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Suit: Brown Schools allowed assault

A mother accuses a school worker of raping her daughter and says the facility had an "atmosphere of promiscuity."

By CARRIE JOHNSON, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published December 3, 2002


INVERNESS -- An Orange County mother is suing the Brown Schools, saying it allowed her troubled 12-year-old daughter to be sexually assaulted by a staff member while the girl was a resident at the Beverly Hills facility.

In the suit, the woman accuses former mental health worker Samuel D. Smith of raping her daughter while the girl was at Brown during the fall and winter of 2000.

The woman, whose name the Citrus Times is withholding to protect her daughter's identity, faults officials at Brown for failing to properly supervise its employees and creating an "atmosphere of promiscuity."

Smith, now 40, was arrested in December 2000 after the girl and a 17-year-old girl said he touched them inappropriately and wrote them sexually explicit letters while they were residents at Brown, a residential treatment facility for emotionally disturbed adolescents. He was fired from the treatment center about a week before his arrest.

Smith was charged with two counts of sexual battery, but Circuit Judge Ric A. Howard dismissed the case in February after prosecutors said they couldn't locate two key witnesses scheduled to testify.

Miquell Mack, the defense attorney who represented Smith during his criminal case, said he didn't know if the girl in the lawsuit was one of the two missing witnesses but said she did not show up for a deposition.

If the case had gone forward, Mack said, he would have shown that Smith had been falsely accused by the girls, who made their accusations only after Smith rejected their flirtatious advances.

"Mr. Smith was certainly not as criminal as they were making him out to be," he said.

Smith, who was not listed as a defendant in the lawsuit, could not be reached for comment Monday. Diane Huggins, a Brown spokeswoman, said Monday that Brown had just received a copy of the lawsuit and was not prepared to comment on it.

Florida Department of Law Enforcement records show that Smith had no criminal record in Florida prior to the December 2000 arrest.

The suit said Brown should be held liable for the alleged assault because the company allowed male staffers such as Smith complete access to the rooms of its female clients, failed to properly supervise Smith and created a sexually charged environment where flirting and other suggestive conduct was tolerated.

According to court documents, Smith wrote very explicit notes to several of the female students at Brown. In one, he described in graphic terms how he wanted to end a 17-year-old's virginity, records show.

"They're pornography, practically," said Joseph Glick, the Miami-based attorney representing the girl's mother.

The suit states the 12-year-old girl suffered grief, humiliation and physical and mental pain as a result of the alleged assault.

The girl's mother is seeking compensation for the medical and psychiatric expenses her daughter has incurred, as well as possible punitive damages against Brown.

Brown is a national company based in Tennessee that operates facilities for troubled youths. Because of financial problems, its Citrus County treatment center closed permanently on Nov. 15, a little more than two years after it opened.

This most recent suit is not the only legal battle provoked by the now-shuttered school: Black Diamond, the neighborhood bordering Brown, is pressing forward with its challenges to the county's decision two years ago that allowed the facility to open its doors.

-- Carrie Johnson can be reached at 860-7309 or cjohnson@sptimes.com .

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