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New child sex abuse lawsuit filed against Boys & Girls Club of Greenwich

The Boys and Girls Club of Greenwich

The Boys and Girls Club of Greenwich

Photo: File / Hearst Media Connecticut

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The Boys and Girls Club of Greenwich

The Boys and Girls Club of Greenwich

Photo: File / Hearst Media Connecticut

GREENWICH — A new lawsuit filed against the Boys Girls Club of Greenwich claims three employees, including the director of the organization, knew that at least nine boys had been sexually abused by a counselor in the 1970s and ‘80s and did nothing to stop it.

The new lawsuit also alleges that then-employees of the club were asked to sign nondisclosure agreements after the termination of a counselor, Andrew Atkinson, who is accused of molesting and raping boys in the club hundr of times. The agreement states that the reasons for Atkinson’s termination should not be disclosed to the public without permission of the executive director, according to court documents filed in Stamford Superior Court.

“This memorandum evidences knowledge by the defendant through its employees, agents [and] volunteers…[about] Atkinson’s sexual abuse,” the complaint says.

Attorneys for the Boys Girls Club of Greenwich declined to comment on the case Thursday, and attempts to reach attorneys for the Boys Girls Clubs of America were not successful. Representatives have previously said both organizations are taking the allegations “very seriously” and that the safety of the children they serve is their main priority. In an interview with Greenwich Time this month, Atkinson denied he ever abused children.

Two previous lawsuits against the nonprofit include details of abuse from five men now in their 40s and 50s who say their lives were permanently damaged by what happened to them. The new lawsuit filed Wednesday was brought by one plaintiff and includes new allegations of severe sexual abuse and trauma experienced by multiple children.

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“In one instance in the late 1970s, Atkinson falsely told a younger member and the member’s parents that a group of boys were planning to spend the night at the club ahead of a planned trip to Great Adventure Amusement Park,” the complaint says. “When the [boy] arrived, no one else was there besides Atkinson, who kept [him] there overnight and repeatedly sexually abused [him] at various locations throughout the facility.”

Then-Executive Director James Starcher had first-hand knowledge about the ongoing abuse, according to court filings.

Atkinson’s abuse had been reported to the executive director, James Starcher, in approximately 1979 or 1980 by another Boys Club member,” the complaint says. “This member told James Starcher that Atkinson was trying to grab and touch boys in the locker room. James Starcher dismissed the report, saying, in substance to the member, ‘Don’t be starting problems.’”

Starcher took no further action after the boy reported the abuse, court documents say.

His son, Jeffrey Starcher, who is currently director of organizational development for Boys Girls Clubs of America, also knew about the abuse, according to the complaint.

“Jeffrey Starcher had direct knowledge of Atkinson’s conduct in or around the fall of 1981, but did nothing more to stop Atkinson’s abuse than to give [him] a ‘time-out,’” court filings say.

Representatives for Boys Girls Clubs of America said the organization investigated and found no evidence that Starcher was aware of any abuse. Attempts to reach Jeff Starcher for comment Thursday were unsuccessful. James Starcher served as director of the club for decades. He is no longer living.

The plaintiff in the the new lawsuit, identified with the pseudonym John Jones, came forward after articles about the alleged abuse were published recently in Greenwich Time. He said Atkinson sexually assaulted him when he was 10 or 11.

Atkinson allegedly separated Jones from the other boys in the attic of the facility and made the child touch his exposed genitals. He also grabbed Jones’ genitals over his clothing, according to the complaint.

“Throughout my childhood, as I got older, I have had trouble processing what happened to me, and the anger, fear and other emotions that have occurred as a result of what happened,” Jones said in an affidavit. “I have struggled over the years and have lived, and continue to live, with deep shame, humiliation, remorse, embarrassment, anger, depression, fear of authority, and other serious consequences, which I believe are directly related to Atkinson’s sexual abuse of me.”

Jones said he remembers Atkinson staring at other boys’ genitals, heard him make comments about their genitals and saw him whip numerous boys with wet towels. Many other people witnessed this behavior, Jones said, and it continued for at least two years.

“Jones heard rumors among the members that Atkinson was engaging in inappropriate contact of a sexual nature with younger boys,” the complaint says.

The now-grown man said he remembers hearing an altercation between Atkinson and the club’s swim coach at the time.

“[Jones] believed at the time [the swim coach] was reprimanding Atkinson for [his] conduct toward members of the swim team,” court records say. “[The swim coach] knew or had reason to believe Atkinson was acting in an inappropriate way toward boys in the locker room.”

In a separate incident at the same facility, former Greenwich High School teaching aide Andrew Knapp was convicted in 2014 of attempting to sexually assault a child he was coaching in swimming there in 2010.

An investigation by Greenwich Time revealed nearly 60 cases involving similar claims of child sexual abuse at chapters of the Boys Girls Clubs of America across the nation in recent years. In several cases, the clubs apparently ignored alleged abuse or failed to report it to law enforcement.

The initial lawsuit in the Greenwich case, filed in May 2017, is still in the discovery process. A jury trial is tentatively scheduled for June 2020. The new lawsuit doesn’t specify the amount being sought by the plaintiff, but indicates it is more than $15,000.