Ex-students sue school board over alleged abuse
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Three students are set to go to trial next year claiming the Kanawha County Board of Education could have protected them from alleged sexual abuse by a former JROTC teacher at South Charleston High School.
Edwin Albert Smuda of Dunbar, was charged with first-degree sexual abuse by a parent or guardian in November 2011. In July last year, Smuda was found hanged in an apparent suicide at his sister's house in New Jersey. He was 59.
Earlier this year, three of Smuda's former students filed a lawsuit in Kanawha Circuit Court against his estate and the Board of Education, claiming the board was negligent and recklessly exposed the students, who were then juveniles, to Smuda.
At a hearing Tuesday, Kanawha Circuit Judge James Stucky set an April 28 trial date. Officials with the Kanawha County school system have denied the claims in the lawsuit.
According to the criminal complaint on file in Kanawha County Magistrate Court, Smuda was charged with sexually abusing one student at his home in Dunbar. He had worked as the JROTC instructor at South Charleston High for 15 years.
A juvenile male and his mother reported to the Dunbar Police Department in October that Smuda made sexual advances toward the teenager while they were watching a movie at Smuda's residence on Grandview Drive in Dunbar, the criminal complaint states.
According to the lawsuit filed by the students, the school board had received several reports that students were living with Smuda at his home and accompanying him on vacations.
"The Board, however, took no action to protect the students entrusted to its care. Because of the undeserved trust the Board placed in Smuda countless parents placed their trust and the health and wellbeing of their young sons in Smuda," the lawsuit states.
"Had the Board acted on its actual and constructive knowledge of Smuda's dangerous behavior it could have prevented exposing the [plaintiffs], as well as other JROTC students, to these terrible acts of sexual misconduct. But it chose not to do so."
According to the lawsuit, school administrators received complaints from parents about Smuda's inappropriate behavior toward some of his male students.
A parent filed one complaint in August 2008, according to the lawsuit, that alleged Smuda had put whipped cream down a student's pants.
That complaint resulted in Smuda being placed on leave for one week, the suit states.
In February 2011, one of the alleged victims named in the lawsuit became Smuda's foster child. After a trip two of the alleged victims took with Smuda to Key West, Fla., in connection with the Black Eagle JROTC program, school officials received complaints about alcohol consumption and inappropriate behavior of chaperones in front of the cadets, the lawsuit states. But the board took no action, according to the lawsuit.
In June 2011, Child Protective Services removed Smuda's foster child when Smuda informed CPS he would take the juvenile to Florida. Smuda allegedly took the juvenile to Florida anyway, according to the lawsuit. Another juvenile later joined them.
In Florida, Smuda is alleged to have supplied the juveniles with alcohol and performed oral sex on them, the complaint states.
After the trip, one of the juveniles gave a note to the school's resource officer revealing details about the abuse, according to the complaint. Smuda was then placed on paid leave.
Attorneys for the school board have denied the claims and filed a third-party complaint against the mother of one of the juveniles, stating if the board is found liable the mother should also be held accountable.
While the woman's son was a student at South Charleston, she "permitted and encouraged" him to associate with Smuda, the school board's complaint states.
In 2011, according to attorneys for the school board, the woman was informed that Smuda was under investigation by the board and by law enforcement for allegations of sexual abuse and still allowed her son to associate with him.
The board also claims the woman obstructed its investigation of Smuda and attempted to convince the juveniles to withdraw their allegations.
Reach Kate White at email@example.com or 304-348-1723.