SALAMANCA — Two different lawsuits alleging abuse by the same retired Salamanca teacher were filed May 27 in New York State Supreme Court in Cattaraugus County.
Since the reopening of courts for civil litigation, two plaintiffs filed separate suits against the Salamanca City Central School District alleging a former teacher abused two students about a decade apart.
One unidentified plaintiff, represented by Jeffrey R. Anderson and J. Michael Reck of Jeff Anderson and Associates P.A of New York City, alleges David Bemus, who taught at the former Jefferson Street School, had unpermitted sexual contact with a 10-year-old child in 1977 and 1978.
The second lawsuit against the school district was filed by Leah Constanzo of Steve Boyd P.C. of Williamsville on behalf of her unnamed client. That case alleges Bemus had sexually abused another youth between the ages of 9 and 14 from 1984 to 1989.
Requests seeking comment by Salamanca school district officials were not returned by press time Tuesday.
Bemus told The Salamanca Press he was shocked by the accusations.
“This is just unbelievable,” he said. “My reputation in Salamanca as a teacher was always outstanding, and I don’t know of anything that ever could cause this.”
Anderson and Reck allege that, while at Jefferson Street School, Bemus had access to and worked with children, and the Salamanca district “knew or should have known” that he was a danger prior to Bemus’s interaction with the plaintiff. Anderson and Reck allege the school district breached its duties by failing to care for and protect the plaintiff while maintaining Bemus “in a position of power and authority through which Bemus had access to children.”
The lawsuit alleges negligence by the school district for employing Bemus, negligent hiring by the district for not investigating Bemus and learning “propensity for the type of behavior” alleged and negligent training, supervision and retention.
“I think our complaints pretty much speak for themselves,” said Costanzo, whose office is working with Anderson’s office on both suits. “We’re aware of three victims of this particular perpetrator with the abuse being pretty consistent and similar and occurring mainly on but both on and off school property.”
In the second case, Costanzo also alleges that Bemus had access to and worked with her client while at Jefferson Street School, and the school district should have become aware to Bemus’s propensity to commit sexual abuse and the risk to the plaintiff’s safety.
“At the very least, (the district) knew or should have known that they did not have sufficient information about whether or not its employees, more specifically, Bemus, were fit to work with children,” the court filing reads.
This case also alleges negligence by the school district for employing Bemus, negligent hiring by the district for not investigating Bemus and negligent training, supervision and retention.
“Obviously, there was a clear problem with this particular perpetrator at the school which, to my knowledge, there is more than sufficient evidence to substantiate the claims that we’ve made,” Costanzo said.
Earlier in May, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the state will extend the window for victims to file otherwise time-barred cases under the Child Victims Act for an additional five months from August 2020 until January 14, 2021.
(Contact managing editor Kellen Quigley at email@example.com)