By Liz Shepherd
PIERCETON — Multiple defendants in a Pierceton Woods Academy sexual assault civil suit have filed their answer in the case.
A family filed the suit against Pierceton Woods in October, 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 juvenile 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 juvenile 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 juvenile and other residents, including falsifying drug tests, encouraging “dirty talk” and drug usage, as well as kissing and sexual contact. The juvenile, who is the plaintiff in this case, 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 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.
All of the aforementioned parties are being represented by Jeffrey D. Roberts with Hollingsworth Roberts Means LLC in Carmel.
A 16-page document from Lifeline Inc./Lasting Change addressed the complaints from the plaintiffs.
Lifeline Inc. admits that Ellis Perry was formerly employed by them but states that the lack of knowledge or information sufficient enough to form a belief that she engaged in inappropriate acts with juveniles. The document also states that Lifeline Inc. does not have to respond to any factual background presented on Ellis Perry’s actions through Trial Rule 8(b).
The company also denied that their employees, including Ellis Perry, did not have 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. Lifeline Inc. also denied allegations of the company being aware of other sexual assault incidents occurring on the campus while instituting a “culture designed to both suppress and challenge the credibility of allegations of inappropriate sexual misconduct lodged by the residents.”
The document states that Lifeline Inc. denies that Brian Perry deliberately chose to minimize and cover up allegations of repeated sexual assault; it also denies that Brian used his position of authority through Pierceton Woods to threaten and intimidate residents to prevent them from making complaints about the conduct. The answer also denies that both Gough and Terrell had knowledge of the assaults and failed to implement policies to prevent the assaults from occurring.
Lasting Change and/or Lifeline Inc. have requested a trial by jury in this matter. Brian Perry, Gough and Terrell have filed a joint motion to dismiss the plaintiff’s complaint.
The plaintiffs in this suit have until Jan. 5 to file a response to the defendants’ respective motions.