An Ohio University police officer raped a high-school student in his police cruiser and in locked buildings on campus during work hours, according to a $10 million federal lawsuit filed by one of his purported victims.
What’s worse, the school allegedly knew that Robert Andrew Parsons had been accused of sexually abusing teenage girls but allowed him to remain in contact with minors—and even assigned him to a “career-day” event at a local high school—where he used the opportunity to arrange to rape a student, the suit claims.
Mary*, the then-high-school student, contends that Ohio University had “actual notice” of Parsons’ “abuse of other minor children” as early as 2000, five years before he even met her.
The university “fostered a safe space for sexual misconduct that empowered Parsons to confidently abuse his authority and victims” without fear of reprimand, according to the 17-page complaint, which was filed on Monday in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio and was first reported on Tuesday by The Cincinnati Enquirer.
Multiple allegations against Parsons were made in a report to the Athens County Department of Children’s Services that was shared with Ohio University in 2000, according to the complaint. That information was never passed on to the Office of Equity and Civil Rights Compliance at the school, the lawsuit claims.
Authorities once again began investigating Parsons after a teen came forward on Nov. 14, 2005; they found at least four potential victims. A grand jury initially indicted Parsons on 13 criminal counts before he was convicted of just one count of unlawful sexual contact with a minor in July 2006 and served six months in prison. He filed an unsuccessful appeal in 2007.
But between 2001 and 2006, when Parsons was unaccounted for during work hours at Ohio University, he was “often stalking, interacting with, or having inappropriate sexual contact with minor females,” according to Mary’s lawsuit.
“Ohio University’s inaction and unwillingness to restrict Parsons’ work-related access and privileges while he was being investigated for having sex with minors only enabled [him] to more aggressively seek out, contact, and exert influence over his victims,” the lawsuit states.
And in November 2005, the school assigned Parsons to attend a career event at Mary’s school, where—in his Ohio University Police Department uniform—he allegedly made overtures toward her and arranged to meet up to rape her later that evening.
Parsons was allegedly “permitted to” stalk and to have sexual contact with Mary while “on the clock” and on campus, including at times inside his police cruiser. He allegedly used work facilities and devices to groom Mary, even sending her nude photos of himself on his Ohio University work computer and requesting her to return the favor—accepting what amounted to child pornography.
The purported abuse involving Mary was later characterized by Ohio University officials as the “exact same” nature as the allegations from 2000, according to notes from a subsequent investigation referenced in the lawsuit.
Another high school student, Emma*, who was in a work-study program at the university, was also allegedly “stalked and followed” by Parsons, who gave her a letter that said, according to the lawsuit: “Hey, just wanted to let you know that you are a hottie and I like your car, but you already know that, lol. We should hang out some evening, cuz I never see your boyfriend with you, lol. If your [sic] interested leave me a note. I left extra paper for you. Lol. Leave you [sic] name (which I forgot to ask) and your number.”
On Dec. 2, 2005, a local Child Protective Services coordinator and sexual-abuse investigator notified Ohio University about the allegations against Parsons—that he was suspected of a sexual relationship with a minor—and that he was “a danger to minors,” according to the federal complaint.
But even after that, Parsons continued “active employment” at the department and was able to keep his work keys, which allowed him to access sensitive materials related to an investigation, the suit claims. For example, Parsons allegedly used those materials—including a copy of his own interview with police—to instruct Mary and her sister to lie to investigators, which helped him convince the teen to match his own account.
In December 2005, Mary met Parsons at Buffalo Wild Wings near campus “so that he could coach her on what to tell investigators who he knew would be questioning her about the abuse,” the lawsuit claims.
After coaching her on what to say, he allegedly raped her in a locked university-owned building, since he still had the keys.
Ohio University spokeswoman Carly Leatherwood told The Enquirer on Tuesday that Parsons was placed on administrative leave as soon as the university learned of the allegations.
“OUPD then conducted an internal investigation which resulted in his termination,” Leatherwood reportedly said. “Ohio University does not tolerate sexual misconduct of any kind. Abuse of a minor is especially egregious.”
However, Mary’s lawsuit alleges that Parsons was terminated in late February 2006, a full two months after Ohio University officials were purportedly notified of the allegations against him. A Jan. 10, 2006 email from the then-director of campus safety, which is attached in the lawsuit as Exhibit B, shows a request for disciplinary hearing against Parsons didn’t come until 14 days after a Dec. 28 interview by his boss found his behavior to be “dishonest” and “immoral.”
The email acknowledges that Parsons was reprimanded on Dec. 8, 2005—more than a month before the hearing request—by his boss for failing to tell his supervisor that he was under criminal investigation for the alleged abuse of a minor.
Mary, throughout the ordeal and in its aftermath, suffered “great pain of mind and body, shock, emotional distress, physical manifestations of emotional distress, permanent disability, embarrassment, loss of self-esteem, disgrace, humiliation, and loss of enjoyment of life,” according to the lawsuit.
She is seeking $10 million in compensatory damages and unspecified punitive damages to be determined at a jury trial.
Mary* and Emma* are pseudonyms provided by The Daily Beast, which does not identify victims of sexual assault without their consent.