PAWLING – Trinity-Pawling School has been named as a defendant in a Child Victims Act lawsuit brought by a former student. The 58-year-old plaintiff, Christopher Onthank, through his attorney Michael Dowd, claims that during his time as a student, from 1976-1980, he was sexually abused by a science teacher, Livingston Cole. The complaint alleges that on multiple occasions Cole placed his hands down the pants of the minor student, touching his buttocks and attempting to touch his genitalia. Onthank claims that he was able to position himself in a manner that prohibited Cole from making contact with the genitalia.
Onthank told his parents of the abuse by Cole. The parents then informed Phillip Smith, the Headmaster at the time of the abuse. The former student says that Smith then told Christopher Tillson, then Assistant Director of Admissions at the private, all-boys school. As a result, Onthank claims that he was transferred to a different teacher’s class but the school failed to discipline Cole, whom he would still encounter on the campus.
In the complaint filed in Dutchess County Supreme Court, Onthank also alleges that he was abused by the school’s priest, Father Richard Wyland. Onthank says that Father Wyland repeatedly rubbed his back and buttocks while on campus.
Onthank’s lawsuit says that as a result of the abuse suffered at Trinity-Pawling, he sustained physical and psychological injuries including depression, anxiety, intimacy issues, and estrangement from his family. He is suing for both punitive and exemplary damages.
Trinity-Pawling School responded to the lawsuit with a statement issued by the school’s President of the Board of Trustees, Erik Olstein. “Trinity-Pawling School does not intend to comment on the specifics of any ongoing litigation. What we can say is that the allegations in the complaint are deeply troubling, and we recognize that to effectively protect our students and serve our community in accordance with the highest standards of care and integrity, it is incumbent on us today to understand and learn from past events and hold individuals accountable for their actions, no matter how long ago they took place or what actions the School has already taken.” Olstein noted that the school has been proactive with regard to matters like this, saying “ Trinity-Pawling retained outside legal counsel in 2018 to conduct an independent and thorough investigation into any and all allegations of sexual misconduct, the results of which will be issued in the very near future. The School has adopted enhanced policies and operating procedures to prevent abuse of any kind in our community. We have a solemn responsibility to all alumni and current students to live up to the trust they have placed in us, be good stewards of the institution in service of our entire community and society as a whole, and ensure that our practices adequately reflect these commitments.”