Former student sues Smith Voc over handling of alleged sex assault

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Staff Writer
Published: 2/14/2019 12:20:06 AM

NORTHAMPTON — A former Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School student and the student’s mother are suing the school and the city, accusing them of mishandling an alleged sexual assault by another student on a school bus in the winter of 2016.

The suit, which requests a jury trial, claims that school officials did not investigate the incident and instead disciplined the student who was allegedly assaulted.

The student was on a bus driven by former wrestling coach Brian Bagdon coming back from a wrestling meet when the alleged assault took place “within view of other members of the wrestling team, and in close proximity to defendant Bagdon,” the complaint states.

The student, who was 15 at the time and is unnamed, was allegedly blamed for the incident rather than treated as a victim, according to the Jan. 29 complaint filed by the plaintiff’s lawyers Stella Xanthakos and Michael Malkovich in Hampshire Superior Court.

The plaintiff “was 15 years old and was the victim of sexual assault, but was characterized as responsible for the rape which took place on the school bus,” the lawsuit reads.

In addition to the city, the complaint names several other defendants, including the school’s trustees, former principal and current superintendent Andrew Linkenhoker, current principal and former assistant principal Joseph Bianca, school security officer Kevin Brown and the student accused of the sexual assault.

Thomas M. FitzGerald and John E. Cotton, members of the board of trustees, declined to comment on the lawsuit because the matter is under litigation. Linkenhoker also declined to comment citing the ongoing litigation. Attempts to reach Bagdon in recent days were unsuccessful.

The nine-count lawsuit alleges negligence on behalf of the board of trustees and the city of Northampton, defamation on behalf of various defendants for slanderous comments in the student’s records, as well as assault, battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Bagdon and a chaperone did not stop the assault, the complaint alleges, and Bianca, Linkenhoker and Brown allegedly labeled it as “inappropriate sexual actions,” and treated the plaintiff as if that person was at fault. School officials subsequently failed to investigate the alleged assault, according to the lawsuit.

It also alleges that Brown and Bianca “castigated” the plaintiff, and along with Linkenhoker treated the student as a “disciplinary problem.”

School staff were told of the incident, and when other students found out, they bullied the plaintiff, the complaint alleges. Bianca later allegedly issued additional punishment, including prohibiting the plaintiff from extracurricular activities. As a result of that action and the alleged sexual assault, the student became depressed, the lawsuit alleges.

When the plaintiff later transferred schools, the complaint says that Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School sent the student’s disciplinary records to the new school, which stated the plaintiff had “engaged in inappropriate sexual conduct.”

This story has been updated.

Greta Jochem can be reached at   gjochem@gazettenet.com




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