Months after the Collier County Sheriff’s Office didn't find any wrongdoing, a 22-year veteran educator is fighting again to preserve his award-winning reputation.
The Sheriff’s Office had already determined that there was no evidence that Steven Noyes, a fourth-grade teacher at The Village School of Naples, had sexually abused a 9-year-old student in January. The investigation was suspended in February and the Sheriff’s Office has not filed charges against Noyes.
The accusations continued Thursday on the steps of the Collier County Courthouse where the parents held a press conference. The parents, whose names are being withheld for privacy concerns, stood by their claim. They filed a $5 million civil lawsuit against The Village School, alleging sexual battery by Noyes and negligence by the school.
The family claims in the lawsuit that, after they reported their daughter was abused on Jan. 20, Village School Principal Ginger Sauter told them three times their daughter was no longer allowed to attend the school “given the nature of the allegations she made against Noyes.”
The family’s legal representatives are comprised of two high-profile attorneys, Jeff Herman of Miami and Robin Sax, a California-based attorney and former sex crimes prosecutor. Both Herman and Sax spoke to the media and noted that, while the criminal investigation on Noyes was suspended in February pending further evidence, the intention of the civil lawsuit is to hold the school and alleged perpetrator accountable.
“Upon reporting (the incident) and after the police investigation ensued, the school dismissed the 9 year old from the school,” Sax said. “She was lifted up and had to start at a new school while the teacher still teaches.”
During the conference, Naples attorney Jerry Berry stood to the side and listened to Herman and Sax. Berry, who represented Noyes during the investigation, was put off by the fact the plaintiff’s attorney did not contact him regarding the news conference. Berry gave a statement to the press after Herman and Sax finished, reminding the press that Noyes was never arrested.
“Noyes has cooperated with the Sheriff’s Office,” Berry said. “The Sheriff’s Office did a thorough investigation and there’s no evidence to corroborate. They’re not filing charges and I don’t expect them to file charges.”
One of only two fourth grade teachers at The Village School, Noyes was awarded the Golden Halo in 2010, recognizing his work as a Christian teacher by the Christian Chamber of Southwest Florida. During the criminal investigation, Noyes met with Collier County Sheriff’s Office detectives on Feb. 15 with Berry, and denied touching the 9 year old. In the report, Noyes said the only physical contact he had with any children would have been a hand placed briefly on a child’s shoulder.
In the civil suit, the victim’s parents and attorney’s claim Noyes’ physical contact went beyond the boundaries of a normal student-teacher relationship, stating that Noyes’ touched the girl in a sexual way twice in the classroom before she reported the abuse to her father on Jan. 19.
“We love the school and we love the teachers,” the mother said during the conference. “We’re very sad to do this today, but if there are any other victims, they need to come forward.”
By filing the complaint, the girl’s parents hope to shed some light on what happened at school. In the complaint, they cite that Noyes groomed their daughter into believing he was her “best friend” and that, by allowing Noyes to hug his students, the school authorized the teacher to touch his students inappropriately.
In a statement released by The Village School, Sauter said the school followed protocol by immediately suspending Noyes when the investigation was initiated.
“DCF, the Collier County Sheriff’s Office and the Child Protection Team investigated the allegation and we cooperated fully with the investigation,” Sauter said in the statement. “The outcome of the investigation, as we understand it, is that the case was suspended due to no evidence of wrongdoing.”