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At trial, dad details alleged bullying of son

There would be vulgar questions about whether the boy performed sex acts with his own mother, and those were usually followed by equally vulgar questions regarding the boy’s sexuality.

There would be some shoving on the stairs, as well as other altercations that left the boy with red marks on his face, chest and at least once on his neck.

One of the classmates would constantly steal the boy’s pencils – over and over again, until something that may seem so trivial became overwhelming.

And when the boy’s father complained to the school’s principal and the school’s priest, all they offered were assurances they’d investigate.

But the bullying never stopped.

That’s the harrowing story a father painted for seven jurors in an Allen Superior Courtroom as a civil trial where administrators at Most Precious Blood Catholic School are accused of being negligent in stopping the abuse of the man’s son opened Monday.

The boy’s family filed a lawsuit against the Fort Wayne-South Bend Diocese – which runs Most Precious Blood – and three students and their parents in 2010.

They’re seeking damages to the tune of lawyer fees, medical bills and pain and anguish caused to themselves and the boy, who the father testified became sullen and “depressed” throughout sixth and seventh grades while he attended the school in 2008 and part of 2009.

Details about what the boy who suffers from cerebral palsy endured were not graphically spelled out in the initial lawsuit but instead were couched within the confines of lawyer-speak.

And the jury might never have heard the boy’s father testify about the graphic language a girl at the school would use when asking about his mother, or the grotesque picture she drew of a nude woman that she said was his mother, or how one other student would push the boy on the stairs repeatedly or how another would physically strike him had the local diocese not rescinded a settlement offer it extended the family.

In November 2011, The Journal Gazette obtained documents that showed the diocese and the parents of those named in the lawsuit were prepared to pay the family roughly $20,000 in damages.

The diocese – which would’ve paid $10,000 of that sum – pulled that settlement as soon as it became public, paving the way for a trial.

John C. Theisen, the attorney for the diocese, said during his opening arguments Monday that despite the family’s claims, there have been no witnesses among the students at the school to come forward to verify the bullying.

And while the boy’s father made “a few” calls to administrators, he and the boy’s mother never made any effort to document their dealings with school officials, Theisen said.

There were no letters or emails.

“This was no reign of terror as they would have you believe,” Theisen told the jury.

Allen Superior Court Judge David Avery alerted the jury prior to opening arguments that the diocese’s defense team plans to argue that the boy’s family is at fault themselves for any of his injuries and that they failed to take action.

During his opening arguments, Theisen even asked the jury what the boy’s father did after hearing all these stories about bullying, calling into question the veracity of those claims.

“The (family’s) response: Kept him in school,” Theisen told jurors.

Sam Bolinger, an attorney for the family, said during his opening arguments that the boy’s father had repeated meetings with the school’s principal and several with the school’s priest.

During his testimony, the father described the principal as looking vacantly at him and his wife after they told her of the bullying, and that going to her was, “like talking to a brick wall.”

After every meeting with her, the bullying continued.

“The bottom line is, (the bullying) is reported, the school’s on notice of the problem but it continues,” Bolinger told jurors.

Only one of the children named as a defendant in the lawsuit was in court Monday. She sat with her parents alongside the team of attorneys representing the diocese.

As the boy’s father began to describe the stories his son would come home with from school – stories about obscene references to his mother and his sexuality – the now teenage girl began to sniffle loudly. Then her hands were over her face and her shoulders began to shake while her mother put her arm around her back.

The trial is scheduled to continue through next Monday, and the boy, now a teen himself, is to testify at some point.

jeffwiehe@jg.net

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