Former library director faces sex charges
Former West Tisbury Library director Howard Curtis, who suddenly left his job in April, faces criminal charges relating to the sexual abuse of a child when he was director of the Haverhill public library more than 20 years ago. A news article Friday in The Lawrence Eagle-Tribune's Haverhill edition reported that Mr. Curtis has been charged with two counts of raping a child during his tenure at the Haverhill library.
The alleged victim, who is now 34, also filed a civil lawsuit two weeks ago against Mr. Curtis, the city of Haverhill, and the local council of the Boy Scouts of America, Haverhill city solicitor William D. Cox Jr. told The Times Wednesday. The claimant charges that he was sexually assaulted by Mr. Curtis when he was a Boy Scout and Mr. Curtis was an assistant leader, and later as a library page.
Mr. Curtis was indicted by a grand jury in June and arraigned in Salem Superior Court, where he pleaded not guilty Aug. 29, according to the front page Eagle-Tribune story by staff writer Mike LaBella. He is scheduled for a pre-trial hearing in the court on Oct. 24, Mr. Cox said.
Hermine Hall, West Tisbury Library trustees chairman, stressed Wednesday that the library received no such allegations against Mr. Curtis during his tenure there, and the allegations have "no connection to West Tisbury." She said the library board members believe the allegations "have nothing to do with West Tisbury except Howard worked here, and people knew him."
The library board first learned of the Haverhill allegations against Mr. Curtis from town counsel Ronald Rappaport on Feb. 20, when he told the board he had received a report from the West Tisbury Police Department, according to minutes of the board's executive session, which Mr. Rappaport released to The Times Tuesday. The minutes did not elaborate on the specific allegations, nor did they report any discussion of the allegations by the members at that time.
In response to the recent reports about Mr. Curtis, Mr. Rappaport said: "Mr. Curtis worked at the library for a brief period of time; he no longer works there; and a separation agreement was reached." He also said the town's labor counsel, Jack Collins, was "called in at the inception and advised the board every step of the way" in the negotiations and in drawing up the agreement with Mr. Curtis.
Mr. Curtis resigned on March 21 and agreed to move out of his office on March 23, according to the March 21 board open meeting minutes. The separation agreement between the library and Mr. Curtis was signed April 26, and he was paid his full salary through April.
The library board minutes of several meetings between Feb. 20 and April 26 explain how the board came to its final agreement with Mr. Curtis:
Mr. Curtis attended the Feb. 20 executive session and was notified of his right to have his attorney present and various other rights under the law, but he said he "really understood his rights and had decided to proceed without an attorney present," the minutes state.
Mr. Rappaport cautioned the trustees at the session that they should respect Mr. Curtis's rights and "should take no action based on rumors. He explained that at this point there is only an unsubstantiated anonymous allegation."
Mr. Curtis said he appreciated Mr. Rappaport's comments, and added, "that although the allegation had no merit, he would be willing to resign to avoid any publicity," the minutes stated.
Mr. Curtis also told the board at the February meeting that he "might not be staying as director, for personal reasons unrelated to the allegations. He also understood that the staff had expressed some concerns about his management style, attendance, and performance as director," the minutes said.
Mr. Curtis was still in his probationary period as director at the time, and he offered to have his probation extended so the trustees could look into the staff concerns. The trustees agreed to that request at the Feb. 20 meeting, and took no further action except to schedule another meeting on March 21 to discuss Mr. Curtis's performance and probationary period.
At the March meeting, Ms. Hull announced that Mr. Curtis had given her "his notice of resignation for personal and health reasons," the minutes stated. Mr. Curtis also asked the board at the meeting for additional compensation for additional hours worked, vacation and personal days, "even though he acknowledged they were not legally owed to him." He also asked the trustees to waive the requirement that he repay his moving expenses and asked if he could attend the national library conference representing West Tisbury library.
