Binghamton University Student Dies After Fall from Balcony at Fraternity House

Conor Donnelly, a Binghamton University freshman and Alpha Sigma Phi Fraternity pledge, dies after falling from balcony during fraternity house party.

Alcohol has been named a factor in Conor Donnelly’s death, ruled accidental by the Binghamton Police Department.  

With any devastating circumstance, questions mount – how does a community prevent future tragedies and who should be held responsible?

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The Alpha Sigma Phi Fraternity house where Binghamton University student, Conor Donnelly, fell to his death. Andrew Thayer / Press & Sun-Bulletin

The Alpha Sigma Pi Fraternity house at Binghamton University, where the party and terrible tragedy occurred, offers a text book example of potential code violations. Moreover, while over 1,000 fraternities in the International Conference have gone dry, Alpha Sigma Pi is not one of them.

Douglas Fierberg – a nationally acclaimed wrongful death attorney representing clients who have sued universities, national fraternities and local chapter members for alcohol-related student deaths – cautions:  

“Even if a party is held at an off-campus fraternity house, the hosts and the organization may still be liable. These organizations need to be rendered safe, there is no excuse for not intervening.”

Fierberg represented the family of Brett Griffen, the University of Delaware student who died as a result of alcohol poisoning in 2008. The Griffen’s brought suit against University of Delaware calling for its Greek life websites to list all violations against fraternities and sororities.  Despite the attainment of policy change at University of Delaware, Fierberg urges families to remain cautious:

“Colleges and universities continue to publish vague information – if they publish it at all – about fraternity interactions, including deadly hazing rituals and sexual assaults. We’re still facing significant problems because most universities refuse to tell the truth about student deaths at Greek organizations.”

Having represented victims of similar tragedies associated with fraternities, our hope is that Conor Donnelly’s family finds answers related to how this terrible loss transpired.

School Violence Law offers our deepest condolences to the Donnelly family during this difficult time.

Click here to read the article in its entirety.

Allegations of Sexual Assault and Use of Date-Rape Drugs at Northwestern University

Four female students may have been given a date-rape drug last month at Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity. Two allege sexual assault.

As CNN reported on February 7, allegations of sexual assault and the use of date-rape drugs have surfaced at Northwestern University:

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The Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity house on the campus of Northwestern University in Illinois. Chris Walker / Chicago Tribune

Northwestern received tips about two alleged incidents, one on January 21 and the other this month, according to campus security alert issued Monday night.

Four female students may have been given a date-rape drug last month at the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity, campus security reports.  Two of them “believe they were also sexually assaulted,” the report states.

The school received another report that a female student was sexually assaulted on February 2, “possibly involving use of a date-rape drug after attending an event at another fraternity house.” the alert said.  It is not clear where the alleged assault might have happened.

In its security alert, the university stressed its concern about its students’ safety.  It said anyone with knowledge about the alleged incidents should contact the school’s Title IX coordinator. Northwestern’s Sexual Harassment Prevention Office is investigating. Sigma Alpha Epsilon’s national organization has also launched an investigation into the allegations.

These are the latest claims associated with a chilling problem that is significant on US college campuses, as a recent survey by The Association of American Universities found.

Conducted in the spring of 2015, the survey documented the problem of sex assault on campus by polling over 150,000 students from 27 universities.  Among female college students, 23% said they experienced some form of unwanted sexual contact — ranging from kissing to touching to rape, carried out by force or threat of force, or while they were incapacitated because of alcohol and drugs, the survey found.  Nearly 11% said the unwanted contact included penetration or oral sex.

Click here to read article by CNN reporter, Joe Sterling, in its entirety.

Student Sues School Board That Failed To Protect Him From Sexual Abuse By Janitor

Attorney Monica Beck Files $10M Lawsuit on Behalf of Third-Grader Who Suffered Extreme Sexual Abuse at Hands of  School Custodian. 

The federal lawsuit has garnered national attention and ignited a firestorm illuminating the scope of Title IX in K-12 schools. Further spotlighted in the article below by PEOPLE reporter KC Baker, Monica Beck discusses the severe sexual abuse her client suffered, Title IX obligations in K-12 schools, and her hope to help other victims. 

