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Cedar Creek, blind center faced big allegations in 2021

Wrap-up of the year’s sexual misconduct stories
Sunday, December 26, 2021

News headlines in 2021 were marked by multiple accusations of sexual misconduct that involved several major institutions that call Ruston their home.

Cedar Creek School employees and former parents face ongoing litigation involving sexual battery and prolonged bullying between students last school year.

The Louisiana Center for the Blind and the affiliated National Federation of the Blind have spent the entirety of 2021 addressing a flood of sexual misconduct allegations, and one former LCB employee was arrested this summer on charges of molestation of a juvenile.

The summer also saw reports of a former Louisiana Tech University student who had repeatedly been accused of rape and sexual assault on the campuses of Tech and two other state colleges throughout his academic career and quickly transferred between the schools to avoid detection.

Cedar Creek sued

On Sept. 17, the Ruston Daily Leader broke the story that the parents of a former Cedar Creek student had filed a lawsuit against the school and other parents, alleging their son was sexually battered and bullied by eight fellow students for months with no intervention from the school.

The suit claims that the son of Louisiana Tech assistant men’s basketball coach Michael “Duffy” Conroy and Nicole “Nikki” Conroy was subjected to bullying, physical assaults and sexual penetration with an object on a weekly, if not daily, basis from September of 2020 to May of 2021.

Separately from the civil suit, the Ruston Police Department confirmed eight juveniles involved in the case were issued summonses to appear in court and given charges of an undisclosed nature.

No further update has since been given on the juvenile court proceedings, which are protected by law.

In the days following the lawsuit’s filing, Cedar Creek’s Board of Directors issued a lengthy public statement making arguments against many of the suit’s claims, including photos and measurements of one of the alleged penetration objects coupled with assertions that the object couldn’t have been used in the manner the plaintiffs claim.

That statement was later taken down.

Head of School Andrew Yepson, one of the defendants named in the case, retired from the post in October.

Later that month, each of the three 3rd Judicial Court judges recused themselves from the civil case in October, citing various conflicts of interest that tie them to the school.

The Louisiana Supreme Court assigned LaSalle Parish judge Jimmie C. Peters to the case.

Most of the more than a dozen defendants, including Yepson, have filed answers to the lawsuit in court, largely denying the allegations and asking for a trial by jury.

A few of the defendants have also filed exceptions that would see at least parts of the lawsuit thrown out if upheld by Peters.

The first court date in the case was recently set for March 15, 2022, during which the court will review testimony concerning those exceptions, which have to be resolved before the case goes to trial.

Blind center weathers allegations

In December of 2020 and January of 2021, a social media movement called #Marchingtogether led many current and former National Federation of the Blind members to post allegations on social media that they endured sexual assault, abuse and other misconduct while at the NFB or its training centers, including the Rustonbased Louisiana Center for the Blind.

Hundreds of people signed a letter demanding structural change at the organization, prompting a letter of apology from the NFB’s president and a series of investigative and policy-changing measures that stretched throughout the year.

In April, the Ruston Police Department confirmed that investigators were meeting with a woman who claimed to have been abused by an LCB staff person while she was a juvenile student there.

Then in June came the arrest. Michael Ausbun, 25, was booked and later indicted by a grand jury on 18 counts of molestation of a juvenile.

He allegedly performed these acts while serving as a summer cane instructor at the Ruston training center in 2018. He was not an employee of the center at the time of his arrest.

On Dec. 7, Ausbun was allowed to bond out of prison on the condition that he be confined to his home with an ankle monitor and not be around any juveniles.

Back in January, the NFB had formed a Special Committee to investigate misconduct allegations and the organization’s response to them, and it separately hired a lawyer as an external investigator to resolve the dozens of Code of Conduct complaints submitted this year covering 20 years of incidents.

By the time the committee’s final report came out in earlier this month, 23 allegations of misconduct had been made about the LCB specifically, and the committee believed 12 of them were legitimate after its investigation concluded.

The nature of the substantiated incidents, aside from Ausbun’s, is unknown. Sexual misconduct ranges from inappropriate jokes to assault.

The NFB and LCB have taken extensive measures to implement new policies, trainings, partnerships and more to strengthen their response to misconduct reports in the future.

Accused serial rapist had Tech stint

Victor Daniel Silva was reported by at least six women at three college campuses for sexual assault and rape but faced only one brief arrest and was able to graduate from Louisiana-Lafayette, as first reported by USA Today in May.

The Leader obtained police reports that show a Tech student filed complaints claiming Silva had raped her just weeks after he transferred to Tech in 2018.

He transferred again soon after her complaint was made, before the university could launch an investigation.

The USA Today report shows this was a repeated trend across his four stints at three universities: Tech, LSU, and ULL.

State lawmakers who had passed some misconduct investigation overhauls in 2015 called Silva’s case a “loophole” in which he repeatedly “skipped town” in order to avoid triggering investigations at a university.

Tech officials told the Leader they believed at the time that they had no legal power to pursue the case or stop Silva from transferring because he left campus before the investigation process had gotten underway.

The university has since updated its policy to put a hold on the transcript of any student that is the subject of a sexual misconduct complaint as soon as the complaint is made.

The function of a university’s Title IX office, previously mainly associated in the public eye with athletics, came under scrutiny this year after a wave of sexual misconduct controversies came to light at the flagship LSU.

Those incidents prompted new action by the Louisiana Legislature, which in turn has led to new rules for higher education institutions in the state.

While many of the changes were spurred by the LSU cases, Silva’s case was also specifically referenced during the creation of the Board of Regents’ new “Uniform Policy on Power-Based Violence.”

In August, Tech expanded its Title IX office by hiring Mortissa Harvey as its first full-time Title IX coordinator. The previous coordinator also worked as President Les Guice’s administrative assistant.