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Third sexual assault suit filed against St. Hilary parish, diocese

A woman identified only as “Jane Doe” filed suit in Washington County Court last week, alleging a male teacher at St. Hilary Elementary School sexually assaulted her during the 1970-71 school year.

The suit asks that she remain anonymous because of the sensitive nature of the case, but said her name, and the name of the teacher, referred to as “John Doe,” will be made available during a legal investigative procedure known as discovery but will remain confidential.

Jane Doe attended St. Hilary School from first through sixth grades, and while she was a fourth-grader, the suit describes the teacher calling the child to his desk and groping her beneath the skirt of her uniform.

As she checked other pupils’ homework in the school cafeteria, she alleges the teacher forced her to lie on a bench of a cafeteria table and assaulted her. Other unwanted encounters occurred in the locker room after gym class; in the school office, which was closed during afternoons; in a Knights of Columbus hall; and at the teacher’s home, a total of between 25 and 30 times.

The plaintiff suffered mental anguish and attempted to repress memories of what the suit called “horrendous” occurrences which have scarred her for life, causing her to suffer severe anxiety and lack of self-confidence, panic attacks, drug use and eating disorders that have required psychological and medical treatment in the past and present and will continue in the future.

The victim, who is alleging fraud and conspiracy, is seeking damages to cover medical expenses and therapy, and punitive damages for “deliberate indifference.”

The parish and diocese are named for failing to property supervise and monitor the behavior of the teacher and not performing background checks that would have revealed his predatory nature.

Jane Doe, in the complaint, said the same teacher “preyed” on other “insecure, defenseless students.”

Although it is unknown if the same teacher is the actor in three suits filed in Washington County Court, similarities arise in the complaints.

In the first suit filed in October 2019, a woman identified only by the initials D.M.K. alleged assault by a male teacher identified only as John Doe assaulted her at the school and at his home, where she was correcting homework assignments between 1974 and 1977.

In the second suit filed in March, the victim, identified as D.W.M., pointed to 1973 as the time period she was sexually assaulted at the teacher’s home where she had been invited to grade papers, and inside her classroom after other students had left.

Legal action in all of these cases was brought by attorneys from a Pittsburgh law firm.

St. Hilary School closed in 1997.

“This is the first the diocese has heard of this litigation,” responded Ellen Mady, spokeswoman. “As a matter of policy, we do not comment on pending litigation.”

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On-site alcohol sales banned in Allegheny County over COVID-19 spike

Allegheny County has experienced three consecutive days of higher amounts of COVID-19 cases as it prepares to ban alcohol consumption Tuesday at bars and restaurants to slow the spread of the virus.

The county announced 83 new cases of the virus Monday, a day after it experienced a record-setting one day total of 96 positive test results for the disease.

The onsite alcohol consumption ban was issued under a Sunday order by Debra Bogen, director of the Allegheny County Health Department, because the increase in COVID-19 cases was linked to young adults crowding bars.

“We’re taking these steps today to further protect the health and safety of all residents through my authority under the Pennsylvania Disease Prevention and Control Law,” Bogen said Sunday, adding the ban is in place indefinitely.

State Health Sec. Rachel Levine said she “strongly supports” Bogen’s order, adding the spike in cases also resulted from travel and not practicing social distancing or wearing masks to slow the spread of the virus.

Levine also said there is no plan in place to return Allegheny to the yellow caution phase of reopening.

“This virus is not gone,” Levine said Monday, when she joined Gov. Tom Wolf in thanking health care workers during a briefing at UPMC Pinnacle Community Osteopathic Hospital in Harrisburg.

Much of the discussion at the briefing centered on the need for people to wear masks in public under a state order to wear them when entering businesses.

Levine said the wearing of masks “needs to become socially unacceptable” because those who do not are putting people in danger.

UPMC staff also reported Monday the disease appears to be less severe and that treatments, such as steroids and clinical trials, seem to be keeping more patients off of ventilators.

The novel coronavirus has killed 6,614 Pennsylvanians since March after eight new deaths were announced Monday. There were 492 new cases statewide, taking the total to 85,988.

Washington County reported five new COVID-19 cases Monday taking its total to 216, and Greene County showed no increase in cases.

Wolf said Pennsylvania was still not experiencing a surge in COVID-19 cases that would threaten health-care systems.

“We think it’s the bars,” he said, adding other places in the state are considering issuing an alcohol ban, too.

“This is a war we’re all in together,” Wolf said. “The enemy is that virus. It’s not a liberal or conservative thing. Wear the mask.”

Washington NAACP proposes citizen police review board

The Washington chapter of the NAACP submitted a request to city council Monday for the creation of a citizen police review board to investigate potential complaints against city police officers.

