New Allegations Added To ETHS Security Guard Sex Assault Lawsuit

EVANSTON, IL — The family of a former Evanston Township High School student filed an amended lawsuit last week alleging district administrators failed to halt “widespread, frequent, ongoing and readily apparent” sexual abuse by security guards.

The complaint includes new allegations that an ETHS teacher had been living with a security guard who recently pleaded guilty to the criminal sexual assault of a student.

It also describes an “open and notorious” public confrontation between the guard and one of his victims in the hallway around the corner from the offices of ETHS Superintendent Eric Witherspoon and Principal Marcus Campbell.

“You’re sleeping with someone else,” the student screamed, according to the suit. “[Y]ou’re supposed to love me.”

First filed in August 2019, the 10-count federal civil rights suit has twice been amended since. The latest update comes in response to last month’s decision by a federal judge to dismiss all or part of four counts of the complaint after finding the suit did not include sufficient claims that administrators knew or should have known of the abuse allegations.

The judge allowed the complaint to be re-filed with more specific allegations, and the second amended complaint was filed March 31 on behalf of the student and her mother, a member of the ETHS class of 1993.

According to the suit, it was an “open secret” during her time at the school that school staff, including teachers, engaged in illegal sexual conduct with students.

Two former security guards are named as defendants in the suit, along Witherspoon, Campbell, the board of education and the district itself.

One of those guards, Michael Haywood, was arrested in February 2019 and charged with criminal sexual assault by a person in authority. He pleaded guilty in February 2021 in exchange for a setence of 24 months probation and registration as a sex offender. That case involved a different victim than the federal lawsuit.

According to the suit, Haywood, who was 33 at the time, sexually assaulted the plaintiff more than 40 times on campus, near campus and at the home he shared with a teacher and coach at ETHS. He also assaulted at least three other students.

Haywood would send students sexual or pornographic text messages, pressure them to perform sex acts, encourage them to smoke marijuana and drink alcohol he provided, use the hall pass system to reward and punish students or to leave campus with them, and threaten to tell their parents about inappropriate behavior, the complaint alleged.

As an ETHS teacher, Haywood’s girlfriend was legally mandated to report any suspected sexual abuse of a student and was “aware, or likely aware” of sexual assaults while they were taking place, according to the suit.

Instead of reporting the misconduct, the complaint said, the ETHS teacher directed her younger sister, who was in the same grade as the plaintiff in the lawsuit, to probe the girl for details about her relationship with Haywood.

The other guard named in the suit was fired by ETHS in 2016 and has not been criminally charged. Both guards exploited the school’s hall pass system to sexually groom their targets, according to the suit.

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Plaintiff Sophia Sterling, the student’s mother, said she was personally aware of three students that were groomed and sexually assaulted by faculty members while attending the high school three decades ago.

“ETHS and its employees have hidden, dismissed and swept under the rug decades of unlawful sexual conduct between minor students and Evanston Township district employees. I was once proud to call myself an alum of ETHS, but now my memories are marred,” plaintiff Sophia Sterling wrote in a open letter to the Evanston community.

Her former classmates chose to remain silent, Sterling said.

“At that time, I expressed disappointment about the School and its employees’ conduct with my closest circle of friends and family, but I can longer remain silent. This must change,” she said. “It is time to break down this wall of secrecy. ETHS and the school districts have for decades ‘turned a blind eye’ and allowed their employees to sexually prey on minor students.”

Employees have used their positions of authority to manipulate and prey on students, Sterling said, and it has become more blatant as the the district has hired increasingly younger security guards.

“These young employees are even more flagrant with their open and notorious inappropriate grooming and sexual conduct with minor students, including on the ETHS campus itself,” she added. “We must put an end to this dangerous conduct before another minor student is sexually assaulted.”

After Haywood was fired from ETHS in January 2019, administrators failed to disclose the accusations about him to parents of ETHS students and suppressed information about the allegations against the guards’ “harassing and sexually violent behavior” toward students, according to the suit.

The lead attorney for the school district, Charles LeMoine of Dykema Gossett, did not immediately respond to a request for comment in response to the amended complaint.

Haywood was removed as a defendant from the case after the judge at the time granted a motion for a $3 million default judgment against him.

U.S. District Judge Franklin Valderrama has set a deadline of April 21 for the remaining defendants to file their response to the 31-page second amended complaint.

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