Crime

Former Fruitland High principal sexually harassed 2 students, according to tort claims

Teresa Fabricius

Fruitland School District Superintendent Teresa Fabricius offered this statement in response to Principal Mike Fitch being criminally charged.
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Fruitland School District Superintendent Teresa Fabricius offered this statement in response to Principal Mike Fitch being criminally charged.

Two tort claims filed in early April allege that former Fruitland High School principal Mike Fitch — who resigned Thursday amid allegations of sexual battery of a school employee — sexually harassed students, at least one of whom was underage.

The tort claims, served to the Fruitland School District on April 8 and April 9, were obtained through a records request by the Statesman. Torts are legal complaints that precede lawsuits against public agencies. The Statesman does not identify alleged victims of sexual crimes.

The documents were filed several weeks after another tort claim against the district, which alleged that district officials failed to act or investigate when a school employee said Fitch behaved inappropriately toward her. Fitch is facing three misdemeanor charges related to the employee’s reports of alleged sexual battery and harassment.

The employee’s tort complaint alleged that the district knew of Fitch’s “predatory behavior” prior to incidents that reportedly took place in 2018. The tort filed April 8 alleges that Fitch sexually harassed a former female student as early as 2010.

According to the allegations made in that tort claim, Fitch is accused of obtaining the former student’s cellphone number when she was a senior at Fruitland High School. He allegedly began sending her flirtatious text messages, which escalated to in-person flirtation during school hours.

“However, Fitch’s conduct began quickly escalating,” the tort claim alleges. “Fitch would text (the former student) sexually explicit acts he would like to perform on her. The acts were so graphic, (the student), a teenager, did not know what the terminology meant.”

Fitch allegedly solicited sex from the student, invited her to his home when his family was out of town, belittled male friends of the student and told the student that “she needed to listen to the song ‘Don’t Stand So Close to Me’ by Sting. The song is about a teacher having an affair with a high school student,” according to the tort claim.

The song is actually by The Police, which included Sting as its lead singer.

The former student reportedly cut off contact with Fitch, after which he began “effectively stalking her at school,” according to the tort claim, and withheld the student’s yearbook, making her come to his office to collect it.

As in the school employee’s March tort claim, the April 8 tort claim alleges that Fitch’s alleged behavior was known by faculty and administration at the school.

“Prior to Fitch’s harassment of (the former student), there had been reports, complaints or concerns raised regarding Mr. Fitch’s inappropriate conduct and relationships with female students,” the tort claim said.

A third tort claim, filed on April 9, alleges that Fitch was harassing an underage female student last fall, at the same time he allegedly sexually harassed the school employee.

The student said Fitch leered at her and repeatedly rubbed his chest, torso and groin on the backside of her body while she worked at a concession stand during a school function.

When the student asked others about Fitch’s behavior, she was told his behavior was common knowledge, according to the tort claim.

“The students informed (the tort claimant) that Fitch was known to have relationships with students and was generally known as a ‘creep,’” the April 9 tort claim states.

The tort claim filed on behalf of the former student alleges similar views from the student body.

“High School boys reported that Fitch was viewed as competition and, in turn, Fitch viewed the boys as competition for dating the high school girls,” the former student’s tort claim alleges.

Other allegations in the April 9 tort claim are that Fitch propped his leg up on benches in the school cafeteria in order to place his groin at eye level of female students and followed the underage student between classes.

According to the tort claim, the underage student reported Fitch’s conduct to faculty, who furthered the reports to the administration.

“Nothing was done by Fruitland School District to address the conduct and (the underage student) was instructed to change the route she walked to class,” the tort claim says. “(She) followed instructions and changed the route she walked to class, only to have Fitch also change his conduct accordingly.”

The document alleges that Fitch’s conduct continued until he was placed on administrative leave amid the start of a criminal investigation in November 2018.

Fitch remained on paid administrative leave until his resignation on Thursday. In a statement, Fitch’s attorneys said his resignation was not an admission of guilt but the best step for his family. Fitch, who has pleaded not guilty to two counts of of sexual battery and one charge of patronizing a prostitute, is due in court again on May 3.

Both of the tort claims filed in April allege that the victims experienced “pain, suffering, emotional distress, psychological harm, and mental anguish.” Neither claim specifies economic damages.

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