Courthouse News Service

Courthouse News Service

A southern Alabama school district knowingly employed a registered sex offender as a teacher and school bus driver for 20 years, during which time he molested 20 more children, parents of four children claim in court.
     Four Jane Does and their parents sued the Shelby County Board of Education, teacher/bus driver Dan Acker, and School Board members Lee Doebler and Steve Martin, in Federal Court.
     A fifth plaintif, the lead plaintiff, is Kristin Hurt, now 19. Acker has admitted molesting Hurt when she was a child. He is in prison for it. Hurt claims, and the Birmingham News reported, that Acker and others conducted a "smear campaign" against her when she was 11, and reported the abuse. The state told the school board then that Acker was an abuser, but it kept him on anyway, and he admitted last year that he went on to abuse at least 20 more children.
     The complaint states: "Since 1992, Shelby County School Board and its agents have known of the Alabama Department of Human Resources's ('DHR') determination that Acker had touched a minor for the sole purpose of generating personal sexual pleasure. Since 1992, Shelby County School Board and its agents have also known that DHR had placed Acker on a central registry for sexual offenders.
     "Despite this finding, Shelby County School Board and its agents failed to take any steps to remove Acker or to monitor his interaction with students to ensure that he did not sexually molest minor students in his custody.
     "Acker's position as a school teacher and bus driver gave him ready access to scores of students over his nearly two decades of employment by the Shelby County School Board.
     "Named plaintiffs are just a small sample of the students that Acker has confessed to molesting during his tenure in the school system."
     Shelby County, pop. 200,000, just south of Birmingham, is one of the wealthiest counties in Alabama. It was 90 percent white in 2000, according to the Census Bureau. The Shelby County School Board oversees 39 public schools.
     "In 2012 Danny Acker confessed to Alabaster [Alabama] police that he molested at least twenty (20) different girls for his own sexual gratification during his tenure with the Shelby County School Board," the complaint stats.
     "On May 3, 2012, Danny Acker pleaded guilty to criminal charges of sexual abuse of a child less than 12, a Class B and C felonies."
     Acker was sentenced in May 2012 to six 17-year terms in state prison for first-degree sexual abuse of a child and two 10-year terms for first-degree sexual abuse, the Birmingham News reported. All terms will run concurrently.
     In March 2012, after Acker confessed to police but before the grand jury returned indictments, the News reported: "When schoolteacher Dan­iel Acker Jr. in 1992 was ac­cused of molesting a child, churches, teachers, schools and parents rallied to his aid.
     "They held pancake din­ners to raise money for his defense, proclaimed his in­nocence on marquees, de­monized the fourth-grader who accused Acker Jr. of touching her breast - and voted him, in the wake of the allegations, teacher of the year.
     "Shelby County circled the wagons to fight for its own. And it won."
     According to the recent lawsuit, Acker admitted sexually abusing the lead plaintiff in 1991, when she was an 11-year-old fourth grader.
     The complaint contains graphic statements describing his admissions of sexually abusing other girls, 10- or 11-year-old fourth-graders.
     The complaint also cites a signed note that Acker from to Hurt's mother in 1991, explaining why he gave the little girl a test that included the question, "What color are Kristen's underwear?"
     It also cites statement from the state DHR investigation in 1991 that determined that Acker was a molester. He lived across the street from Hurt's family.
     "During the investigation Hurt received substantial and widespread attention in her community and public sentiment was in Acker's favor, resulting in peer ridicule and rejection of Hurt," the complaint states.
     Citing the DHR's Aug. 6, 1991 report, the complaint states that Acker's pawing of Hurt "constitutes an act of child abuse as defined by the Code of Alabama and the Department of Human Resources' administrative Code. The findings of the hearing should be entered in the central register in order to protect children whose health and welfare may be adversely affected by Acker's regular and substantial contact with children."
     The complaint continues: "The DHR Final Decision was disclosed to Dr. Norma Rogers, Shelby County Superintendent of Education, in a letter dated October 14, 1992."
     The case against Acker was presented to a grand jury in November 1992. But according to the complaint: "As a result of the publicity generated by Acker's smear campaign, Kristin was asked by one grand juror if she realized she was ruining a man's life.
     "The grand jury returned a verdict of 'no bill' and Acker was not prosecuted."
     Acker comes from a well-known and well-regarded family in Shelby County, according to the Birmingham News.
     Superintendent Rogers then "recommended that Acker not be reinstated a teacher of Creek View Elementary," the complaint states.
     It adds: "On Feb. 8, 1993, during a closed-door School Board hearing, a member of the board accused Hurt of fabricating the story and picking it up from Oprah. The Board voted to reinstate Acker."
     Defendant Lee Doebler, Ph.D., was president of the school board at the time. Defendant Steve Martin was a member. Only those two of the five members remained on the School Board through 2012, the complaint states. Doebler is the president and Martin the vice president, according to the complaint.
     The complaint cites a letter that Doebler wrote to a "concerned parent" who protested Acker's reinstatement. Doebler wrote that the board "did not have the luxury of making our decision based on the phantom claims of knowing numerous children had the same experience. Those children, if they exist, did not come forward to testify."
     The complaint continues: "As a result of Acker's smear campaign, Hurt was bullied relentlessly following the public inquiry into her allegations. To escape the bullying, she transferred school districts. However, she still lived across the street from Acker and had to deal with him every day.
     "Eventually, Hurt and her family moved to a different county. For most of her life, Hurt has required psychological treatment as a result of the abuse she experienced and as a result of Acker's smear campaign that led to her being ostracized from the community."
     She suffered panic attacks when Acker "would frequently show up" at a supermarket where she worked in 2006, the complaint states.
     Alabaster, Ala. police called her on Jan. 3, 2012 to ask about Acker's abuse, and he confessed to the police the next day, according to the complaint. Acker told police "that he couldn't remember the names of all the students he touched, but that he had, indeed, touched over twenty female students and had touched them on various body parts, including their buttocks, and that when he did so it was for his own personal sexual gratification," the complaint states.
     Hurt and the Jane Does seek punitive damages for Title IX violations, constitutional violations, privacy invasion, assault and battery, outrage, negligence and loss of consortium.
     Their lead counsel is Jon Goldfarb with Wiggins, Childs, Quinn & Pantazis, of Birmingham.  

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