By Dan Spalding
PIERCETON – A family has filed a civil suit against Pierceton Woods Academy, a private residential home for troubled boys, alleging the organization was aware of staff engaging in inappropriate contact with minors and that a juvenile was sexually assaulted by an employee.
The suit was filed by Kevin Joseph, the father of a youngster who was allegedly assaulted on the campus, against Lasting Change Inc. and Lifeline Youth and Family Services, both doing business as Pierceton Woods Academy, as well as four employees.
The suit alleges the defendant was groomed for sexual activity during the second half of 2019 by a female employee named Darby Ellis Perry.
Court documents state Ellis Perry engaged in several inappropriate acts with the plaintiff and other residents, including falsifying drug tests, encouraging “dirty talk” and drug usage, as well as kissing and sexual conduct. The plaintiff was coerced to engage in several of these activities against his will.
The suit also alleges Ellis Perry was the subject of a criminal investigation involving sexual assault against a resident of the detention center and that academy staff were aware of accusations prior to 2017 and did not take action.
Three other people associated with Pierceton Woods are also being sued by the family.
Those defendants are Brian Perry, an employee who was formerly in a relationship with Ellis Perry; Joseph Gaugh, vice president of residential services for Lasting Change/Lifeline Inc.; and Mark Terrell, the CEO of Lasting Change and/or Lifeline Inc.
Among the allegations in the 10-page court document filed last week, the suit contends management had deficient policies to protect residents from sexual assault by employees.
Despite an investigation by the Indiana Department of Child Services and Pierceton Police into the allegations, management continued to allow Ellis Perry access to the building where residents lived, the suit alleges.
Lasting Change and Lifeline also allegedly allowed their employees, including Ellis Perry, the ability to take minor residents to areas of the campus that are not recorded or visible to third parties and on unsupervised “outings” off-premises. The suit also states both Lasting Change and Lifeline were aware of several other allegations of sexual assault occurring on the campus but instituted a “culture designed to both suppress and challenge the credibility of allegations of inappropriate sexual misconduct lodged by the residents.”
The suit states Brian Perry had knowledge of the inappropriate sexual misconduct occurring but deliberately chose to minimize and cover up the allegations. He also allegedly used his position of authority through Pierceton Woods to threaten and intimidate residents to prevent them from making complaints about the conduct. Court documents also state both Gough and Terrell had knowledge of the assaults but failed to implement policies to prevent the assaults from occurring, and also deliberately chose to cover up the allegations.
The suit claims negligence against both Lasting Change and Lifeline; battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress against Ellis Perry; and conspiracy against Perry, Gough and Terrell.
Phone calls to Pierceton Woods seeking comment were not answered and there was no messaging system available.
A spokesperson for Kosciusko County Prosecutor Dan Hampton said an investigation is still pending.
Attorney Travis McConnell, who is representing the family, said he thinks criminal charges might still be filed.
– Reporter Liz Shepherd contributed to this report