A young victim of sexual abuse is suing his school board and two of its employees in federal court, for $10 million, alleging they failed to protect him and other students from a sexual predator who worked as a janitor at their school, PEOPLE confirms.

The lawsuit claims the school board in Russell County, Virginia, and two principals at the district’s Lebanon Elementary School in Lebanon, Virginia — Phillip Henley and Kimberly Hooker — “turned a blind eye” to “blatant sexual misconduct” against the victim and other male students.

The victim is identified as John Doe in the complaint, which was filed on Dec. 8.

The suit also names Bobby Gobble as a defendant. Gobble, 42, was Lebanon Elementary’s former head janitor and was sentenced in 2014 to 100 years in prison after confessing to sexually abusing four boys ages 14 or younger over a four-and-a-half-year period, according to court records obtained by PEOPLE.

Gobble was reportedly arrested in February 2014. He later pleaded guilty to 150 counts of aggravated sexual battery, forcible sodomy and attempted forcible sodomy and is serving a sentence of at least 70 years, according to records.

The Russell County schools superintendent declined to comment to PEOPLE, citing the pending litigation. Neither Henley nor Hooker, who both worked as principals at Lebanon, could immediately be reached. It was not clear if either still worked as a principal in the district.

Attorney Jim Guynn, who is representing the school board and its employees, did not respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment. But he told the Washington Post, “I haven’t seen anything that indicates to me that any of the defendants had any idea that this was going on.”

Not so, according to the boy’s lawyer.

Monica Beck tells PEOPLE the defendants allegedly left John Doe and the other victims vulnerable to Gobble’s abuse — which, according to the lawsuit, was predicated on behavior such as Gobble spending long periods of time alone with children and appearing “obsessive” and “overly friendly.”

At one point John Doe lived with Gobble, though he had no legal custody of the boy. Henley, the school principal at the time, assumed Gobble was a relative or friend, the suit claims.

“The school had a duty to protect John Doe and other students from Gobble’s sexual abuse,” Beck says. “The school, which is federally funded, is obligated to comply with a federal law called Title IX, which prohibits sexual discrimination, which includes sexual assault.”

But school officials did not follow Title IX’s requirements, the boy’s suit claims, causing him to suffer “extreme and severe emotional distress” including fright, horror, grief, shame and psychological trauma.

Escalating Abuse: ‘The School Trusted Gobble’

Gobble began sexually abusing John Doe in 2011, when the boy was in third grade at Lebanon Elementary, the complaint states. The sexual violence was “so extreme in degree that it went beyond all possible bounds of decency.”

The abuse continued for almost two years, when Gobble convinced the boy’s grandmother, who had legal custody of him and his three siblings during the 2011-2012 school year, to allow the boy to come live with him, according to the suit.

As for why the child’s family allowed him to live with Gobble, Beck says: “My understanding is that the grandmother trusted Gobble because the school trusted Gobble.”

The boy lived with Gobble at his home for more than a year before moving to Gobble’s sister’s house, the complaint states. Gobble slept with John Doe, bought him extravagant gifts, drove him to and from school and took him on trips across state lines, during which he sexually abused the boy.

Gobble threatened to kill or harm the boy and his mother if he told anyone about the abuse, the complaint states.

Henley, who was Lebanon’s principal when John Doe was in third grade, knew that Gobble had the child stay at his house and took him on trips, the complaint alleges. Yet “he failed to take any action to protect John from Gobble’s sexual abuse.”

In the spring of 2013, when John Doe was a fourth-grader, Kimberly Hooker, who became the school’s principal, learned that a complaint had been filed with the Department of Social Services about Gobble sexually abusing the child, the lawsuit says.

The complaint was later dismissed as lacking evidence, after both the boy and Gobble denied any inappropriate behavior. Hooker was present when both the child and Gobble were interviewed by DDS, according to the complaint.

“Although DSS found the case unsubstantiated, Principal Hooker — who knew Gobble spent vast amounts of money on and time with John, both during and outside of school hours — failed to undertake any independent investigation, monitor Gobble or take any action to protect John,” the complaint alleges.

