UConn discloses sex abuse investigation, initial failure to act

The University of Connecticut disclosed Monday that allegations of sexual abuse of minor children by a music professor went unreported for years until the appointment of a new dean, who notifed police and touched off a criminal investigation going back decades and involving a famous children’s camp and a Virginia junior high school.

The professor, Robert Miller, 66, of Mansfield, was suspended with pay in June and is the subject of a criminal investigation in Connecticut over sexual contact with four boys, ages 10 and 13, in 1992 at his home in Mansfield. Police also are investigating a long-ago incident with a 13-year-old in Fairfax County, Va., where he was a junior high school band teacher from 1969 to 1973.

The Connecticut investigation involves actions with children he met through his work as a volunteer and seasonal staff member at Paul Newman’s Hole in the Wall Gang Camp for seriously ill children in Ashford, a town near the main UConn campus in Storrs. The camp dismissed Miller after parents complained of sexually inappropriate behavior.

A spokesman for Hole in the Wall declined to discuss what camp officials were told in 1992 or why they did not file a police report.

“The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp is aware of the investigation of a former volunteer and seasonal staff member, who was affiliated with the organization from 1989 until 1992. Since the investigation is open, it would not be appropriate to comment any further and all related inquiries should be directed to the Connecticut State Police,” said Ryan Thompson, the spokesman.

Miller also is the subject of allegations, apparently uncorroborated, of having sex with and providing drugs to UConn students in the freshman dorms, according to documents posted on line by UConn.

In an emergency resolution approved Friday to commission an independent investigation of how the university handled the case, the professor involved was identified as Miller, a music teacher at UConn since 1983 and the former head of its music department. Miller, who is paid $135,741, did not respond to requests for comment.

“There are questions as to whether appropriate action was taken prior to the allegation being brought to the UConn Police Department and the University’s current senior administration in 2013,” according to the resolution.

The creation of an independent inquiry reflects awareness of the fallout from Penn State’s mishandled investigation of sexual abuse claims against Jerry Sandusky, the former assistant football coach who was convicted of sexually abusing boys. The scandal led to the removal of Penn State’s president, Graham Spanier, and its legendary football coach, Joe Paterno.

UConn released a detailed synopsis of the case Monday and created a website to post documents related to the review of how the allegations were handed by the university prior to 2013. Separately, a Connecticut State Police search warrant affidavit details an investigation that began with an email to UConn believed to be from one of Miller’s former students in Virginia.

The same person sent emails to a UConn official in 2011, but police were not notified then.

“UConn is committed to transparency in the process and, in that vein, a web site has been created as a repository for records pertaining to the investigation, a timeline, statements from President Susan Herbst and Board of Trustees Chairman Larry McHugh, and other resources,” said Stephanie Reitz, a UConn spokeswoman.

In addition to seeking outside counsel to oversee an independent inquiry, the university has hired Marcum LLP, to conduct a forensic investigation of university computers and email accounts. The investigation will be headed by Frank Rudewicz, a former Hartford police investigator. He declined to comment.

A Connecticut State Police affidavit says that Miller was dismissed from the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp after parents complained that he was sexually inappropriate.

It was unclear from the affidavit how much information was shared with the camp in 1992. The affidavit quotes a camp lawyer as saying Miller was dismissed after Miller instructed four boys to disrobe, ostensibly to check them for bruising. All four had hemophilia, a disease that leaves them vulnerative to excessive bleeding. 

But the affidavit describes Miller continuing contact with the four boys, inviting them for hikes and overnight stays at his house. The boys told their parents that Miller also had them strip after a hike near his house, saying he wanted to check them for ticks. One boy told his parents that Miller tried to masturbate him.

One of the boys died from his illness several years after the incidents in 1992. Another declined to make a detailed statement to police, but two others cooperated, as did the parents of the boy who died and the former student of Miller’s in Virginia.

The affidavit was filed as part of an application for a warrant authorizing them to enter and photograph Miller’s home to corroborate the boys’ description of the house.

In Virginia, the investigation is based on a man’s claims that Miller, who was the band director, fondled him while instructing him in “breathing exercises.” The man, who was 13 at the time, also says that Miller had him and other boys strip and wash their band instruments in the school shower.

The affidavit indicated police still can bring a charge of “Sex Offenses/Forcible Fonding” in Virginia, while the statute of limitations appears to have passed in Connecticut, barring extenuating circumstances.

In addition to the affidavit, a summary of the investigation is contained in a request for outside legal counsel prepared by the attorney general’s office at UConn’s request. 

“It is clear that serious accusations have been made, questions that demand answers have been raised and we will do all we can to find the truth and protect the vulnerable. This includes our students, our neighbors and our community,” Herbst said in a statement posted on the new website.

“We are putting the full weight of our institution behind the multiple investigations that have begun and will continue into this matter. From the moment information came to university personnel earlier this year to the present, the university has acted quickly and methodically,” she said. “This will not change.”

Lawrence McHugh, the chairman of the university’s board of trustees, said, “Our primary interest is in protecting children, students and the community, as well as aiding possible victims and bringing facts to light.”

But his statement quickly focused on the university’s response.

“It is clear to the board that when these allegations were brought to the attention of current university personnel in 2013, the university took swift, decisive and careful action as this matter evolved,” McHugh said. “The president and her senior team are to be commended for taking this action, informing the board at the appropriate time and operating with the highest possible degree of transparency, given the circumstances

Attorney General George Jepsen declined to comment other than saying the investigation was significant.

The attorney general’s synopsis says that unnamed university employees were told as early as 2006 of Miller’s inappropriate contact with boys and that a former dean may have been aware of allegation in 2011, when the Virginia man sent the first emails.

UConn’s Board of Trustees changed their policies in 2012 expanding who must report child abuse to system officials.

The move followed news that Sandusky, a former assistant football coach, was facing charges stemming from claims he sexually assaulted numerous boys. Several top officials, including Joe Paterno, the school’s longtime head coach, were fired for not reporting the incidents.

Herbst said at the time that both she and the police need to know if child abuse is taking place at the university. The policy change approved in January 2012 requires UConn employees to report to top university officials when there is suspicion of abuse.

State legislators also reacted by passing a law that requires DCF and the State Department of Education to provide training for mandated reporters. State lawmakers passed a law earlier this year that boosts the fines for mandated reporters that intentionally do not report suspicion of abuse and for intimidating someone not to report.

There are 18 states require anyone who suspects abuse to report it to authorities, according to Seth Kalichman, a UConn professor and author of “Mandated Reporting of Suspected Child Abuse: Ethics, Law & Policy.”

“I think you’re going to see more” states making everyone mandated reporters, Kalichman told UConn Today in 2011.

Few states specifically require that higher education employees — including coaches — report abuse. In Connecticut, public school coaches are mandated reporters but not college-level or youth team coaches.

Mandated reporters who fail to report abuse they witness or suspect can receive a civil fine of up to $2,500, in addition to being required to go through training.

Comments

comments