Independent legal review finds no evidence of cover-up in child sexual abuse case
By Paul Bowers
Published April 5, 2013
A study conducted by an independent team of legal experts found the Citadel’s response to allegations of sexual abuse by a summer camp counselor was “well-intentioned but inadequate.”
In 2007, the public college received an allegation from a former camper at the school’s now-defunct summer camp, who said that camp counselor Louis Neal “Skip” ReVille sexually molested him during the camp in 2002. When the allegation reached the public eye in 2011, the Citadel drew fire for its handling of the case, particularly because the school chose to conduct an internal investigation of the allegation and did not hand it over to law enforcement. ReVille pleaded guilty to 23 indictments of child sexual abuse in June 2012, and he is currently serving a 50-year prison sentence.
The Citadel Board of Visitors, the school’s 14-member governing board, retained attorney Joseph McCulloch as a special counsel to assess whether the school handled the ReVille case appropriately. McCulloch acted as a liaison between the school and two experts, Gary Margolis (of the Vermont-based school consulting firm Margolis Healy) and Ann Franke (founder of Wise Results LLC in Washington D.C.). Franke, Margolis, and their teams of investigators interviewed 40 people, reviewed thousands of pages of documents and several hundred thousand e-mails, and spent a total of about 600 to 700 man-hours on the investigation, according to an executive summary released by McCulloch today.
McCulloch, who is not affiliated with the Citadel, summarized the findings:
“Ultimately … there appeared to be no conspiracy or decision process with an underlying purpose of concealment of the allegation. Rather, it was a well-intentioned but inadequate investigation conducted by a single administrative member, operating in a vacuum of policy or procedure, with the administration passively relying upon incomplete and sporadic progress reports which were perceived by administration to be adequate at the time, and general counsel’s unilateral decision that due to the expressed position of the complainant and family desiring privacy the institution should not report.”
Margolis praised the school for cooperating with the investigation. “It was above and beyond,” Margolis said in a press conference at the Citadel’s alumni center today. “We’d often make requests of Mr. McCulloch and get turnaround in 24 hours or sooner.”
Margolis’ firm authored a report to the Board of Visitors that focused on how the school handled the ReVille investigation. A second report by Franke focused on policy recommendations for the school moving forward. In his report, Margolis scrutinized the work of Citadel General Counsel Mark Brandenburg, who traveled to meet with ReVille’s accuser and his family in 2007. According to Margolis, Citadel President John Rosa did not read the transcript of Brandenburg’s interview with the victim, “John Doe,” and did not understand the details of the allegation until 2011. Margolis mentions in the report that when the investigative research team sought to interview everyone who was relevant to the ReVille case, “most cooperated fully,” but two individuals declined to give an interview: Jennifer Shiels, Brandenburg’s former administrative assistant, and David Stuckey, who worked for the state’s Insurance Reserve Fund. In 2007, Brandenburg got approval from the Insurance Reserve Fund to pay a $20,000 settlement to Doe’s family. Brandenburg later asked the IRF to close the file “due to a lack of pursuit” by the family, according to documents released by the Citadel.
The Margolis report mentions that Brandenburg was relatively new to the general counsel position, having taken the job in October 2005, and says that Brandenburg had little experience or training in handling sexual abuse allegations. “He didn’t have the perspective of college lawyers who have been at that job for years,” McCulloch says.
Franke, who joined the press conference via phone, said the federal Clery Act, which mandates that certain school officials report all allegations of child sexual abuse to law enforcement, does not mandate reporting if the accuser is an adult. She described the case of John Doe as “a hybrid situation,” since Doe was 18 years old in 2007 but was reporting something that happened when he was a minor. Asked if the school should have reported the claim to law enforcement, McCulloch answered, “Today, the Citadel would resoundingly say yes.”
Franke’s report provides a number of recommendations for the Citadel, including:
* A revision of institutional policy for the protection of minors, including “a clearer explanation of requirements for established programs,” according to McCulloch’s summary
* The appointment of a half-time employee to work as a child protection officer to monitor internal compliance to policies
* Improvement of internal reporting for complaints and suspicions of child abuse, including an avenue for making anonymous reports
Doug Snyder, chairman of the Board of Visitors, said at the press conference that the board received the report Thursday afternoon and will begin to consider the recommendations at a meeting on Monday. “We stand ready to implement the recommendations, but we don’t know the details,” Snyder said.
Margolis and Franke’s reports are available on the Citadel’s website.