Once a school receives a report that a student is being sexually assaulted or abused, Title IX obligates that school to take action, Beck says.

“Russell County Schools did not investigate the report and took no action, other than to tell Gobble it would be a good thing if John would be in an after-school program instead of spending time with Gobble,” Beck says.

“But there is no indication that the school ever increased supervision or undertook any kind of disciplinary action against Gobble or made any effort to ensure that he wasn’t sexually abusing John.”

The defendants allowed Gobble to remove children, including John Doe, from classrooms, failing to bring them back for long periods of time, the complaint alleges. They also allegedly allowed Gobble to be alone and unsupervised with John Doe and other children during and after school.

They failed to provide training to personnel and parents about the sexual abuse of students by school staff, the complaint claims.

The abuse against John Doe began to decrease once he left Lebanon Elementary for middle school, according to his suit.

“During the summer between fourth and fifth grade, he had less contact with Gobble because his mother was concerned,” Beck says.

Helping Other Victims

Beck says she hopes the lawsuit helps other children who are left vulnerable to sexual abuse by adults.

“With cases like this, one of the things we always hope for is justice for the individual plaintiff, and that schools make sure that their administrators and staff are trained in Title IX and recognize signs of sexual abuse and receive grooming techniques that adult perpetrators use to gain the trust of children,” Beck says.

“Often times, predators like Mr. Gobble will threaten children and frighten them so they are afraid to report the abuse.”

Gobble’s lawyer could not be reached for comment.

“When there is a report, we want to make sure educators know what their obligations are and what the steps [are] to take to make sure a student is protected and that other students are not subjected to the same abuse,” Beck says.

“I also hope that this case helps initiate a national discussion on schools’ obligations in keeping our children safe from sex harassment and sex assault in school.”

School Violence Law Represents Elementary Student Sexually Abused By Janitor In Title IX Lawsuit

Our Client Was Subjected to Years of  Sexual Abuse by Elementary School Custodian while School Board and Personnel Turned a Blind Eye.

The horrific and long-term sexual abuse our client endured at the hands of Lebanon Elementary School janitor, Bobby Gobble, on and off school grounds, is reported by Washington Post reporters Moriah Balingit and Andee Erickson.

The $10 million federal lawsuit, filed by School Violence Law attorney, Monica Beck, asserts that Russell County School Board and school personnel “turned a blind eye to Gobble’s blatant sexual misconduct against John and other male students” and “created and fostered an environment in which John and other male students were vulnerable and subjected to Gobble’s deplorable sexual abuse.”

In the gripping article, “A boy was sexually abused in a janitor’s closet. Is the school responsible?” Balingit and Erickson discuss the lawsuit itself while simultaneously casting a spotlight on the larger issue of sexual assault and Title IX mismanagement occurring all too frequently in K-12 grade schools across the nation.

Bobby Gobble was a janitor at Lebanon Elementary School when he began luring a boy to the custodian’s office and sexually abused him behind closed doors. Gobble later was able to convince the third grader’s family that the boy should move in with Gobble, and the abuse continued in Gobble’s home, where he slept in the same room as the boy, according to court papers.

Gobble pleaded guilty in 2014 to 150 counts of aggravated sexual battery, forcible sodomy and carnal knowledge in connection with his abuse of four boys — two of them elementary school pupils.

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Bobby Gobble plead guilty in 2014 to 150 counts of aggravated sexual battery, carnal knowledge and sodomy in connection with the abuse of four boys. He is currently serving 70 years in state prison. // WCYB

Although the abuse occurred behind closed doors in Gobble’s office, in a stockroom and in Gobble’s home, the boy who suffered abuse while living with Gobble claims that the school board and school personnel in Lebanon, Va., should have done more to protect him. A new lawsuit filed in federal court alleges that school employees were ill-equipped to prevent the abuse and to spot the signs that the boy was being regularly victimized.

The boy, who goes by the pseudonym John Doe in court documents, filed the $10 million federal lawsuit last month, alleging that the Russell County School Board and school personnel “turned a blind eye to Gobble’s blatant sexual misconduct against John and other male students” and “created and fostered an environment in which John and other male students were vulnerable and subjected to Gobble’s deplorable sexual abuse.”

