For nearly four decades, Dr. Richard Covin never told a soul that his favorite science teacher at Breck School had repeatedly sexually molested him.
This week, he settled a lawsuit against the Golden Valley prep school and received a rare apology from officials for harm done to him and any other youth resulting from the actions of that teacher, William Jacobs, who is now in prison on unrelated sexual conduct charges.
“I can’t imagine the school ever doing again what they did in the past,” said Covin.
His suit, filed in April 2012, accused the school of fraud and concealment, saying Breck allowed Jacobs to continue teaching even after he had been confronted about abusing students. Covin, who attended Breck from 1972 to 1975, said he was 12 when Jacobs began abusing him. The abuse would continue for three years.
The suit, much to Covin’s disappointment, was dismissed after a Hennepin County district judge ruled that the statute of limitations had expired. Jeff Anderson, Covin’s attorney, said that the school arguing this as its defense of the suit poured salt in the wound, and “that he expected more from them.”
Way was cleared to refile suit
This May, the Legislature passed the Child Victims Act, which allows victims of past cases three years to file a suit. Covin refiled, and instead of the two sides again battling it out in court, they decided to go through mediation with a former state Supreme Court justice at the helm.
“Initially, they thought they had another slam dunk to get it thrown out,” Covin said.
The process scrutinized all the things Breck had already done in implementing training and protocol for handling abuse allegations and things that had failed in the past, Anderson said. “They demonstrated to us that they have a rigorous and impressive protocol,” he said.
The settlement took more than a month to complete.
A joint statement released Tuesday said the parties have come together in the settlement to acknowledge the serious harm done by sexual abuse. Both sides agreed not to discuss the monetary portion of the settlement, but Anderson said “it was a fair amount” and reflects that the school had knowledge about Jacobs’ behavior and failed to report sexual abuse to law enforcement.
“The resolution gives Richard a sense of validation and reclamation of his power,” Anderson said.
Jill Field, Breck’s director of communication, declined to respond to specific allegations made by Anderson or Covin. A letter with the joint statement was sent to students’ parents and alumni, and “we hope we closed a difficult chapter in the school’s history,” she said.
“Our policies and procedures have been vetted against best practices for schools,” she said. “They have been in place for quite some time. The school has evolved greatly from the 1970s.”
Jacobs had many victims
Jacobs, who also served as the Minneapolis park police chief from 1987 to 2001, was sentenced last year to 18 years in prison after he admitted to three counts of criminal sexual conduct and possessing child pornography. He was prosecuted after a teenager came forward in 2010 and said Jacobs had molested him for three years during camping trips and visits to Jacobs’ house and cabin.
“That teenager is the real hero,” Covin said.
The charges led at least two dozen other men to say Jacobs molested them for decades while he taught at Blake School and Breck and served as a counselor at the YMCA’s Camp Warren.
Covin, now 52 and retired as an eye doctor, became friendly with Jacobs because he was a “science geek” and Jacobs would have him do cool projects after school, he said. The projects eventually took place at Jacobs’ house on weekends and sometimes included sleepovers.
“My parents were divorced at the time, and it was easy for him to become a father figure and take me under his wing,” he said.
Jacobs sexually abused him more than 50 times and it only stopped when he left Breck, Covin said.
Before Jacobs was hired at Breck, he worked at Blake School and was caught molesting a student, Anderson said. He did the same at Breck, and the victim and his father told headmaster John Littleford about it, Anderson said.
“Jacobs was simply warned not to do it again,” the attorney said. “He was mandated to report it to law enforcement. He made a choice to protect the school’s reputation.”
The mandatory reporting statute became law in 1975, after the date on which Littleford previously told the Star Tribune that Jacobs’ employment at Breck was terminated. He also denied knowing about Jacobs’ past before he came to the school.
‘Scars will remain’
In June 2012, Anderson took a deposition from Jacobs in prison. They agreed that Anderson wouldn’t collect any judgments against him if he told the truth about his sexual past. Jacobs talked about his incident with the student at Breck who later came forward and about his abuse of Covin, Anderson said.
“If Jacobs did anything right, it was sitting down with Anderson and owning up to his crimes,” Covin said. “The ball was dropped so many different places.”
He was so ashamed of what Jacobs did to him that he “buried it so deep and never told anybody,” he said. He wondered if he had somehow brought the abuse on himself. When a classmate from Breck called him with the news that Jacobs had been arrested, Covin finally felt comfortable enough to share his secret.
Covin demanded that the apology be part of the settlement, or he would take his suit to court and reject mediation.
“Breck’s failures of the past can’t be disowned,” Anderson said. “Scars will remain.”