time out’ where he was forced to sit on a stool specifically used for this purpose,” in response to Clark’s allegation of abuse, the complaint says.
Jeffrey Starcher moved up the ranks within the local club until 2002, when he became executive director of Boys & Girls Club of Southeastern Connecticut, according to his LinkedIn account. In 2014, Starcher was named director of organizational development for Boys & Girls Clubs of America.
Starcher’s social media suggests he still holds the position, but attempts to confirm whether he still works for the nonprofit weren’t immediately successful.
‘Hundreds of times’
A 49-year-old man identified in the lawsuits as John Doe said Atkinson sexually assaulted and raped him “hundreds of times” at the Boys’ Club starting when he was 6 up until he turned 14. The first time, Atkinson anally raped Doe and forced him to receive oral sex, according to Doe’s affidavit.
“During the eight years in which Atkinson abused me, I came to believe these incidents of abuse were normal, came to expect them, accepted them, and did not protest them,” Doe’s affidavit says.
Another victim, now 49 and identified as John Roe, said his sexual abuse began in the Boys’ Club’s pool when he was 6.
“At that time, it was custom that younger Boys Club members swam naked while in the pool, on Tuesdays and Thursdays during the summertime after outings to Island Beach or Tod’s Point Beach,” the lawsuits allege.
It was also common for older boys to swim clothed with the younger boys, according to the lawsuits, and they regularly “horse-played” during these swims. (According to multiple sources, it used to be in the Boys Club national rulebook that kids swim naked.)
“During these summertime naked swimming experiences … Roe regularly came into contact with Atkinson, who as an older boy, was wearing a bathing suit,” the complaint reads. “Roe, while naked and in the pool, was molested, fondled and groped by Atkinson. These incidents of sexual assault were masked by the horseplay.”
When Roe turned 11, he said in an affidavit, Atkinson performed nonconsensual oral sex on him. Roe said he “was in shock and could not move or cry for help” during the assault.
Atkinson abused Roe “dozens if not hundreds of times” during a two-year period at the Boys’ Club, Roe said.
A 50-year-old man identified in one of the lawsuits as John Smith said in an affidavit that Atkinson sexually abused him at least eight times when he was 9, including forced oral sex.
A 49-year-old man identified as John White said Atkinson began abusing him in the locker room when he was 10 by ripping off his towel and whipping him with it in front of other boys. Atkinson would then grab the child’s genitals, the lawsuit alleges.
“It was humiliating,” White said in an affidavit. “I remember that I was scared and ashamed, but I also remember feeling like I was not his main target. I did not tell anyone at the time because I thought it was harassment or hazing, and did not realize this was sexual abuse.”
About the time White was 10 or 11, he said he overheard Atkinson sexually abusing another boy in the locker room. Though White didn’t see the abuse, he said he remembers seeing the other boy come out of the locker room.
“The boy had tears in his eyes, and looked broken and his head was hanging down,” said White. “At the time, I remember the feeling that I knew Atkinson was doing bad stuff to boys that were not normal and shouldn’t be happening.”
When Atkinson turned 18, he was no longer eligible to be a member of any program offered by the Boys Club, according to the complaints, yet he was allowed to remain actively involved in a new capacity as an employee or volunteer.
The events described in the lawsuits are not the only claims of sexual abuse alleged to have occurred at what is now the Boys & Girls Club of Greenwich.
In 2014, Andrew Knapp, a former Greenwich High School teaching aide, was convicted of trying to molest a 10-year-old boy in the club’s locker room showers in 2010. Knapp was convicted of risk of injury to a child and fourth-degree sexual assault after a three-day jury trial.
The victim testified that Knapp appeared in his shower stall naked while the two were alone and touched him inappropriately. Prosecutors said Knapp had been previously accused of grooming a child he oversaw for inappropriate an relationship at another school before the incident at the Boys & Girls Club.
Greenwich Boys & Girls Club Chairman George Fox this week would not confirm or deny whether the allegations against the club are true. He also said he couldn’t comment on what the nonprofit has done to investigate the claims.
“We’re leaving it up to legal counsel to handle this as it proceeds through discovery,” he said.
“We are not taking this lightly. We’re taking it very seriously,” Fox said. “Until it works its way through the system, I can’t comment on the substance of the case.”
Fox said he had “no knowledge” about whether or not the Boys & Girls Clubs of America has investigated the allegations against Jeff Starcher, and that he had no comment on whether or not the organization has a responsibility to do so.
The board chair also declined to comment on the abuse committed by Knapp in the same facility in 2010.
“All I can say about that is we have a very thorough process and protocol at the club and I’m very comfortable knowing our children are very safe,” Fox said.
When asked for specifics about safety protocols and procedures that have changed since the alleged abuse occurred, Fox said the club has installed more security cameras, implemented more staff training and hired a dedicated director of safety who “walks the halls making sure everything is in good order.”
A trial conference for both lawsuits is scheduled for March 15 in Stamford Superior Court. A jury trial is tentatively scheduled for June 2020.