Dover Area School District target of lawsuit over former music teacher who sexually abused student

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Matthew Puterbaugh

A federal lawsuit was filed Wednesday against the Dover Area School District after 48-year-old Matthew Puterbaugh, a former music teacher with the district, was sentenced on charges related to having sex with a student over the course of four years.

Along with the district, Lincoln Intermediate Unit 12; former Dover Area School District superintendent Richard Nilsen; and Puterbaugh are also named in the suit.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of a former student who alleges the district mishandled reports she made in 2001 and 2004 that Puterbaugh was sexually abusing her.

According to the lawsuit, the woman reported Puterbaugh’s inappropriate conduct to teachers and administrators in 2001 and 2004. The abuse began in 2001 when the woman was 11-years-old and Puterbaugh was her music teacher.  The woman first had sex with Puterbaugh when she was 12 years old, the suit alleges.

The sexual encounters took place on school grounds at Dover Intermediate School, at Puterbaugh’s home and at the victim’s home during school district-sanctioned music lessons, the lawsuit states. The pair had sex at least 80 times, according to court filings .

At 13, the woman was impregnated by Puterbaugh and went to Maryland to get an abortion, according to the lawsuit.

The suit alleges, school staff  persuaded the plaintiff to recant her report of sexual abuse, citing Puterbaugh was a “good teacher” and “these allegations will ruin his (Puterbaugh’s) career.”  The woman came “under duress” by school staff and returned to the teacher she’d originally reported the abuse to and told them she would”lie and say it didn’t happen,” according to the lawsuit.

By that point, the district terminated their investigation, the lawsuit claims.

“As a consequence of the failure by the District, its schools and Lincoln Intermediate Unit 12 to take meaningful, effective and/or legally required action in response to the allegations by the plaintiff and others regarding his improper and outrageous conduct, Puterbaugh was able to continue his course of conduct and persist in his abuse of plaintiff and other female students for years,” the suit states.

The woman said she attempted suicide four times between the age of 13 and 18. She has undergone mental health treatment because of the abuse, the lawsuit claims.

Puterbaugh was eventually reported to authorities in April 2013 by the school district after receiving an anonymous call about Puterbaugh’s sexual relationship with the plaintiff, according to the lawsuit. Police were again notified by the district in Feb. 2014 after a 12-year-old student told a school resource officer that Puterbaugh had caressed and squeezed her thigh during a music class.

Police searched his home and found more than 660 pornographic images of children engaged in sexual acts. They also found videos and photographs of numerous past and present female students of Dover Intermediate School, including the plaintiff. Many of the photographs were of the girl’s undergarments, legs and cleavage areas.

Puterbaugh is currently serving a 15-year federal sentence for the production of child pornography and 5 to 10 years on charges  involuntary deviate sexual intercourse and sexual assault. The sentences will run concurrently.

The woman is seeking unspecified monetary damages from the defendants in the suit.

In the lawsuit–the woman accuses the district of violating her rights through systematic failure to train personnel to properly investigate child abuse allegations.