Lurid Allegations at Florida Charter School
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (CN) - An autistic teen was repeatedly abused at a Florida charter school whose staff showed "conscious indifference" to students' well-being, the boy's mother claims in court.
Nicasia Gallamore sued Palm Beach School for Autism, claiming a classroom assistant at the school sexually abused her son. The alleged abuser, Christopher Breland, is not named as a defendant in the lawsuit in Palm Beach County Court.
The complaint contains other unsettling allegations against unidentified employees. One employee shoved "soiled toilet paper into the mouth of a student and tried to force the child to eat it," according to the lawsuit.
School staff "were too frightened to report the incident to police due to the culture of silence and intimidation fostered by school administrators," the lawsuit states.
Gallamore says in the complaint that her son was abused on "numerous" occasions up until November 2013.
That's when a teacher called Gallamore to tell her a teacher's aide had seen Breland taking her son into a bathroom alone, in violation of school policy, Gallamore says.
Gallamore claims the teacher told her the aide saw her son come out of the bathroom with a scratch on his face, crying and holding his shirt over his head.
Earlier that day, the witness had seen Breland "grab the penis of another boy in class," the lawsuit states.
The witness never received training on how to respond to sexual abuse, and she did not initially report Breland's actions to the school administration, according to the complaint.
Demanding more than $5 million in damages, Gallamore claims Palm Beach School for Autism has a "substantial history of conscious indifference to the safety of children."
Gallamore claims that the "culture of silence" at the school was so pervasive that a teacher climbed out of a school window to avoid being interviewed by child welfare investigators.
In a May 2013 incident, Gallamore says, a behavioral therapist exposed a handgun in a classroom, and school administrators did not report it to police.
An attorney for Palm Beach School for Autism, Paul Petruzzi, responded to Gallamore's accusations in a telephone interview with Courthouse News.
Petruzzi, whose children attend the school, said Gallamore's lawsuit is vague and contains unverified accounts from unnamed employees.
"The allegations are pretty suspect," Petruzzi said. "There's a lot of creative writing going on."
Petruzzi said Gallamore's attorney, Jeff Herman, is looking for a "quick settlement."
"The first thing [Herman] did was inquire about the school's insurance policy. He didn't contact the school to ask if the employee was fired. He didn't ask for employee contact information for an interview," Petruzzi said.
Herman's Miami law office said Herman is out of town and unable to comment.
"The school follows all state laws regarding abuse and abuse allegations," Petruzzi said.
He said the school promptly terminated Breland's employment upon learning that Breland was accused of assaulting a child.
"The important point is [Breland] is no longer an assistant at the school," Petruzzi said.
Petruzzi said he was taken aback by the Gallamore family's decision to hold a press conference in front of the campus on a school day.
"They brought everything except the Barnum & Bailey tent to the front of the school," Petruzzi said.
The Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office said the allegations are being investigated, and that Breland has not been criminally charged.
Attempts to reach Breland at his Lake Worth home were unsuccessful.
A resident of Boynton Beach told Courthouse News that she knew Breland through her church, New Hope Missionary Baptist. She said Breland often entertained the congregation with choreographed interpretive dances to holy music.
She called Breland a "gentle giant."
"I've known him for five or six years," the woman said. "It seemed like he wouldn't hurt a fly."