Ames School Principal Colleen Lieggi has filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of her two daughters against the village of Riverside and eight individuals, claiming that her daughters’ rights to privacy were violated by the distribution of a Riverside police report.
The lawsuit, filed March 1 in United States District Court, claims that the children’s privacy rights were violated by distribution of a police report by the defendants. The report detailed an investigation into allegations that the children had been sexually abused.
In addition to the village of Riverside, the defendants in the lawsuit are Riverside Police Lt. David Krull, Police Chief Thomas Weitzel, Village Attorney Lance Malina and Village Manager Peter Scalera; Riverside residents Chris Robling, Sue Corrigan and Mary Lescher; and Westchester resident Stephen Battersby. Battersby is the father of former Ames teacher Susan Battersby, who was accused, and then exonerated, of abusing one of Lieggi’s daughters.
In 2011 Krull, then a Riverside detective, conducted the investigation that is the subject of the police report. Krull reported that he found no evidence of abuse by either Susan Battersby or members of the Corrigan family.
The lawsuit alleges, among other things, that Krull created a fake and invalid subpoena to cover up his release of the police report.
The 12-page complaint claims that the children suffered severe emotional distress as result of the distribution of the police report. Their mother pulled them out of the Riverside schools they were attending and moved them out of Riverside away from family and friends after the Landmark published a story that relied, in part, on the police report.
The lawsuit asks that the village of Riverside be ordered not to release the police report. The suit also asks for compensatory damages and punitive damages in an amount to be determined by a jury.
“The reason that we’re bringing this lawsuit is that it seems to me that the two people who have been forgotten in all this are these two little girls that I represent,” said Lieggi’s attorney, Terence J. Moran, after filing the lawsuit. “Their privacy has really been invaded in a really unjustifiable way as far as I’m concerned, and we believe people have to be held accountable for that.”
In the lawsuit, Lieggi and her daughters are identified only by their initials.
The lawsuit alleges that the distribution of the police report gave publicity to “private and highly sensitive facts.”
The village and its employees are being sued under federal law for violating the children’s constitutional rights. Battersby, Corrigan, Lescher and Robling are being sued under state law, but the cases are combined into one lawsuit as allowed by law.
Village officials are saying little about the lawsuit.
“We have the complaint, and we’ll respond in a timely fashion,” Malina said.
Krull, Scalera, and Weitzel declined to comment.
The other defendants had stronger reactions.
Stephen Battersby and Sue Corrigan are named in the lawsuit because they hand-delivered copies of the police report to every District 96 school board member last year.
“I’m honored to be included with a group of stand-up people in this lawsuit,” said Battersby.
Corrigan said that she relied on advice given to her from the village.
“You go by what your police officers tell you,” Corrigan said. “I myself have called Peter Scalera and said, ‘You know I’m concerned that people are saying that this is not to be released.’ He said, ‘We stand with the chief,’ so what can you say? You stand with the police. If we can’t trust the police we’re in big trouble.”
Lescher, who is accused in the lawsuit of engaging in a continuous campaign since February 2012 to distribute the police report, had a strong reaction to the suit.
“This is yet another attempt by Lieggi to blame someone else for her own inappropriate behavior,” Lescher said in an email. “As against me, the suit is baseless in law and inaccurate in the facts that are alleged.”
Robling emailed the police report to about 90 people last December as part of an effort to recruit school board candidates.
“The lawsuit gives us subpoena power to compel sworn testimony and production of documents, which the community needs to understand fully what is happening,” Robling said in an emailed statement.
Robling has hired Paul Stack, a former Riverside village president, to defend him in the lawsuit.
According to the complaint, Lieggi went to the Riverside police in June 2011. She reportedly had been told to do so by George Fencl, whom the complaint incorrectly identifies as an Illinois Department of Children’s and Family Services investigator, after the Lieggi children had reported that the Corrigans and their father had abused them.
Fencl told the Landmark on Friday that he is actually an employee of the DuPage County State’s Attorney Office and works at the DuPage County Children’s Advocacy Center. He said that he has never worked for DCFS. Other than that, he declined to comment about the case.
When Colleen Lieggi met with Krull on June 28, 2011, according to the lawsuit, Krull told her that he would keep the information that she told him confidential, and that he would keep the investigative file on lockdown.
The complaint also states that in September 2011 Lieggi learned from the therapist of one of her daughters that the girl said a babysitter, identified as a part-time teacher where Lieggi worked as principal, had touched her inappropriately.
The complaint states that the therapist told Lieggi to report that information to authorities and that Lieggi went to the Riverside Police Department to report the information to Krull.
The suit alleges that Krull hand-delivered an unredacted, unfinished police report to Susan Battersby’s lawyer, Bruce Rose, in violation of the Illinois Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Act, which generally prohibits releasing records of child sexual abuse reports.
The copy of the police report that has been widely circulated is a redacted copy that was given to Stephen Battersby in November 2011, after he filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the report with the Riverside Police Department.
Malina, Weitzel and Malina are named in the lawsuit because they are alleged to have “ratified” what the complaint calls Krull’s illegal conduct in handing out the police report.
According to the complaint, in October 2012 Krull, Weitzel, Malina and Scalera met with three lawyers from the firm Scariano, Himes and Petrarca, which represents Riverside Elementary School District 96.
The complaint states that at the meeting, Malina said the report had been released to Rose pursuant to a Freedom of Information Act request and a subpoena. The District 96 lawyers pointed out that the subpoena was clearly faulty. According to the complaint, Weitzel, Scalera and Malina said it was not the Riverside Police Department’s responsibility to know whether a subpoena was valid.
Moran said that he hopes the case can be resolved quickly.
“My hope would be that we can come to some early resolution that would have my client’s names no longer bandied about and some appropriate compensation,” Moran said. “But that’s a hope. We’ll see what happens.”