Last week, a new chapter unfolded in the nearly two-year saga documenting the actions of former St. Helens High School (SHHS) teacher and track coach Kyle Jarred Wroblewski, who was sentenced to four years in prison in August for sexually abusing a student. On Oct. 29, a lawsuit was filed by the student against the St. Helens School District (SHSD) in federal district court in Portland, which alleges the district failed to protect her from child sexual abuse at the hands of Wroblewski.
But who are the players and what happens next?
The Chronicle reached out to the SHSD, and Community Relations Specialist Stacey Mendoza said the district does not comment on ongoing cases as policy.
The student, using the pseudonym Jessica Doe to protect her identity, is represented by attorneys Steve Crew and Peter Janci of Crew Janci LLP, a law firm that specializes in childhood sexual abuse cases. Crew said he and Janci have been doing this work exclusively for almost 13 years now. During that time, they have taken on cases against the Catholic Church, the Boy Scouts of America, the Mormon Church, the Seventh-day Adventist Church, and a number of other institutions. They are based in Portland, though their work takes them across the country, and their higher profile cases have been featured in The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, LA Times, and The Oregonian.
When they took on the Boy Scouts in 2010 on behalf of scout Kerry Lewis, their client was awarded almost $20 million. They were the first law firm to bring to trial the Boy Scouts’ “perversion files,” released during discovery in their case and admitted as evidence. Those files can now be found on the firm’s website, as well as in a data base curated by the LA Times.
The Chronicle caught up with Crew via a phone call from New Jersey, where he was working on another case against a private school. Last year, the firm represented 21 students who were sexually abused by a teacher at the New Jersey-based Pingry School in the late 70s and early 80s. The school settled.
When asked why they chose to take on the case against the SHSD, Crew had a quick answer.
“We think this case is particularly aggravated,” Crew said. “It’s a trusted teacher and he has been caught and sanctioned at least twice in the past for sexually harassing, boundary violations - clear warning signs - and he was placed on probation not once, but twice. The school district didn’t tell anybody about the fact that this guy had been disciplined in the past, had been warned and suspended for inappropriate conduct with young girls.”
That conduct, detailed in a press release by the firm, was also evoked during the criminal case against Wroblewsk through documents filed by the Columbia County District Attorney’s office which revealed the school had confronted the teacher about his behavior towards students 10 years prior to the abuse crimes that sent him to jail. The state used those documents to argue Wroblewski had repeatedly demonstrated he was unwilling or unable to exercise self-control, he targeted vulnerable victims from his position of trust at SHHS, and that he had shown a consistent pattern of sexually predatory behavior.
The suit alleges “over the decade leading up to the abuse of the Plaintiff” who was 16-years-old when the abuse began, the District and defendants Superintendent Scot Stockwell, Ted Zehr, James Carlile, and guidance counselor Heather Anderson-Bibler, “became aware on multiple occasions of sexual misconduct and sexual harassment by Wroblewski towards students in the District.” Carlile and Zehr both served as interim principals during the 2017-2018 school year, during which time much of the abuse against the Plaintiff was said to have occurred.
Ten years earlier, a 2008 letter from the District covered 16 different issues of concern surrounding Wroblewski’s behavior, including: “running [his] hands through girls’ hair and giving shoulder massages, smelling girls and referring to their ‘delicious’ perfume, behaving in a manner that students refer to as ‘too touchy’ and a specific situation regarding helping a female student stretch out at track.” At that time, the school ordered Wroblewski to have “no physical contact with students unless necessary to prevent injury to the student or provide assistance in an emergency situation.”
Despite the reprimand, Crew Janci LLP said documents show that Wroblewski continued his pattern of inappropriate boundary violations with female students. In 2009, the District received more complaints concerning the teacher’s behavior, including making sexualized comments to a female student about sexual positions, being caught privately texting with a female student, manipulating a situation to be alone with a female student at school on the weekend, and fraternizing with female students at his desk during class hours.
Further documents, the firm said, show the school understood the position they were in with Wroblewski and what his conduct signified. “You have been guilty of serious misconduct; as indicated above, your conduct constitutes sexual harassment of students,” the school informed Wroblewski via letter. “Your behavior is strictly forbidden by state and federal law as well as the District’s policies.”
At that time, as outlined by District Attorney Jeff Auxier in the criminal case against the teacher, Wroblewski was again given another list of expectations, and again told that he would have no physical contact with students unless it was necessary to prevent injury or to provide aid. The state argued that, while these instances took place a decade prior to the charges Wroblewski stood accused of, they represented the “defendant has engaged in grooming, pushing limits and using his position to access and victimize this community for years.”
“The School found Wroblewski ‘guilty’ of ‘sexual harassment of students.’ But other than multiple empty warnings, the School did nothing,” the law firm said. “Despite it all, the St. Helens School District continued to allow Wroblewski to serve as a teacher and coach - giving him continued access to children.”
Fast forward to the summer of 2017, when the complaint alleges Wroblewski first expressed to Plaintiff Doe that he had sexual feelings for her. After school began in the fall, Wroblewksi began “noticeably singling out Plaintiff for special attention.” As a result of the teacher’s grooming, the complaint alleges, Doe confided in Wroblewski that she was experiencing severe emotional problems in her personal life. The teacher began sexually abusing her a month later, and the abuse increased in frequency and severity over the coming months. The abuse occurred in various places, and sometimes on school grounds.
The complaint alleges during the spring of 2017-2018, the relationship between Wroblewski and the student was discussed widely throughout the school and had become known to certain school staff. In January of 2018, the complaint alleges another student notified numerous District personnel about the relationship but was cautioned by a staff member to exercise discretion because such allegations are a “serious thing.” The complaint alleges no steps were taken by the Defendants or their agents to investigate, report, or prevent Wroblewski’s future abuse of Doe.
Perhaps more disturbing, as outlined in the complaint, in April of 2018 after some of the abuse had already occurred, Doe informed a female track coach of further emotional problems - she was cutting herself and struggling with suicidal ideations. As a result, a counseling session was set up with Anderson-Bibler, and the complaint alleges she allowed Wroblewski to not only participate, but to direct the entire session.
A month after the counseling session, Wroblewski was arrested on 32 counts of second-degree sexual abuse, two counts of official misconduct and one count of contributing to the sexual delinquency of a minor.
“Our client was obviously in distress and he took advantage of that. He preyed on that,” Crew said. “They put a team together to help her and he kind of directed that team. That just made things even worse. Then, he’s out on bail and he abuses her again.”
Wroblewski was first arrested in May of 2018 and remained out of custody subject to a release agreement. He was arrested again in August for violating that release agreement by trying to contact Doe. He was arrested for a third and final time shortly thereafter for the same violation.
Crew said the firm will proceed with the litigation, and the first step will be to exchange discovery with the school district. He said the firm will get any and all documents that are in any way relevant to the case and will also take depositions, or sworn statements, from school administrators, union officials, teachers, staff, and anybody else who might have pertinent information on the case.
“I think it’s an important case. If we don’t settle it, we’ll take it to trial,” Crew said. “I think the school district afforded him more rights than they did to my client, and the result was a disaster for her.”