For two decades, Curtis H. Bryant has been a respected figure in the town of Rowley: director of the Youth Baseball and Softball League, parent leader in a high school student enrichment program, treasurer of the Democratic Town Committee, and a Planning Board member.
Yet according to court documents unsealed last week, Bryant is also an accused child molester. He was charged in a 1990 lawsuit with repeated and forcible sexual abuse of a teenage boy for three years at the Landmark School in Beverly, where Bryant was a science teacher. The private boarding school quietly pushed Bryant out in 1991, then settled the suit for an undisclosed sum.
For 23 years, Bryant’s secret was safe, thanks to a state Appeals Court judge who in 1990 approved a motion by Bryant’s lawyers and the school to impound lawsuit documents. That erased any hint of the suit from public records.
Bryant declined comment for this article.
The decision to keep the allegations under wraps has now come back to haunt Landmark. Since the school first acknowledged last July that it had received sexual abuse allegations involving another former staff member, two other former students have told the school that Bryant also molested them.
Last week, the state Supreme Judicial Court denied a final attempt by lawyers for Bryant, the school, and the victim to keep records impounded, five months after the Globe filed a motion seeking their release. A Superior Court judge and single justices of the Appeals Court and the SJC all ruled that the school’s handling of the Bryant case was a matter of public concern.
Had it been Maureen Neville’s decision, Bryant’s alleged abuse would have become public in 1989. That year, Neville, accompanied by a teacher, alerted Robert J. Broudo, then head of the high school, about Bryant’s sexual abuse of her friend, the alleged victim, and her suspicion that Bryant was molesting other boys. Neville, a former Landmark student who was 19 at the time, said Broudo told her he could not do anything unless her friend came forward.
“It was my responsibility to notify him,’’ said Neville, 43, who left Landmark after her junior year. “It was his responsibility to do something about it, for making sure Curtis Bryant would have no access to children. And he did nothing. Bob Broudo just wanted the issue to go away.’’
In response to questions from the Globe, the school said Tuesday that Broudo, who has been headmaster of the entire school since 1990, did report Neville’s allegation to state child welfare officials in 1989, but that they were unable to do anything without the victim’s cooperation. The school said Broudo did not contact law enforcement officials.
In its statement, the school said Broudo later told Neville about the steps he had taken and urged her to persuade her friend to come forward. Neville denied Tuesday that Broudo had ever contacted her.
In Tuesday’s statement, the school acknowledged that it should have done more.
“In retrospect, we believe a better course . . . may have been to conduct outreach to our community then, as we are doing now,’’ according to the statement from the school’s spokesman, Peter J. Mancusi.
“We are equally committed to making sure we address the harms caused in Landmark’s past and learn from those events as we move forward,’’ the statement concluded.
The school’s spokesman said Broudo, who has been at Landmark since it opened in 1971, would not talk to a Globe reporter.
The course the school took is likely to have its greatest impact in Rowley, a tight-knit community of 6,000 north of Cape Ann where Bryant began working with children in the 1990s as a baseball coach and director of the Rowley Youth Baseball and Softball League. The group’s annual tax filings show that Bryant was a director of the organization until 2002.
Through a spokesman, Bryant, who is 57, declined to be interviewed, though in court filings, both in 1990 and in recent months, his lawyers argued that disclosure of the lawsuit would be devastating for his family and destroy his reputation.
In a 1990 motion to keep the lawsuit sealed, Bryant’s lawyer said his client “says he is innocent; that the plaintiff has a motive to lie and fabricate. The evidence will prove him right. When it does, who does Mr. Bryant see to restore his reputation?”
His wife, Helen Stergis Bryant, issued a statement Tuesday that said: “More than 20 years ago, my husband was a party to a lawsuit. The parties agreed that the best resolution was to settle the matter privately. No charges were brought. Since then, we have lived committed to our family and our community.’’
