NEW PALESTINE, Ind. (July 20, 2015) — Along the main strip through New Palestine, American flags flutter in the sunshine over Church Street.
It’s in this town east of Indianapolis that a trio of ex-residents–a mother, a father and their son–have chosen to take a stand local school officials and their former friends and neighbors wish they wouldn’t.
Mark and Shelly Harrison have joined their son in a lawsuit against the Community School Corporation of Southern Hancock County and its former physical education teacher Bryan K. Turner for the ex-wrestling coach’s admitted battery of the then-14-year-old boy in a middle school locker room.
The Harrisons claim school officials knew the teacher was a danger to children. Turner was charged with battery and child molestation for fondling the boy after he was injured playing dodge ball. The teacher resigned, pleaded guilty to battery and received an 18-month prison sentence that was reduced to probation.
“What kind of corporation has something like that where a guy was sentenced to jail and you don’t even know?” asked Mark Harrison, recalling that years after the assault word of Turner’s misdeeds had never been made public to school staffers. “They’re all part of one school community. That doesn’t make sense to me at all.”
Though she didn’t know it at the time, Shelly Harrison later realized she had sensed something wrong with her son when he came home from school one afternoon in October 2012.
“He wouldn’t talk to anyone, he didn’t want anything to eat, he was just on a couch in a fetal position acting really weird,” Shelly said, her eyes filling with tears. “I started seeing things, looking back, and I didn’t understand how I missed all these signs.”
Their child was a gifted baseball player who lost interest in the sport, withdrew into himself and suddenly despised attending Doe Creek Middle School.
“As soon as he stepped in that school he was trying to find a way out,” said Mark. “It was obsessed with his mind he couldn’t sit still. ‘How can I get out of this school right now?'”
The Harrisons said a New Palestine police detective told them Taylor had been on the department’s radar for some time and another former student reported five days earlier that the teacher had molested him 30 years before.
Word of that report gave their son the courage to come forward and take on his victimizer.
“He didn’t really want to tell us but he was, ‘Dad, I’m ready to tell the other people who really need to know,'” remembered Mark. “In a way it’s a proud moment. I raised that.
“A lot of what he thought were friends didn’t believe him,” said the father. “We were politely asked, ‘Keep your child away from our child. We really don’t want him involved in any of this type of stuff.'”
“The town of New Pal is so hush-hush,” added Shelly. “It’s just….they just want everything kept so quiet.”
As years passed, their son struggled with prescription drugs and depression, blaming himself for the molestation.
“He was very embarrassed by it and he was very embarrassed that what he struggles with is he didn’t fight back,” said Shelly, “and he still fights with that, still to this day, that he did not fight back is the biggest embarrassment, that he didn’t fight back.”
As grave as Turner’s admitted sins were, they weren’t the only ones.
In preparation for the lawsuit, Attorney Mario Massillamany discovered that New Palestine police had interviewed another Doe Creek physical education teacher who said she tried to warn her bosses that Turner was behaving inappropriately with children.
“They knew what was going on,” said Shelly, “because there was an employee that was aware of the behaviors of Bryan Turner. She brought it to the vice principal and the principal’s attention of these ill behaviors of Bryan Turner’s. She brought it to their attention and they didn’t want to hear it. They wanted no part of it.”
The lawsuit quotes Carly Brubeck as telling detectives that, “the school principal blew her off, asserting that he “didn’t need a weekly report on all of this stuff,” and that she should only come to him in a “big enough situation.””
Massillamany said he thinks there may be other Turner victims out there and hopes news of the lawsuit will encourage them to come forward.
The Harrisons agree.
“My wishes are it wakens some people up and opens their eyes and reminds ourselves that children are the priority,” said Mark.