CHARLESTON – Kanawha County school officials are accused of not acting soon enough to protect students at one school who claim they were molested by one of their Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps instructors who later committed suicide.
The Kanawha County Board of Education is named as a co-defendant in separate lawsuits filed by three current or former South Charleston High School students. In their complaints, the students, who are identified only by their initials - J.W., T.P and D.S. - allege prior to his resignation and subsequent death last year, school personnel knew for many years that Master Sergeant Edwin A. “Eddie” Smuda was a sexual predator.
According to the suits, Smuda was hired by the board in 1995 as one of two instructors for the new SCHS JROTC program. SCHS affiliates itself with the U.S. Air Force.
Between then and 2008, both teachers and parents of SCHS cadets expressed concerns about “Smuda’s inappropriate and dangerous propensities towards young males,” in the program, the suits claim. This included boys who “were living with Smuda at his home in Dunbar,” the suit says, adding that during an unspecified trip in August 2008 “Smuda put whipped cream down the cadet’s pants.”
The incident, according to the suit, resulted in the board placing Smuda on leave for a week. Later that fall, Smuda is accused of targeting T.P.
According to the suits, Smuda started taking T.P “to private dinners after school” during his freshman year in 2008-09. The next year, T.P. “began staying nights at Smuda’s home and accompanying [him] in his RV to Key West, both on school-sanctioned trips and over the summers,” the suit says.
When they joined JROTC during their freshman year in 2010-2011, the other two plaintiffs allege Smuda began “grooming.” Not only did he lure both boys over to his house, but Smuda in February 2011 also took the additional step of becoming D.S’s foster parent, the suit says.
It was at this point the suits allege Smuda’s actions escalated into full-scale abuse of J.W. and D.S.
When they and others were together at Smuda’s home, J.W. and D.S. allege he made them “parade around naked” and “urg[ed] [them] to engage in various sexual acts.”
Also, while alone together and watching an old movie, Smuda asked J.W. to lie beside him, and he “proceeded to rub J.W.’s chest, moving down… to his genitals while telling the young boy he loved him,” the suit says.
According to the suits, two months later during Spring Break, T.P. and D.S. accompanied Smuda on a “school-sanctioned field trip” to Key West, Fla. Though the suits are unclear if other cadets or SCHS students attended, Lt. Col. Fred Chance and Kelly Pruitt went along as chaperones.
Sometime after the trip, SCHS Principal Michael Arbogast “received multiple complaints regarding the consumption of alcohol and the inappropriate behavior of the chaperones in front of the cadets,” the plaintiffs allege. Though it is unclear if Arbogast informed them, the suits aver “the Board took no action to address these complaints.”
Smuda’s relationship with the boys, the suits allege, continued through the summer of 2011 even after Child Protective Services in June removed D.S from his care. Both he and T.P. later joined Smuda and J.W. in Key West the following July.
According to the suits, during this trip, Smuda supplied the boys “liquor and other intoxicating beverages” and asked they perform oral sex on him. Later, he performed oral sex on T.P. and J.W., they say.
Only after J.W. alerted police in October 2011 about the details of his, T.P.’s and D.S’s encounters with Smuda did the board take action, they say.
According to the suits, Board Superintendant Ron Duerring placed Smuda on paid administrative leave, which included the admonition he was to have no contact with SCHS students, including T.P., J.W. and D.S.
After Smuda, accompanied by T.P. on Nov. 14, 2011, went to D.S.’s home, he confronted his grandmother and “repeatedly attempted to enter his locked bedroom door,” the suit says. Duerring notified Smuda by letter he was to have no contact with any Kanawha County students and his “conduct would be brought before the Board.”
Four days later, records show Smuda was arrested by Dunbar Police and charged with one count of first-degree sexual abuse by parent or guardian of minor. At the time, the charge stemmed solely from when Smuda allegedly made advances on J.W. the previous February.
After he was booked into the South Central Regional Jail, Smuda was released on a $25,000 cash-only bond. In exchange for waiving his preliminary hearing, the Kanawha County Prosecutor’s Office agreed to convert his bond to surety, allowed him to travel outside the state and to have contact with minor family members so long as another adult was present.
Records show Joseph Cronin, an attorney from Philadelphia, on Nov. 22, 2011 was granted permission to assist Smuda’s court-appointed attorney, Scott Driver, to defend him.
Despite a pending investigation by DPD, State Police and the FBI, the suits allege Smuda “continued to have T.P. stay nights with him.” This included another alleged trip to Key West last May.
After being informed by his union representative that personnel at Sigsbee Naval Base let the board know of his stay there with T.P., Smuda resigned from SCHS. Two months later, while visiting his sister in New Jersey, Smuda committed suicide by hanging himself.
He was 59.
The suits name Smuda’s estate as a co-defendant. Along with claims of battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress against it, the boys make claims against the board for, among other things, negligent hiring and supervision and reckless and wanton conduct.
The boys seek unspecified damages, attorneys fees and court costs. They are represented by Eric B. Snyder, Robert P. Lorea and Katherine E. Charonko with the Charleston law firm of Bailey and Glasser.
The cases are assigned to judges James C. Stucky, Charles E. King, Jr. and Carrie Webster.
Kanawha Circuit Court, case number 13-C-437-439