April 27 (Bloomberg) -- Bronx prosecutors said the alleged sexual abuse of students at New York City prep school Horace Mann took place too long ago to be prosecuted.
Bronx District Attorney Robert T. Johnson, whose county includes the Horace Mann campus, said in a statement yesterday that all instances of sexual abuse alleged at the school from 1962 to 1996 fall outside the statute of limitations.
Before August 1996, the cutoff had been five years for all felonies other than homicides and two years for misdemeanors. The statute was expanded that month to allow child sex crimes to be prosecuted for five years after the victim’s 18th birthday or for the same period following the report of an offense to authorities. The deadline was eliminated for all class B felonies classified as sex offenses, Johnson’s office said.
“Neither of these legislative changes provides any recourse for a prosecution of any act of past sexual abuse at Horace Mann which has currently been reported,” Johnson said. Reviving a claim after the deadline has passed would violate the U.S. Constitution, Johnson said, citing Supreme Court precedent.
Johnson’s office began a probe of the allegations after they were reported in the New York Times magazine in June 2012, setting up a hotline for victims and others, communicating with Horace Mann administrators and reviewing the school’s abuse reporting policies and procedures.
The office received about 30 calls and conducted more than 60 separate interviews, more than 25 with alleged victims, and traveled to states including California, Colorado and Vermont to speak with people, Johnson said.
The interviews “reveal a systemic pattern of alleged abuse beyond what was outlined in the original New York Times magazine article,” Johnson said. “We received direct information regarding at least 12 separate alleged abusers. The reported abuse ranges from what may be characterized as inappropriate behavior to child endangerment, actual instances of sexual conduct, sexual intercourse and criminal sexual acts.”
The earliest abuse reported at Horace Mann was said to have occurred in 1962 and while the majority of the acts allegedly happened in the 1970s, there were additional instances reported from the 1980s and 1990s, Johnson’s office said.
Horace Mann officials and Paul Browne, a spokesman for the New York City Police Department, didn’t immediately respond to messages seeking comment on the district attorney’s statement. Thomas Kelly, the head of school, didn’t immediately respond to an e-mail seeking comment.
The Horace Mann Action Coalition, a non-profit organization formed last year by alumni in response to the alleged abuse, has hired retired New York State Supreme Court Judge Leslie Crocker Snyder to lead its investigation.
The group said in a statement that it supports an act sponsored by state Assemblywoman Marge Markey that would eliminate statutes of limitations in the future and provide a one-year window for bringing old civil cases “to give justice to victims and expose abusers.”
Johnson’s report “states what many of us have known for quite some time,” said Rob Boynton, a 1981 graduate of Horace Mann and spokesman for the group, in a telephone interview. “It makes official what has been speculated and accused by journalists and activists and alumni for at least the last nine months.”
With more than 1,800 students today, the school, located just east of the Hudson River, was founded as a coeducational “experimental and developmental unit” of the Teachers College of Columbia University and became an independent day school for boys in grades 7-12 in 1947, according to its website. It became coed again in 1968.
The school said in a statement to the New York Times in June 2012 that it was “deeply concerned” about the allegations of child abuse “regardless of when or where they may have occurred.”
The school said it has terminated teachers for “inappropriate conduct,” including some of those named in the Times story, and noted that none of the individuals named in the article were employed at Horace Mann. Many of those named are deceased.
In a letter to the community dated August 6, 2012, Steven M. Friedman, chairman of the school’s board of trustees, said the trustees had taken steps to address the allegations, including partnering with the New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and requiring all employees to undergo background checks.
The school was cooperating “fully and actively” with probes by the New York Police Department and Johnson’s office and fully supported the criminal prosecution of “any individual responsible for hurting children,” Friedman said.
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