12 FORMER NEW YORK SCHOOL FOR THE DEAF STUDENTS SUE OVER DECADES-OLD SEXUAL ABUSE
October 16, 2019
Twelve women who attended the New York School for the Deaf in Greenburgh decades ago are suing the school claiming they were sexually abused by the man who supervised their dorm.
The woman said that Joseph Casucci abused them on a regular basis while they were among the youngest students at the school between 1965 and 1975. One woman said the abuse started when she was 4 years old.
The lawsuit, filed today in state Supreme Court in Westchester, was made possible by passage in February of the New York Child Victims Act. The law provides a one-year window for lawsuits over decades-old abuse that until now were blocked by the statute of limitations.
Casucci and his wife lived in an apartment adjacent to the pre-primary dorm where the youngest girls lived during the school week. Casucci, who died more than a decade ago, was dismissed from the school in 1979 after graduates notified the administration that they had been abused.
The women said the abuse included Casucci kissing them, fondling their breasts and genitals, and getting aroused as he sat them on his lap. They say the abuses occurred in the bathroom, the bedroom and the living room throughout the time they were in the dorm he supervised, usually for three or four years each.
Two of the plaintiffs, Marlene Hodge and Damita Jo Damiano, attended a press conference with their lawyers today, telling how glad they were to finally speak up about the abuse, how they were affected by it and how easy it was to take advantage of young deaf girls. Neither told their parents for years - even though Hodge’s mother was the president of the school’s PTA.
Damiano was 4 to 8 years old when the abuse occurred and Hodge 6 to 9, according to the court filing.
“He abused all of us in our early childhood… That’s a scar and trauma that stays with you,” said Hodge, 59, who lives in California. “We were little girls… We didn’t know how to take care of something that needed (to be told).”
Damiano, 59, of Colorado, said she has long had trouble with relationships and could not trust older men.
“The abuse went on day in, day out for years,” she said. “Those memories still linger.”
Hodge said she went through depression, drug abuse and rebelliousness.
The issue was first publicized in 2013 when Hodge took to Facebook to report what she’d experienced and other alumni shared similar accounts. They got a lawyer, even though a lawsuit was not possible then because the statute of limitations had expired. Prosecutors with the Westchester District Attorney’s Office similarly did not pursue a criminal case because too much time had elapsed.
Early in 2014, several of the women and their lawyers had an emotional meeting with school administrators and board members, said Kevin Mulhearn, a lawyer from Rockland County who is representing the plaintiffs along with lawyers Paul Mones and Michael Dowd. The women shared their accounts as they urged the school to acknowledge what had happened to them and compensate them in some way.
Mulhearn said the school officials were not inclined to resolve the matter and “not one red cent was offered.”
School officials had no immediate comment and a lawyer for the school did not return a phone message.
Mulhearn said the girls’ existence was “a living hell on a daily basis” and that school officials had “breached their most fundamental obligation" of protecting the children in their care.
The lawsuit, which seeks unspecified damages, claims that school officials knew or should have known about the abuse.
Richard Stelle, who had arrived on campus as head of the residential program just days before Casucci’s outer in 1979, took the complaints from several girls and passed them along to the principal and superintendent. He remembers Casucci’s defiance as he was escorted from campus.
Stelle remembers the administration opting not to report the abuse to police, figuring the Casuccis’ loss of their longtime apartment was punishment enough.
“It was kind of a different age, a different era, where these situations weren’t common and (the school) didn’t know what to do with them,” Stelle said in a phone interview.
He remembers the staff being “keenly aware” of why the Casuccis left but does not recall if any of them expressed that they had known of the abuse.
“People were not going to come forward if they saw firings happen,” Stelle said. “It was such a regrettable situation.”
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