Muslim Society Named In Lawsuit Alleging Sexual Assault At School

Published: June 30, 2017 at 12:00 am


DANBURY - A lawsuit filed in state Superior Court alleges that a 3-year-old girl was sexually assaulted by an older boy at a private school that the Muslim Society of Greater Danbury, Inc, operates at the Al Hedaya Islamic Center at 115 Mt Pleasant Road in the Hawleyville section of Newtown.

On June 27, Judge Sheila Ozalis ordered that pseudonyms be allowed in the court case to identify the victim and her parents, as well as the alleged offender, in order to protect their identities. The victim is thus known as Jane Doe, with her parents listed as Mary Doe and Joseph Doe. The alleged offender, whose age is not disclosed, is listed as John Roe.

The civil suit, which was filed in May, concerns actions that allegedly occurred in September-October 2015.

Through the suit, the plaintiffs are seeking an unspecified amount greater than $15,000 in monetary damages, punitive damages, costs, and legal fees. The plaintiffs are represented by attorney David Bennett.

Named as defendants in the suit are Muslim religious leader Eman Beshtawii, who also is known as Eman Abusahyoun, school principal Kristin Fuller, and The Muslim Society of Greater Danbury, Inc.

Newtown police spokesman Lieutenant Aaron Bahamonde said June 27 that police received a complaint on October 14, 2015, regarding an alleged sexual assault having occurred against the girl by the boy. The police patrol division started that investigation and it was then turned over to police Youth Officer William Chapman, who specializes in investigations involving juveniles, Lt Bahamonde said.

The police investigation, which lasted several months, included review by the Danbury State's Attorney's Office, the lieutenant said. Based on the information developed during the probe "It was determined that there was insufficient evidence to pursue this case any further," Lt Bahamonde said.

The lieutenant declined to provide details about the police probe, noting the nature of the complaint and the ages of the victim and the alleged offender.

Representatives of the Muslim society cooperated with police in the investigation, Lt Bahamonde said. If any new evidence becomes available, the case could be reopened by police, he said.

Based on allegations made by the complainant, police also investigated the legitimacy of the school at the Al Hedaya Islamic Center, Lt Bahamonde said. The Islamic school does not violate state law covering the operation of conventional private schools because the school is considered to be a "home school operation," which is allowed under state law, Lt Bahamonde said.


Lawsuit Specifics

In the 17-page lawsuit, the plaintiffs state that Jane Doe, who was born in 2011, is now age 5. She was enrolled at the school as a kindergarten student in September 2015, when she was 3½ years old. The lawsuit notes that the mission statement of the school states that their daughter would be protected from the risks to which students are exposed in public schools.

The lawsuit alleges that John Roe exhibited behavior problems and was allowed to wander within the school with little or no supervision.

The plaintiffs allege that after their daughter started classes at the school, they noticed some troubling changes in her behavior, after which they brought her to her pediatrician on October 7, 2015. On October 14, 2015, the girl was seen by a psychotherapist, who determined that the girl had been sexually assaulted by a boy at the school, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit states, "The assaults had occurred several times between September 15 and October 6, when Jane was in the bathroom or other secluded area, such as the women's prayer room of the school. John Roe was able to find her in these places because he was unsupervised."

In the legal papers, the plaintiffs allege negligence on the part of the defendants, as well as breach of fiduciary duty.

Attorney Refai Arefin, who represents all three defendants, said in a statement, "The Muslim Society of Greater Danbury takes the safety and security of its congregation very seriously. The allegations that the Muslim Society of Greater Danbury acted improperly with respect to the parent-supervised home schooling group are completely untrue and have no basis in fact."

Mr Arefin added, "We intend to defend this local nonprofit [organization] vigorously in this case. When the facts are known, it will be shown that the allegations directed at the Muslim Society of Greater Danbury and its volunteers are completely false."

Contacted for comment on the lawsuit, defendant Eman Beshtawii referred a reporter to Azeez Bhavnagarwala, a member of the religious group, who spoke on behalf of the defendants.

"We believe these are all false allegations. We think the case is a fraud... There is no merit in this lawsuit," Mr Bhavnagarvala said. The defendants believe that the case will be thrown out of court, he added.

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