The Bryants were married in 1983 and were houseparents in a dorm at Landmark, a boarding and day school for children with language-based disabilities. It has 460 students in grades 2 through 12, about a third of them boarding students. Bryant was a science teacher and hockey coach.
Last July, two former students, David G. Breed and Brant Davis, notified Landmark that they had been molested in 1979 and 1984, respectively, by Howard Kasper, who was then a dean at Landmark. Breed had first told Broudo about his alleged molestation in the 1990s.
Dissatisfied at the school’s response, Breed and Davis contacted a Globe reporter. On July 31, the day before a Globe story was to appear, the school disclosed their allegations and asked other graduates to notify the school if they had been abused.
Since then, five more former students have come forward with allegations of abuse, including the two who lodged abuse complaints against Bryant. The fresh allegations about Bryant have been referred to the Essex district attorney’s office, the school announced earlier this year.
Kasper had left Landmark in 2000 to become a guidance counselor in the Rockport public schools. In August, Rockport Superintendent Robert E. Liebow placed Kasper on indefinite leave. Kasper has since accepted a settlement that will pay him as a half-time consultant until he resigns in January, 2015.
In the Bryant lawsuit, Kasper, who was then dean of students, and four other Landmark officials are named as codefendants, along with the school itself. The lawsuit asserts that they “had actual or implied knowledge’’ of Bryant’s abuse and did nothing to stop it.
Neville told the Globe last August about the lawsuit filed by her friend in 1990. But a search of the Superior Court database found no evidence that any such lawsuit had ever been brought. But an impounded record for the case was ultimately located in the state Appeals Court records, where it had mistakenly been left in a public file.
The court’s rules stipulate that impoundment orders should always be the “exception to the rule that court filings be available to the public.’’ The courts allow third parties to challenge the impoundment, but doing that is, in practice, difficult because many courthouses seal the identity of the parties and the case’s docket number.
Because of the impoundment questions raised by the Globe, the court system’s trial court chief justices have formed a committee to review the court’s rules and to determine whether changes are needed, according to a statement by Joan Kenney, a spokeswoman for the state’s high court.
When the Globe challenged the impoundment in September, lawyers for the school, Bryant and the victim objected.
In October, Essex Superior Court Judge Howard J. Whitehead ruled that the 1990 impoundment order be terminated. Noting the allegations against Kasper, Whitehead declared in his ruling that “an even greater public interest exists in finding out how the Landmark School handled the allegations raised by the plaintiff’’ in the 1990 case.
Whitehead ordered that references to the alleged victim be redacted from the documents. As a matter of policy, the Globe does not identify victims or alleged victims of sexual assault or abuse without their assent.
Whitehead’s ruling was upheld, first by Appeals Court Associate Justice Sydney Hanlon, and then last month by SJC Associate Justice Robert J. Cordy.
Cordy, during a Jan. 16 hearing, said: “One might ask: If the lawsuit had been made public when it was filed and if it had not been impounded, whether those two [additional victims] would have come forward then.’’
All three judges rejected motions by the opposing lawyers to prevent the Globe from publishing anything from the impounded files that had mistakenly been left in a public file in the state Appeals Court.
Jeffrey J. Pyle, who represented the Globe, said the decisions by the three judges make it clear the courts are now more reluctant to keep cases of alleged abuse secret. But Pyle expressed concern about the prior-restraint motions.
“The effort to silence the Globe was particularly troublesome,” he said. “Courts have rejected efforts to muzzle the press for centuries, even in cases involving alleged harm to national security.’’
For Neville, the event that gnaws at her to this day was the decision to keep the charges against Bryant secret. Bryant, she said, “went on his merry way, and that was a coverup. Landmark put other kids in other communities at risk.’’
Her anger at the school aside, Neville, who has two children of her own, said she feels responsible for not doing more herself. “As much as I try not to judge myself for what I did as a 19-year-old, I know I should have done more. If there were other victims, I am in part responsible. And that really bothers me.’’