A former Darlington teacher is the sole remaining defendant in a lawsuit seeking compensation for the alleged sexual abuse of multiple students during the 1970s and 80s.
Roger Stifflemire taught English at the school from approximately 1974 to 1994. During his tenure, he also served as a dorm parent where he supervised 9th through 12th grade boys.
The plaintiffs alleged that Stifflemire used his authority and influence as a teacher and dorm parent to obtain their trust, which he then exploited to sexually abuse them both on and off campus.
A settlement announced this week concluded the school’s part in the lawsuit leaving Stifflemire as the sole defendant.
“We are honored to represent these brave individuals and their families,” Attorney Darren Penn, who represents a majority of the plaintiffs in the case, said in a statement. “They had the courage to come forward and pursue justice for a lifetime of pain and struggling from the scars and injuries suffered at a time when they were most vulnerable.”
The claims against other defendants in the case have effectively been dropped. The suit against David Ellis was dismissed. Frederick Marquette, accused of molesting students at his property at Lake Jordan in central Alabama alongside Stifflemire, is deceased.
But prior to his death, Marquette’s own statements regarding Stifflemire alongside his prosecution for child molestation lend even more weight to the accusations.
In 2003, at 82, Marquette pleaded guilty to three counts of sodomy involving boys he molested in Montgomery in the 1980s, according to court records obtained by the Atlanta Journal Constitution. Marquette, a former Boy Scout leader, left prison in 2009.
Once he left the private school in Rome, Stifflemire was hired as an assistant principal of Prattville High in 1996. He became principal in 2002 and retired from the system in 2005. After that he mentored young teachers in that area from 2006-2009, the Montgomery Advertiser reported.
Up to this point no accusations have been leveled against Stifflemire while in his role at Prattville High. Calls made to Stifflemire’s listed number in Deatsville, Alabama, have not been returned.
Stifflemire has not faced a criminal prosecution in this case and the window to prosecute any crimes alleged has passed. The only legal remedy the plaintiffs have left is the result of the passage of the 2015 Hidden Predator Act.
Briefly, the law allowed a two-year window for childhood abuse victims to file a lawsuit which would have normally been outside the statute of limitations. This lawsuit was filed on the afternoon of the final day in that two-year window in Floyd County Superior Court.
The most current of proposed laws aimed at expanding the age range and timeframe for more adults in Georgia to file lawsuits for sexual abuse they suffered as children, has so far stalled in the Georgia Senate after being passed by the House.
The lawsuit was originally filed in 2017 after a former Darlington student, Tim Lee, began speaking out about Stifflemire’s actions. Through Lee’s actions, and the school’s openness regarding the incidents, more former students joined their voices to his.
Prior to the filing, on May 26, 2017, the school publicly acknowledged a portion of the allegations with a letter to approximately 10,000 alumni, former faculty and current parents.
At the same time, the school’s headmaster Brent Bell said Darlington hired a law firm to independently investigate the abuse allegations. Information concerning those allegations was forwarded to law enforcement officials.
A statement by Bell in June 2017 read:
“Speaking for the entire Darlington Community, I’m heartbroken by what these former students have shared and have been going through. I’m sorry they’ve had to endure this pain for so long. Inappropriate contact by anyone responsible for the care and well-being of our students is not tolerated,” Bell said. “The fact that several former students feel failed by Darlington is difficult but important to know. We’re still in the process of learning and we’re continuing to work closely with law enforcement. Ultimately, we want to know the truth.”
The original lawsuit was filed by 10 former students was voluntarily dismissed without prejudice with plans to refile. In June 2018 the suit was refiled in Oconee County where one of the defendants lived. It was then moved back to Floyd County in early 2020.
‘Scars that may never fully heal’
This Monday, the school announced the settlement with all 20 of its former students for an undisclosed sum, alongside an apology from the school’s board of trustees:
“This has been a horrible situation for these survivors and for the school. Mr. Stifflemire’s intimidation, manipulation and exploitation have left scars that may never fully heal. The abuse suffered was abhorrent, and we are truly sorry for the pain these men feel because of their time under our care,” the statement read. ”The Board of Trustees wishes to express its gratitude for the strength of these men to come forward with their horrific experiences while under the supervision of Darlington. Although this will be a stain forever on the history of our beloved school, we are relieved that the truth has been exposed and addressed.”
“We wish to express our sincere apologies for the experiences these men and their families have endured and their lifelong pain,” the statement continues. “We are also sorry that the school did not do a better job of protecting them or of recognizing what was happening at the time. We realize that no amount of compensation can remove the wounds, but we pledge to continue to work with these men to find peace and healing.”
”The Board is hopeful that all members of the Darlington family will unite behind this settlement. We can now only shape the future and we ask that all of us work together to make Darlington safer and stronger for the students present today and the generations yet to come.”
”Darlington is grateful to everyone who stepped forward to share their experiences, observations, feelings, and thoughts since this process began. In addition to these cases, we have also settled one additional suit brought against the school related to the behavior of Mr. Stifflemire. We appreciate your continued partnership as we work to help these survivors move forward and for our community to start to heal.”
”While we are pleased to have reached this resolution and grateful for the grace shown to the school by these men, we also realize that we cannot undo the past. We do sincerely hope that this settlement can bring some sense of peace to all those who have suffered as a result of these acts. Darlington remains committed to the well-being of young people and will continue to do our best to provide a loving community for everyone associated with Darlington School.”