(Alleged) Crime and (Delayed) Punishment?
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Acting on the recommendation of the administration, the St. Louis Community College Board of Trustees voted last week to terminate a music professor accused of sexually abusing a high school student before he came to the college. Denise R. Chachere, the board's vice president, said that members were unanimous in their decision.
The board had suspended Larry Stukenholtz -- a college employee since 2001 and an associate professor of music at the two-year institution's Meramec campus -- in November, pending an investigation of allegations that he had sexually abused a student of his at Mater Dei High School in California in the 1990s. The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) began putting pressure on the college to fire him in 2006 when Stukenholtz’s former student, Sarah Gray, filed a civil suit alleging that he had abused his authority in luring her into a sexual relationship when she was under 18 (Stukenholtz is not a priest, but the alleged abuse happened while he taught at a Catholic high school).
Gray, now an English Ph.D. student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, was awarded $1.1 million in October as part of a $6.7 million group settlement of four lawsuits filed against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange. “His job status in no way affects me personally. I’m not better now because he’s fired, and I wouldn’t have been worse if he’d kept his job,” Gray said Thursday. She had traveled to St. Louis in November to express her concerns about Stukenholtz to the community college's board.
“But given my personal experience with him and that he’s abused his authority as a teacher in the past, I don’t believe he deserves a position in a school,” Gray said. “My own personal opinion is that as long as he was in a position of authority over students, he therefore would have access to young people who could be potential victims.”
"I think they made a good decision."
When asked why she had so recently filed the lawsuit, which alleges abuse through 1998, Gray replied, “The best answer is that now, after the time that has passed, I was a lot more ready to talk about it and to come forward." Following the settlement of the civil suit, she said she filed a police report with the City of Fullerton (Calif.) Police Department. A police spokeswoman did not return messages Thursday, but the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that Fullerton police confirmed receiving the complaint October 17.
Stukenholtz, whose listed home phone number has been disconnected or is otherwise no longer in service, could not be reached for comment. He had previously told the Post-Dispatch that Gray’s allegations were “ridiculous” and that the college was backing him completely.
A college spokeswoman did not return messages. St. Louis Community College is closed until January 2.
“We believe that the college and the St. Louis community will be safer as a result” of this action, said David Clohessy, national director for SNAP. “We wish it had happened sooner."