Minutes after the Child Victims Act went into effect on Sunday, ending the statute of limitations for civil cases involving child sexual abuse, two women filed lawsuits against the Key School, a private institution in Annapolis that has been investigated for a reported “toxic culture” of sexual abuse and grooming.
Valerie Bunker, who attended Key School from 1973 to 1977, filed a lawsuit at 12:05 a.m. Carolyn Surrick, from class of 1976, filed at 12:06 a.m.
Maryland lawmakers passed the act earlier this year, lifting age and time limits and allowing survivors to sue institutions that employed or enabled their abusers. The same day in April the bill was approved, the Maryland Office of the Attorney General released a report detailing decades of allegations of sexual abuse and cover-ups within the Archdiocese of Baltimore.
In addition to the two lawsuits against Key School, at least nine more complaints were filed by plaintiffs under the Child Victims Act, according to a Baltimore Banner search of court records Monday.
Six of the complaints, each with multiple anonymous victims, said victims were sexually assaulted while in custody at one of six Maryland Department of Juvenile Services facilities, with one case saying the abuse took place as recently as 2019. The complaints also named the Maryland Department of Health as a co-defendant. Three separate cases were filed against religious organizations — two churches and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington.
The Key School publicly acknowledged child sexual abuse allegations in 2018. Two Baltimore lawyers began an investigation that year at the request of the school administration and found that as many as 10 adults sexually exploited students in the 1970s. Teachers, the report then concluded, took advantage of Key’s “informal and progressive social atmosphere,” which encouraged a close relationship between students and faculty. The investigation also found that the Key School failed to take appropriate action and that faculty members, administrators and board members who were aware of the abuse chose not to intervene.
While the school has offered survivors “modest reimbursement for counseling expenses,” Surrick’s and Bunker’s complaints said the Annapolis institution did not “accept responsibility for the decades of abuse” or “meaningfully” compensate them. Each lawsuit asks for at least $75,000 in damages.
Key School officials said it was their “longstanding policy not to comment on pending legal action.”
“The constitutionality of the Child Victims Act and any legal proceedings against Key School relating to reported actions by former faculty decades ago will be addressed through the judicial process,” Head of School Matthew Nespole said in a statement Monday. “Key School will continue to focus our efforts on ensuring the safety and well-being of our students and providing them an exceptional education.”
In a 31-page complaint, Bunker named Eric Dennard, an art teacher, and Vaughn Keith, who taught Latin and Greek, as abusers. Dennard began to make “sexual advances,” inviting her to sleep over at his apartment, when Bunker was in ninth grade, the lawsuit says. Keith and Dennard both died in the early 1990s.
Bunker’s lawsuit says several teachers engaged in “systemic grooming” and engaged in a “bottomless drinking culture,” where faculty and administrators “routinely supplied minor students with alcohol and drank with them.”
Surrick’s complaint also describes a culture of grooming, where Surrick says three Key School teachers sexually harassed and assaulted her from eighth grade through her senior year. In the 40-page lawsuit, Surrick names Dennard, Richard Sohmer, who taught Russian and European history and eventually served as the head of the Upper School, and Paul Stoneham, who worked at the school from 1969 to 2015, as perpetrators of the abuse.
Sohmer declined to comment on the lawsuit. Stoneham did not reply to requests for comment Monday.
On Monday morning, Surrick said she walked into her kitchen with teary eyes. She had been working toward some sense of justice for 30 years, she told The Banner. Right there, she began to cry.
She knows there’s no guarantee she or any of the survivors will win their cases, but filing suit is a victory in itself, she said. Years ago, she’d been told she had no case.
The abuse she and others endured affected not only survivors, Surrick said, but students who may have witnessed abuse or others who are just beginning to process their trauma.
Justice needs to be served, Surrick said.
At the bare minimum, “people whose entire lives were damaged because of what happened with them should have a chance to speak about it and should have a chance to be made whole as much as possible,” she added.
Baltimore Banner reporter Brenda Wintrode contributed to this article.