LOWVILLE — A second lawsuit alleging sexual abuse by a former Lowville school teacher was filed Tuesday, and this time, the former teacher is named as a defendant in the suit.
A. Ronald Johnson, 75, formerly of Lowville, now of Cooperstown, is accused of sexually abusing a 14-year-old boy in and around 1976 — more than 40 years ago.
Tuesday’s suit filing in state Supreme Court comes just over a week after an initial suit was filed, against Lowville Academy and Central School District, its Board of Education, Lowville United Methodist Church and three other church entities which had authority over the Lowville church at the time. Mr. Johnson was not named as a defendant in the first suit.
The Lowville church and higher entities named in the first suit were not named as defendants in the second suit.
The plaintiff’s attorney Jason A. Frament, of LaFave, Wein & Frament, Guilderland, said upon conversations with the second plaintiff the decision was made to name Mr. Johnson as a defendant in the second suit as the second plaintiff was allegedly able to provide the law firm with more insight into Mr. Johnson.
Mr. Frament also said the decision to name Mr. Johnson as a defendant was made because they now know he’s in Cooperstown and is believed to hold a position at a Methodist church there. It’s unclear whether the church is in Cooperstown or in the immediate surrounding areas, but the firm believes the church is in Cooperstown.
Mr. Frament also confirmed that after initially choosing not to, the firm and the first plaintiff will move to name Mr. Johnson as a defendant in the first suit.
It’s alleged by the plaintiff, identified in court documents as AL542 DOE, who was a student at what was then Lowville High School, that Mr. Johnson engaged in unpermitted sexual contact with him on an occasion when Mr. Johnson entered the youth’s home.
In court documents, it’s said that all institutional defendants — Lowille Academy and its school board — learned or should have learned that Mr. Johnson was not fit to work with children and was a danger to children before molesting the second plaintiff.
It’s further alleged that the institutional defendants negligently deemed Mr. Johnson fit to work with children as well as negligently deemed any previous problems with Mr. Johnson as “fixed or cured.”
The complaint states the institutional defendants breached their duties to the plaintiff by actively maintaining and employing Mr. Johnson in a position of power and authority through which he had access to children.
In the first cause of action, it’s stated that all defendants owed the plaintiff protection from harm because the defendants invited the plaintiff onto their property, and Mr. Johnson posed a “dangerous condition” on and off the defendants’ property. All defendants also failed to warn the plaintiff and his family of the alleged risk Mr. Johnson posed, and the risks of child sex abuse.
Also stated in the suit’s first cause of action, all defendants “violated a legal duty by failing to report known and/or suspected abuse of children by A. Ronald Johnson and/or their other agents to the police and law enforcement,” which is a direct violation of the state’s mandatory reporter law under the Child Protective Services Act of 1973.
Outlined by the state’s Social Services Law, Article 6, Title 6, Section 413, a mandated reporter is required to report abuse when they have “reasonable cause to suspect” that a child before them in their professional capacity is being abused or maltreated. Among those considered mandated reporters are school teachers, officials, administrators and personnel.
In the suit’s third cause of action, it’s stated that in failing to remove Mr. Johnson from working with children, the institutional defendants failed to exercise the degree of a care a reasonably prudent person would have.
The suits are brought upon by the state’s Child Victims Act, which extends the statute of limitations for survivors of child sexual abuse in criminal and civil cases. The act, passed last year, gives survivors a one-year window to file claims of abuse that had previously exceeded the statute of limitations. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo extended the act for a second time on May 27, giving survivors until Aug. 13, 2021, to file claims.
Mr. Frament said now, not only are the institutions being held accountable, but so is the individual reasonable for the alleged abuse.
“The two people that have come forward, they have been in contact with each other and are able to build a support system,” Mr. Frament said.