Parents of disabled teenager sue Pawtucket in connection with school bathroom rape

The perpetrator was sentenced in Providence in May.

PAWTUCKET, R.I. (WPRI) — The parents of a disabled Pawtucket girl who was sexually assaulted in a bathroom of a city school filed a lawsuit Tuesday morning, alleging the school department and the city did not respond properly before or after the June 2016 crime, the Target 12 Investigators have learned.

The three-count federal lawsuit – which is seeking $3.5 million, punitive damages and other costs – states Ivander DeBurgo, who was 18 at the time, committed the assault on or about June 17, as the victim was waiting for her father to pick her up at the Pawtucket Learning Academy.

“DeBurgo…forced the Minor plaintiff on the sink, held her arm down, pulled some of her clothing down” and raped her, according to the lawsuit.

DeBurgo was sentenced to 25 years in prison, with 10 to serve last May. Court records show a judgment of conviction was entered for one count of first-degree child molestation.

The filing states the crime was not the only time the 13-year-old was assaulted on school grounds.

One incident involved an allegation that the defendants also knew about a member of the faculty who “smacked her in the buttocks.”

And in April of 2016, about two months before the assault in the bathroom, a male student “grabbed her buttocks and attempted to thrust his genital area” on her.

Pawtucket School Superintendent Patti DeCenso, who is named in the lawsuit along with a number of other school officials and the city of Pawtucket, has not returned requests for comment.

City spokesperson Lauren Greene said all allegations and incidents are taken seriously.

“As soon as they became aware of this matter, the Pawtucket School Department immediately reported the incident to the Department of Children, Youth, and Families and the Pawtucket Police Department,” Greene said. “When the school department received notification of this legal matter, we immediately turned it over to our legal counsel.”

The plaintiff’s attorney George Patrick Howarth responded to Target 12 via email.

“In response to your inquiry,” Howarth said, “because of its sensitive nature I am unable to provide any comment regarding this matter.”

Count one of the lawsuit accuses the defendants of being “deliberately indifferent” to the parents’ request to transfer the teenager out of the Pawtucket school system after the crime and the other alleged incidents. The request was made “because of her disability and disability from the rape and fear of further harm,” the document said.

The district and the city are also accused of failing to investigate evidence of misconduct against School District students, and not properly training employees how to report and respond to alleged sexual assaults.

The crime predates by a matter of months the revised state law that now requires school employees to report sexual abuse to the Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF).

Cranston School Department psychologist George Blessing was the first person charged under the state’s Duty To Report Sexual Abuse statute for allegedly not reporting a student’s claim that Cranston High School West teacher Charles Pearson touched her inappropriately. The failure to report crime that Blessing is charged with is a misdemeanor.

Pearson has yet to enter a plea to 12 counts of second-degree sexual assault. 

In Providence, the failure to report several incidents involving physical education teacher James Duffy prompted a DCYF training session for school employees.

Duffy, who teaches at Harry Kizirian Elementary School, was charged on June 29 with five counts of child molestation for allegedly assaulting three 11-year-old students.

Providence police are investigating why the allegations were not reported, but at this time no one has been charged under the duty to report statute.

Target 12 will have more on this case tonight on Eyewitness News.

Send tips to Target 12 Investigator Walt Buteau at wbuteau@wpri.com and follow him on Twitter @wbuteau.