The trustees agreed at the March meeting to keep Mr. Curtis on the payroll through April, using up whatever leave days he claimed he had. Mr. Curtis also agreed to be available to consult with the staff, if needed, from his home during that time, and he agreed to prepare a list of tasks for the next director, according to the minutes. The trustees did not allow him to go to the library conference and he was told to return any advanced registration fees. The trustees also said at the meeting they "might not press for the refund of the moving expenses, but his lawyer should be in contact with attorney Collins."
The March 21 minutes also stated: "The trustees wanted to be sure they were fair to Mr. Curtis and assured him he was not being pre-judged in any way. He appreciated that and thanked the trustees for their concern."
Mr. Collins prepared the settlement agreement, which the trustees approved in an April 26 executive session. The agreement says the trustees and Mr. Curtis had agreed to "certain payments that, while not required, will assist him in the transition," which included his normal pay through April.
The agreement contained a general release that discharges the library from any future actions or claims by Mr. Curtis. He agreed "not to institute any charge, complaint, or lawsuit to challenge the validity of this agreement or the circumstances surrounding its execution."
The criminal charges against Mr. Curtis resulted after the former Haverhill native, who now lives in New Hampshire, notified the city in November that he planned to file a civil lawsuit against Mr. Curtis, the city, and the local council of the Boy Scouts of America.
The man claims in the suit, copies of which have been provided to The Times by city solicitor Cox, that he was repeatedly sexually molested by Mr. Curtis and forced to engage in sexual acts in the mid-1980s when he was about 10 years old and a member of the Boy Scouts Lone Tree Council. Similar charges were made against Mr. Curtis, whom the lawsuit states hired the boy as a part-time library employee around 1986, when the boy was about 13 years old, and he worked for the library for about five years. The lawsuit claims the boy was often asked to work after business hours when Mr. Curtis would lure him into sexual activity.
Mr. Cox told the Times Wednesday that the alleged victim's claim of extended library employment "is a bit perplexing because our records show he worked there for five weeks." Interviews with numerous employees who worked at the library during that time period resulted in no reports of complaints, and, he said, "Nobody has any firsthand knowledge of who this person (the plaintiff) is."
The lawsuit states the city of Haverhill "had a duty to prevent Curtis from using the library as a haven for sexual abuse and molestation." The lawsuit says the plaintiff has had several stays in mental health facilities and is now in therapy.
The suit charges Mr. Curtis with sexual harassment, sexual assault and battery, infliction of emotional distress, negligence, and negligent infliction of emotional distress. It charges the city with sexual harassment, negligence, and negligent infliction of emotional distress, and it lodges similar charges against the Boy Scouts, for a total of 13 counts against the three defendants. The lawsuit seeks awards for damages, costs, attorneys' fees, and punitive damages at unspecified amounts.
The allegations came to the city of Haverhill's attention through a "demand" letter sent by the alleged victim's lawyer in November, which asked the city for $2.5 million in order to "avoid the expense and trauma litigation will exact on all parties." The city had six months to respond before the plaintiff could file a lawsuit, Mr. Cox said. After consulting with the city's mayor, Mr. Cox said he referred the letter to the Haverhill Police Department, which conducted an investigation that resulted in Mr. Curtis's indictment.
Mr. Cox is working with the insurance company that held the city's policies at the time of the alleged incidents, and the company has retained lawyers on behalf of the city.
Mr. Curtis resigned unexpectedly from the West Tisbury position after less than a year in the job. After a nationwide search, he was hired out of Corona, Calif., where he was the public library director for 10 years.
He told the Times in an interview in June 2006 that he took early retirement from that position, because he wanted to come back to New England and spend the rest of his career in a small library where he would "have more contact with library patrons and do more of the tasks that the director of a large library does not have time to do."
Although Mr. Curtis's address on the court records is listed as Middle Road, Chilmark, he left that seasonal rental and the Island soon after his resignation, according to local sources. Mr. Curtis has no current phone or address listing on Martha's Vineyard. Mr. Cox said he did not know where Mr. Curtis resides now.