Buried coffee can of child porn may implicate teacher

HARTFORD, Conn. – Lawyers descended on a Connecticut boarding school with shovels last fall, and may do it again when the ground thaws this spring, in a search for what a former student says is proof against a child-molesting teacher: a buried coffee can containing pornographic photos from more than 30 years ago.

The dig is just the latest development in a cluster of sexual abuse allegations against the 250-student Indian Mountain School that are now making their way toward trial.

Antonio Ponvert, an attorney for three men who claim they were molested at the school, said that one of his clients alleges that a now-dead English teacher, Christopher Simonds, took photographs of students having sex with each other, masturbating and smoking marijuana. To keep the children silent, Ponvert said, Simonds threatened to show the pictures to their parents.

Around 1981, Ponvert’s client says, he went into Simonds’ apartment, photographed pages from the teacher’s albums and buried the developed pictures in the woods on school grounds.

“It was a little bit like ‘my safety,’ like ‘I can get Simonds if I need to,'” Ponvert said.

The man has not been publicly identified and has not filed a lawsuit. Ponvert also represents two former students who are suing the school, including one who says he was abused by Simonds and other school officials. That case is set for trial in July.

Indian Mountain settled five similar lawsuits in the 1990s. No criminal charges were ever filed. A 50-page police report filed in 1992 detailed misconduct by Simonds and a former headmaster, Peter Carleton, but concluded the statute of limitations had expired. Simonds, who was fired in 1985, and Carleton are dead.

Steven Carver, a former assistant headmaster, said he confiscated child porn from Simonds’ apartment in 1977 and informed other administrators. But he said the allegations were hushed up.

In a brief interview this week, Carver, now 72, declined to discuss the scandal in detail, saying: “I have been working hard to not allow it to rent space in my head.”

“There’s no joy in it. It’s all negative. Everything about it is negative. People behaved badly – very, very badly,” he said. “Young, innocent students were injured, some of them probably for life.”

The school in Salisbury enrolls students in pre-kindergarten through ninth grade and charges up to $54,500 a year.

A school spokeswoman said this week that an independent investigation it commissioned in 2014 is continuing. The school has also asked alumni to come forward with any information.

The dig, authorized by a federal judge, took place in November. The man who claimed to have buried the porn participated, but Ponvert said they later realized they were in the wrong spot on the 600-acre campus. Ponvert said he has been waiting for the ground to thaw before deciding whether to pursue another dig.

Maria Horn, president of Indian Mountain’s board of trustees, said Thursday that the school supported the dig but has no information about the supposedly buried material beyond what the former student has alleged through his attorney.

“If this material really existed, and is really buried on our property, we want it found and removed,” Horn said. “It’s not in our interest to have it here.”

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