ST. PAUL, Minn. - A high-profile Twin Cities attorney Thursday announced a news lawsuit against Breck School and a former teacher convicted of sexually abusing a teenager.
The suit, filed by Richard Covin of Rhinelander, Wisconsin, targets both William Jacobs and Breck School officials. He accuses administrators of covering up other abuse by Jacobs involving other students.
The prestigious private school founded by the Episcopal Church is now located in Golden Valley, but at the time Jacobs taught there the campus was located on West River Road in Minneapolis.
Jacobs is currently serving an 18-year term in the Faribault State Prison, after pleading guilty to three counts of second degree criminal sexual conduct and possession of child pornography. Several other victims were prepared to testify against him before he struck a plea deal.
The lawsuit asserts that the school had a legal and financial responsibility to alert students to the danger of a teacher with "pedophilic tendencies" in their midst, and failed to do so.
"I remember Jacobs coming over to my house to pick me up, to take me to his house, to take me to a special event," Covin told reporters at a St. Paul news conference.
He said Jacobs took him under his wing and exploited the fact that he had an intense interest in chemistry, even taking him home at times to do extra experiments in chemical reactions.
"He took my love of chemistry and fanned the flames!" Covin recalled, adding that at the time his parents were going through a divorce and Jacobs filled a void.
Covin said he wasn't always the only student at Jacobs' home on those occasions, but he was the one who slept in Jacobs' bedroom. One of the incidents took place during a camping trip when the two shared a sleeping bag inside a hut made of ice.
"If my parents had known that he had a history of abusing children, and that the headmaster knew back then, would they've let me go with this guy? Would they have even sent me to this school? Of course not!"
Covin says Jacobs sexually abused him over a 3-year period, beginning in 1973 when he was 12, and ending in 1976 when Covin was 15. Jacobs was employed by Breck School as a science teacher at the time, but also led some of the school's outdoor activities including camping trips.
Jacobs admits abusing Covin
In an statement given under oath May 31 in prison, Jacobs admitted to Covin's attorney, Jeff Anderson, that he sexually abused Covin as many as six times during that period.
A similar lawsuit against Breck in 2010 was thrown out of court by a judge citing the statute of limitations, and lack of proof that Breck School officials had any legal responsibility for warning Covin and other students about Jacobs.
But Jacobs, in his prison deposition, said he was confronted twice by Breck's then-headmaster, John Littleford, about two other cases of sexual misconduct against Breck students.
"This is an institutional failure," Anderson told reporters. "These parents trusted their kids with this school. This school held themselves out as the best and safest place to be, and with Bill Jacobs among them, they violated that trust."
After the first case, in 1974, Littleford asked Jacobs to see a psychiatrist to get help with is urges, according to the statement he gave to Anderson. He said he told Littleford it wouldn't happen again.
Jacobs said he is under the impression that Littleford notified the Breck board of directors, because a fellow teacher told Jacobs a board member had commented about the case in generalities.
"He knew that this chemistry teacher -- who's taking me to his house and staying weekends and nights -- was a pedophile," Covin remarked.
"He knew it before I even met Jacobs! And he knew while I was going to school hanging out with Jacobs!"
The second case happened in the fall of 1976 during a Breck camping trip to Ely. The parents of the victim notified Littleford, who asked Jacobs to report to his office as soon as he returned from the outing.
At that point Littleford said Jacobs' services were no longer needed by Breck. By then Jacobs had stopped teaching full-time because he had started working taken a job with the Minneapolis Park Police.
Jacobs eventually rose to the rank of chief, a post he held from 1987 to 2001. He also earned a law degree during the same period of time.
Covin was just one of 17 former students who accused Jacobs of sexually abusing them while he acted as a camp counselor at the YMCA's Camp Warren, or as a teacher at Breck and Blake schools.
Told Blake School headmaster
Jacobs also told Anderson, during his sworn testimony in prison, that the headmaster at Blake School also confronted him about a case of inappropriate sexual contact with a student during the 1971-72 academic year.
Blake officials would not let Jacobs return to campus, but did pay him to finish the year from home. He completed lesson plans and evaluations, working with another outdoor sciences teacher who had team taught the course with Jacobs.
After leaving Blake, Jacobs went to work filling in as a teacher at a private school in St. Paul, before landing the job at Breck.
"When he was confronted by his superiors at Blake and Breck, two times, he never denied it," Anderson explained. "And that's part of what's so alarming here."
Breck School asks judge to dismiss case
In their motion to dismiss the lawsuit, Breck School's attorneys didn't dispute that Covin was abused by Jacobs during his his at Breck. They argued, however, that the claim is being made well past the statute of limitations.
Breck's' motion also asserted the school had no legal duty at the time to warn Covin, because the alleged abuse was never verified.
"Plaintiff has no legally cognizable claim for fraud because he cannot establish an essential element of the claim, namely that the School owed a duty to disclose information to the Plaintiff," the Breck brief reads.
"No Minnesota court has held that a school has a duty to disseminate information about a teacher to students and their parents, particularly when that information involves only allegations without any formal findings of wrongdoing."
The Breck response goes on to say that Covin was already being abused by Jacobs before the parents of another victim reported it to the headmaster in 1974. The abuse of Covin continued past 1974. But by then -- they argue -- the teenaged Covin already was well aware of Jacobs' behavior.
Covin said he felt too ashamed to report the sex abuse at the time, to the school, his parents or police. Most abuse victims don't seek the spotlight. And their identities are shielded by Anderson, who typically lists the plaintiff as "John Doe."
Now a retired eye surgeon, Covin came forward and shared his experiences to a newspaper reporter only after Jacobs was arrested and charged with abusing other teens. The reporter urged Covin to contact police.
Anderson is best known for representing victims of clergy abuse in lawsuits against the Catholic church.