State

Pike school officials ignored warning about worker who raped a girl, lawsuit charges

Jerry Swafford
Jerry Swafford

A Pike County school employee drugged and sexually assaulted a 16-year-old girl at a party at his home after school officials were warned of the planned gathering but did nothing to stop it, a federal lawsuit alleges.

The employee, Jerry Swafford, had a history of holding similar events where he plied children with drugs and alcohol and sexually abused them, the lawsuit alleges.

“We all knew something like this was going to happen,” one teacher said after hearing of the assault on the 16-year-old girl soon after the attack, according to the complaint.

West Virginia attorney Michael B. Hissam filed the lawsuit for the girl, identified as K.D., and her parents.

The defendants are Swafford; the school board; Superintendent Reed Adkins; and Mark Gannon, the principal at Belfry High School.

School board attorney Neal Smith said Monday that the board and Adkins had received no notice of the planned gathering where the girl was assaulted.

Adkins fired Swafford after being told of the alleged rape, Smith said.

Paintsville attorney Jonathan C. Shaw, who said he will represent the defendants in the case, said the claims are merely allegations.

“There is no indication of wrongdoing on the part of Mr. Gannon, Mr. Adkins or the Pike County Board of Education,” Shaw said.

Earlier this year, Swafford, the plant supervisor at Belfry High School, pleaded guilty to a felony charge of sexual abuse of a minor and is in prison.

The lawsuit charges that the county school board and school officials knew that Swafford posed a risk to students because he had long engaged in “lecherous” conduct at school, including having inappropriate sexual contact with female students.

In 2012, a co-worker discovered Swafford masturbating in his office with an an item of clothing from a female student wrapped around his face, the lawsuit says. The co-worker reported that to a superior, according to the complaint.

Swafford allegedly started hosting parties for students at his home in Mingo County, W.Va., which adjoins Pike County, in 2015, after he received custody of his teenage daughter.

He recruited students at school and school events to come to gatherings, which the lawsuit called “bacchanalian weekend parties fueled by drugs and alcohol” that were an “open secret” among teachers and administrators at Belfry High.

School officials allegedly took no action to try to stop the gatherings even after being told of them by parents and students.

In October 2016, Swafford, who was about to turn 61, planned a birthday party for himself and a 16-year-old girl with whom he was having a relationship. Swafford invited Belfry students while at school, using a cellphone provided by the school district in some cases, according to the lawsuit.

A mother who heard of the party called Gannon at school on Oct. 14, the day before it was to take place, and told him about it.

The woman — who was not K.D.’s mother — told Gannon she was concerned because Swafford had provided drugs and alcohol to her daughters earlier and because she had seen photos of Swafford at his house with his arms around two underage girls wearing nothing but towels.

The mother “begged” Gannon to stop the party, but Gannon admonished the woman for making allegations that could damage Swafford’s reputation and career.

Gannon said later that he didn’t discuss the allegations with Swafford, according to the lawsuit.

The mother also called the board of education office the same day, but officials took no action, the lawsuit says.

The complaint says about 30 young people attended the party. Swafford, the lone adult, provided 40-ounce bottles of malt liquor, plus vodka, marijuana and synthetic marijuana at the party.

When K.D. got there, Swafford handed her a mixed drink that two witnesses said he had spiked with a prescription sleeping pill, according to the lawsuit.

Several hours later, another girl went looking for K.D. and found her in Swafford’s bedroom, apparently unconscious, face-down on the bed, with her pants and underwear pulled down and Swafford on top of her with his pants pulled down, the lawsuit said.

K.D. was treated for physical injuries and has received psychiatric treatment for emotional trauma, the lawsuit says.

Swafford confessed to assaulting the girl, the lawsuit says.

“Swafford has pled guilty to his crime and will serve years in prison, but the damage to K.D. — damage that the board could have and should have prevented — will last a lifetime,” the lawsuit says.

The complaint alleges negligence, violation of K.D.’s rights and failure to adequately protect students. It seeks an unspecified amount of damages.

Smith, the school board attorney, said the board and Adkins dispute the allegations in the lawsuit.

The board and Adkins never received any information to suggest that Swafford had engaged in misconduct before the assault on K.D., and that they were not told in advance of the party where the crime occurred, Smith said.

When Adkins heard of the alleged assault the next day, a Sunday, he called Smith, and they had Gannon called Swafford in for a meeting the next day.

Adkins suspended Swafford that day and fired him within a couple of days, Smith said.

“He was never at the school after the Saturday-night incident,” Smith said.

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