A federal lawsuit was filed Friday against the Perry school district and school board over failing to report child sex abuse by teacher's aide Arnold Cowen, according to the document.
Cowen pleaded not guilty to an aggravated child pornography charge and 19 counts of lewd acts with a child, but, while he is awaiting trial, his victims want to hold administrators accountable.
The 31-page lawsuit states that in December 2016, four of the young victims were crying together in the Perry Upper Elementary School bathroom because they were not believed when they reported their abuse, but this Christmas, they are finally starting to feel a sense of vindication.
New information is revealed in the lawsuit that alleges now-ousted Perry superintendent Scott Chenoweth texted at least one school board member about Arnold Cowen molesting students, weeks before two of the victims' families finally went to police on their own.
“Perry wants to hold itself out as the Perry wrestling tradition, and what they’ve done by hiding a predator, is they’ll always be known as the Perry sex abuse scandal,” said attorney Cameron Spradling, who is representing the 15 victims.
Chenoweth is now employed by the University of Central Oklahoma as an assistant wrestling coach.
Spradling said administrators violated the girls' right to due process and their right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. He is also suing for negligence for district policies that discouraged reporting Cowen's abuse to police. In this federal lawsuit, he also says the school district also failed to protect the victims' Title IX right to an equal education.
“How are you going to have an education, a good education, in a school where you’re a little girl who’s being molested by a school volunteer?” Spradling said.
News 9 has previously reported that principal Kenda Miller and teacher Jeff Sullins are facing criminal charges after refuting the girls' claims that Cowen felt them up in class and in hallways, telling the students that Cowen was a good guy, but that facade quickly faded during the police investigation.
“Cowen was ready to confess and did confess the minute (he was) confronted,” Spradling said.
Spradling and the victims’ families wonder how many more victims there are, and how much of the abuse might have been prevented if someone had reported Cowen to police sooner. They hope to find out in federal court, and they are seeking an unspecified amount in damages from the district.
The criminal trials for Cowen, Sullins and Miller are scheduled to start in March.