EAGLE POINT, Ore.-A local school district, superintendent, principal and former teacher are all facing a lawsuit in federal court.
The victims’ attorney, Tom Petersen with Black, Chapman, Petersen & Stevens, said they are all to blame for the alleged molestation of two local girls.
Joel Heller, a former teacher at a Little Butte Elementary School, is accused of sexually molesting multiple students.
Petersen said Heller and some Jackson County School District 9 employees knew of prior similar accusations against Heller. “I brought a civil rights lawsuit in federal court essentially alleging that Mr. heller, Ms. Scott and the others named, the district and the superintendent, failed to take action,” said Petersen.
The attorney representing two of the alleged victims said his clients, now in high school, aren’t looking for a reward. He said they just want to make sure this doesn’t happen to anyone else. Petersen said his clients weren’t the first victims. “In the mid 2000s, I’m aware of four or five,” said Petersen.
Peterson said accusations like these need to be reported, by law. “You can be prosecuted for not reporting,” said the attorney.
He said authorities were never told. “The principal shut down the investigation from what I understand. I’ve got affidavits to that effect and so no police reports were made. It never made it to the District Attorney’s office,” said Petersen.
Then, according to Petersen, in 2011, a mother overheard her daughter and her friend sharing stories of how the suspect had touched them, inappropriately. “The girls in talking were overheard by one of the mothers who then contacted another parent, and another parent as well police were called,” said Petersen.
Concerned, their parents notified police, but when the case was handed over to the Jackson County District Attorney, Petersen said Heller was not prosecuted due to “[…] insufficient evidence. Now all that means is the D.A. made a calculation that the case cannot or might not be won in a court of law,” said Petersen.
The victims’ attorney said if reports of the accusations in the mid-2000s had been made, Heller may have been prosecuted. “If he or they had known back in 2005, 2006 and seven that Mr. Heller was touching girls in ways that made them feel uncomfortable, and which was after the fashion that he was touching them in 2011, which is the case I’ve got in court now, the D.A.’s decision-making process might have been different,” said Peterson.
The attorney said responsibility doesn’t just fall on the suspect, but also on the district, the superintendent and school principal at the time of the alleged molestation, for not ensuring the children’s safety. “They knew essentially that Heller could not be trusted with young females, put the girls into a situation that was dangerous for them and then they suffered when they didn’t have to,” said Petersen.
The trial is scheduled for February 24.
News 10 spoke with Jackson County School District 9. The district said it is following legal advice to not comment on the lawsuit.
Tom Petersen said as of now, he knows of five alleged victims. One of them, said Petersen, was not a student of Heller’s, but an old acquaintance.