“Its goal is to receive, investigate and recommend appropriate action on complaints regarding police misconduct and to improve the relationship between the police department and the community,” said NAACP president Andrew Goudy, who read the proposal to council during an agenda meeting.

The proposal comes weeks after a Minneapolis police officer was charged in the death of an unarmed African-American man, George Floyd, leading to nationwide protests and civil unrest. Washington residents held peaceful protests in conjunction with the Black Lives Matter movement May 30 and June 6.

“The relationship between the police department and the black community could be better,” Goudy said in an interview.

According to the proposal, the board would consist of seven residents of Washington, who would serve a four-year, unpaid term. The proposal states the mayor would appoint three members to the board and would select the other four from list of candidates submitted by the entire council.

Two of the members must have experience as a law enforcement professional, but no member can be currently employed as a law enforcement officer, the proposal states. Members of the review board also cannot be employed by the city or “its authorities.”

“While serving, board members will oversee all aspects of complaint handling: from initial review to public hearings and meetings to recommendations, if applicable,” Goudy said.

According to the proposal, the review board would have “full access to all records” within the city and the police department that are “relevant to an ongoing investigation.” The board would only be permitted to “complaints related to police procedures of the city of Washington and complaints about officers employed therein.”

Washington police Chief Robert Wilson said following the meeting when it comes to accessing information about officers, the city’s human resources department and the police union would likely be involved. He said the union is aware of the proposal that was presented today, and he suspects it will want to be involved in further conversations about the board.

“I am not opposed to anything that will help bridge the divide between the community and this police department,” Wilson said.

David Gatling, who sits on the executive board of Washington’s NAACP, said one thing he would like to see improved through a review board is the complaint filing process.

If someone intends to file a complaint against a Washington officer, they have to do it alone, in person at the station, Gatling said.

“That’s very intimidating,” he said.

Wilson said the department’s complaint filing regulation ensures the citizen provides a narrative in their own words, uninfluenced by other people.

Goudy said the review board proposal was modeled after a similar police review board in Pittsburgh. He said while he’s not sure how long it will take for the review board to be approved by council, it should have been put in place by now.

Both he and Wilson said they’ve started to meet quarterly, to maintain better communication and have more open dialogue about needs in the community.

“Right now, I’m encouraged by the fact that we’re meeting,” Goudy said.

Council member Joe Manning said since Wilson became chief of the department, “the city has not been stagnant,” in attempting to reach minority candidates when recruiting new police officers.

Manning told Goudy he would pass the proposal to Mayor Scott Putnam for review, as Putnam wasn’t present at Monday’s meeting.

Wilson said he anticipates council needing additional time to review the proposal before approving it at the next voting meeting, which is Thursday.

Wilson said he doesn’t see a “great divide” between his department and the community, but that “anything that brings us back together is a good thing.”

“I’m open to anything that will help,” he said.

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Extended benefits, scam calls highlight L&I briefing

For some unemployed Pennsylvanians, relief is ahead.

The state Labor & Industry’s Extended Benefits program kicks in this week for individuals who have exhausted their regular unemployment compensation and federal Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation. Those claimants are eligible for nine to 13 weeks of extended pay, at the same weekly benefit rate they had received, but for half as many weeks as they were financially eligible for previously.

“We’re looking forward to starting the new EB program,” said Susan Dickinson, UC benefits policy director for L&I, Tuesday during the department’s weekly virtual news conference. She and L&I secretary Jerry Oleksiak provided an update on Pennsylvania’s jobless picture as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.

Fraud was another focus during the briefing, and not just the investigation of what occurred Memorial Day weekend, when out-of-state scammers made thousands of fraudulent UC claims through the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program administered in Pennsylvania. The state’s system was not breached, but the secretary again advised claimants to check their credit ratings.

Claimants are susceptible to telephone calls from scammers posing as L&I staff, Dickinson said.

“We do not ask for any full personal information, like a Social Security number of a PIN,” she said of the agencies procedures. “We don’t charge fees for processing claims. We don’t ask people to send checks – unless they are checks to be returned to the L&I building.”

To guard against phone fraud, she recommended claimants save numbers from L&I’s two toll-free lines, then create a contact, assuring that a call from one of those numbers is valid.

Dickinson said the UC Trust Fund is holding up well as of this week.

“We’ve not had to borrow (money),” she said. “We’ve had projections that we may have to borrow in the fall, but we’re not sure.”

Oleksiak again updated the ever-growing volume of UC statistics. Since March 15, he said, the department has paid $21.5 billion in unemployment benefits, $9.6 billion through traditional UC and $9.6 billion through the Federal Pandemic UC program. About $2.2 billion has been paid through PUA.

L&I will have its sixth weekly town hall at 1 p.m. Thursday. To participate, online or by telephone, visit https://access.live/PAlabor or call 833-380-0719.