A federal jury awarded $3.5 million Friday to the families of nine girls who say they were bound, gagged and molested by a suburban Chicago band teacher and then ignored by schoolofficials when they complained of the abuse.
The civil suit named former teacher Robert Sperlik, South Berwyn School District 100 and Karen Grindle, the former principal at one of the schools where Sperlik taught.
In 2006, Sperlik pleaded guilty to the sexual abuse and kidnapping of more than 20 girls, some as young as 9, between 1998 and 2003. Among other things, he told prosecutors that he put rags in the girls' mouths, taped them shut and also bound their hands and feet with duct tape and rope for his own sexual stimulation.
He's currently serving a 20-year prison sentence at Illinois River Correctional Center.
The lawsuit claimed Grindle knew about the abuse and intentionally hid information from authorities. She was acquitted of misdemeanor charges related to her failure to report the allegations in 2005. No published telephone listing for Grindle could be found, and a message left for her attorney wasn't immediately returned. She is no longer principal at Pershing Elementary School.
The lawsuit also claimed that the school district failed to uphold its responsibilities to the victims by not reporting the allegations. During a search of his personnel file, Berwyn police found two letters of reprimand from District 100 officials in 2001 that warned Sperlik to ``quit doing inappropriate touching,'' officials have said.
School officials apparently never forwarded those concerns to police or the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services.
"In this case, the adults really failed the children," said attorney Jon Loevy, who represented the families.
None of the nine families represented wanted to speak to reporters for privacy reasons, but they felt "vindicated," Loevy said.
"They feel like they got justice and that they proved to the world that they are right," he said, mentioning Sperlik's popularity in the district before his arrest.
Thomas DiCianni, lead counsel for the school district, said he was surprised by the verdict.
"I thought that our clients did the best that they could and the result was somewhat extreme, given the circumstances,'' he said. "We are disappointed with the verdict, but we'll evaluate with our clients what additional steps are to be taken post-judgment."
The trial lasted four weeks, and the jury deliberated for about three days. Each of the nine girls in this case received a different amount of money, which the jury determined, Loevy said. The victims, who are now in their late teens and early 20s, do not plan to pursue additional civil lawsuits, he said.