A victim of a former Saybrook College master convicted of child molestation has filed a civil suit against the University, charging that a professor witnessed an instance of abuse and failed to report it to the authorities.
The master, former Yale geology professor Antonio Lasaga, is serving a 20-year prison sentence stemming from his 1998 arrest on charges of sexual assault and possession of child pornography. For more than five years prior to his arrest, he was said to have abused a New Haven boy he mentored in a public-school program.
The boy, who is now in his 20s and is identified in court papers only as Joseph Doe, now claims that another geology professor saw Lasaga standing over him in a Yale classroom in the 1990s and did not alert law enforcement to the incident. The lawsuit asserts that the University is liable for negligence as a result.
The suit — which seeks unspecified monetary damages — reopens among the most sordid scandals in the University’s history, although one that has been out of the headlines for several years and is probably unknown to many Elis today.
It all began Nov. 6, 1998, when the FBI raided the Saybrook Master’s House after two graduate students stumbled upon suspicious images on Lasaga’s Geology Department computer and passed along their findings to the authorities. Lasaga resigned that day for what then-Yale College Dean Richard Brodhead described as “personal reasons.”
The perverse details of Lasaga’s wrongdoing would emerge over the following months. On Lasaga’s computer, investigators found explicit videos the professor had shot of the boy, who was 13 at the time, in the Kline Geology Laboratory and even the Saybrook Master’s House. They also revealed that Lasaga was found to have built a digital collection of some 150,000 pornographic images.
Yet several of Lasaga’s colleagues pleaded in court for leniency in the professor’s case, with one professor from another university asserting that Lasaga was such an eminent scholar with so many research interests that he never could have had enough time to look at so much pornography.
Lasaga, meanwhile, pleaded guilty to both federal and state charges and has been incarcerated since being sentenced in 2002 to 20 years for the sexual-assault charges and a concurrent 15 years for federal pornography charges. The year before, Lasaga was fired by University President Richard Levin, who acted on the recommendation of the University Tribunal, Yale’s highest disciplinary body.
To make matters worse for the former master, a jury ruled in 2004 that Lasaga is liable for $16.5 million in damages to the boy he molested. The University was at first a co-defendant in that suit, but attorneys for the boy withdrew their claim against Yale and said they planned to sue the University separately in the future.
The suit claims that at an unspecified time between 1996 and 1998, an assistant professor in Yale’s Geology department entered a locked classroom only to find the boy sitting on a desk, with Lasaga standing in front of him, facing him. By law, the professor was required to report the incident to police and the Connecticut Department of Children and Families, according to the victim’s lawyer, Thomas McNamara.
Because the professor did not speak up, Lasaga continued to molest the boy until his arrest in 1998, McNamara said.
The victim claims to have suffered “severe trauma and psychological injuries, some of which may be permanent” as a result of the abuse, which began when he was only seven years old. He also underwent what the suit described as “extensive therapy” and could still be forced to spend more money on counseling and medication.
In a written statement Friday, the University rejected the lawsuit’s premise, arguing that the victim is “seeking to revive a claim” he chose not to pursue back when the original civil suit was filed.
“Yale believes that this lawsuit is without a legal basis,” the statement read. “In taking this position, Yale does not seek to minimize the plaintiff’s suffering, but the responsible party is Antonio Lasaga, not Yale University.”
The lawsuit, filed last month in New Haven Superior Court, was first reported Friday by The New Haven Register. The professor in question now teaches at another university, McNamara told the Register.
—The Associated Press contributed reporting.
Selected past News coverage of the Lasaga scandal:
No end in sight for Lasaga case (2.27.01)
Levin fires Lasaga; prof appeals ruling (3.20.01)
Lasaga submits ‘no contest plea’ (1.14.02)
Called a flight risk, Lasaga taken into custody by feds (1.18.02)
Lasaga gets 15 years in federal prison (2.18.02)
Coming to terms with Lasaga’s legacy
Lasaga may pay victims millions (3.22.04)
Lasaga prison sentence faces new scrutiny (4.4.05)