Jim Guynn, a Salem, Va.-based attorney who is representing the board and school personnel, said he has not spoken at length with his clients about the lawsuit and could not respond to the accusations in detail. But he said school personnel cannot be held responsible for Gobble’s crimes: “I haven’t seen anything that indicates to me that any of the defendants had any idea that this was going on.”

A lawyer for Gobble, who is serving 70 years in state prison, did not respond to requests for comment.

The lawsuit centers on a fundamental question: What obligations do the nation’s public schools have to prevent and investigate sexual assault on school grounds? As attention to sexual assault on college campuses has grown, it has become clear that colleges have specific responsibilities to protect students under Title IX, a federal law that bars sex discrimination. Some experts say people are less aware that K-12 public schools have similar obligations to investigate and curb sex assault. There was a sharp rise last year in the number of federal civil rights complaints alleging that K-12 schools had mishandled a complaint of sexual assault, according to government data.

Monica Beck, a Michigan-based attorney who is representing the boy in Russell County, said Lebanon Elementary School officials violated Title IX because they failed to conduct their own investigation after they learned of allegations against Gobble.

According to the lawsuit, Principal Kim Hooker learned that the Department of Social Services was investigating Gobble after a complaint was filed. Hooker sat in when the department interviewed both Gobble and the boy; both denied anything inappropriate was happening.

While the complaint was unsubstantiated, Beck argues that the school should have conducted its own investigation. Instead, according to the lawsuit, Hooker told Gobble that “it would be ‘best’ if John did not stay after school unless he was in the after school program,” the lawsuit says. Hooker referred a request for comment to Guynn, her lawyer.

Phillip Henley, who was principal of the school when the boy was in third grade, was aware that the child had moved in with Gobble and that Gobble was taking him on out-of-state trips, according to the lawsuit. But the lawsuit says he never ascertained whether Gobble had legal custody of the boy and assumed he was a relative or family friend, according to the lawsuit. Henley did not respond to a request for comment.

The lawsuit also alleges that teachers saw signs something might be amiss but did nothing. Gobble disclosed to one teacher that his marriage had dissolved because his wife was “jealous” of the boy, and the boy’s fourth-grade teacher had observed Gobble’s “obsessive” and “overly friendly” behavior toward the child, the lawsuit states. One teacher noticed Gobble always seemed to have his hands on the child and sometimes took the boy out of class to give him money, the lawsuit says.

Although the teacher was uncomfortable with Gobble’s actions, she took no action to protect the child from his abuse, according to the lawsuit. The teacher sometimes allowed Gobble to spend time in her classroom with students, even letting the janitor bring children to the custodian’s office with him, the lawsuit says.

Another Russell County teacher also noticed Gobble’s suspicious behavior toward the boy one summer day in 2013 when visiting her classroom to prepare for the upcoming school year. The room was dark when the teacher entered, but after about 10 minutes she noticed Gobble and the boy hiding behind several stacked boxes.

Guynn, the attorney for the school board and school employees, said his clients cannot be held liable for Gobble’s crimes when everything they observed about his interactions with the boys was legal.

  • Our Ethic

    Our Ethic

    More than 20 years ago, Doug Fierberg was the first lawyer to exclusively represent victims of school violence nationwide. As his legal team has grown, we have always believed that giving back is essential. Thus, our lawyers – for no fee - have compelled wrongdoers to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in compensation to non-profit organizations whose missions are to eliminate hazing, sexual assault, binge drinking, and other violence from schools.

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    Fraternity Victims

    "Fierberg is a man of obvious and deep intelligence, comfortable - in the way of alpha-male litigators - with sharply correcting a fuzzy thought; with using obscenities; with speaking derisively, even contemptuously, of opponents. He is also the man I would run to as though my hair were on fire if I ever found myself in a legal battle with a fraternity, and so should you." - Caitlin Flanagan, The Atlantic

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    School Rape

    The litigation experience of Doug Fierberg paired with the national Title IX movement expertise of Cari Simon make us uniquely effective advocates for people who have suffered rape or sexual assault in schools and universities.

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