Parents sue school district, others after teacher Richard Johnson convicted of sexual assault

Dougco Schools: "Incident not reportable' to CDE

DOUGLAS COUNTY, Colo. - The parents of a girl sexually assaulted multiple times by a teacher are suing the Douglas County School District, the then-principal of Rocky Heights Middle School and the then-assistant principal of the same school.

The teacher, Richard Johnson, is serving 20 years for sexual assault and other crimes.

He was arrested in November 2012 on 30 felony charges including sexual assault on a child by one in a position of trust, sexual assault on a child, sexual exploitation of a child and enticement of child.

However, the lawsuit claims Principal Patricia Dierberger, Assistant Principal James McMurphy and at least one other, high-ranking DCSD administrator started receiving reports from parents and students during the 2010-2011 school year of what the lawsuit called, "disturbing interactions between [the girl], an eighth grade student, and Richard Johnson, her math teacher, including rumors that a sexual relationship had developed or was developing."

The lawsuit claims that "Although Principal Dierberger, Assistant Principal McMurphy and others were subject to mandatory reporting obligations under Colorado law and had final policymaking and disciplinary authority, including direct supervisory control over Mr. Johnson, they chose to ignore the reports of Mr. Johnson’s predatory behavior toward [the student] and failed to take any other measures to protect [the student]."

The lawsuit claims Johnson sexually assaulted the girl dozens of times.

It also claims that instead of investigating the alleged sexual misconduct, Dierberger and McMurphy suspended two students who first reported the allegations and required them to write an apology letter to Johnson.

The lawsuit says the parent of one of the suspended students told Dierberger that many students were discussing the relationship.

That mother said she told the principal to take the reports seriously and to investigate thoroughly, but that the Dierberger told her, she "knew her staff," and that Mr. Johnson was a "nice guy."

The lawsuit claims that Dierberger and McMurphy later admitted to a Douglas County Sheriff's Office detective that despite rumors and reports from students, they did not investigate Johnson or notify any government agencies.

Johnson was fired in March 2012, according to the lawsuit. It says Johnson was fired after he was videotaped permitting students to throw other students into the air and hit the ground, injuring at least one student.

The lawsuit says Johnson continued to sexually assault the girl after he was fired.

The lawsuit says the girl broke down and told her parents about the sexual assaults in October 2012. Johnson was arrested a few weeks later.

Johnson taught math at Rocky Heights Middle School and was a former boys basketball coach at Rock Canyon High School. Both schools are in Highlands Ranch.

The lawsuit alleges the principal, assistant principal and the district itself failed to prevent sexual discrimination, including sexual harassment.

The lawsuit seeks a jury trial and attorneys are demanding Douglas County address what they feel are violations of both Title IX  federal discrimination laws and state reporting laws.

They want Douglas County to require annual training on state mandatory reporting laws for sexual harassment and related crimes against students.

When questioned about the lawsuit, the Douglas County School District sent 7NEWS a statement that said, “Safety is our top priority in the Douglas County School District. We cannot comment on pending legal action.”

-- CALL7 Investigates --

The CALL7 Investigators looked into Rocky Heights Middle School’s reporting to the Colorado Department of Education. State law requires schools to tell CDE when employee are convicted of breaking certain laws -- and even when they resign or are fired for suspected violations.

That includes any unlawful sexual behavior, and any unlawful behavior involving children.

They are also required to report incidents of abuse, neglect, even unethical behavior and professional incompetence.

For the last decade, Rocky Heights has not reported a single such incident. A Douglas County School District representative said the incidents involving Johnson were “not reportable” to CDE.

In fact, the CALL7 Investigators found only a handful of reports state-wide. For the 2012-2013 school year, schools in Colorado reported a total of three incidents. Since 2001, they have reported 76.

CDE officials said they have not audited schools’ incident reports to see whether they are accurate.

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