Ex-Dover teacher's teen sex victim recounts abuse

Liz Evans Scolforo
York Dispatch

The victim of Matthew Puterbaugh, Dover Area School District's former music teacher and assistant high-school band director, testified in federal court Monday that she didn't want him to lose his job — she just wanted him to stop having sex with her.

The woman, now 29, is suing Puterbaugh in Harrisburg's federal court and also is suing the school district, claiming the district did not protect her.

Her attorney, Farley Holt, told jurors during opening statements Monday, July 9, that Puterbaugh began grooming the girl to sexually abuse her when she was 11 years old and in fourth grade. That's when she started taking flute lessons from him through the district.

Matthew Puterbaugh

The woman told jurors that by the time she was 12, Puterbaugh was having sex with her.

By the time she was 13, he had impregnated her, she testified. Her own mother and Puterbaugh had become personal friends, and he made all the arrangements for the girl to have an abortion in Maryland, she said.

She said she didn't tell her mother that it was Puterbaugh who had impregnated her.

Court documents state that her mother later dismissed a school employee's concerns that Puterbaugh was abusing her daughter, telling the employee that her daughter is known to lie.

Reported to school: Puterbaugh's victim testified she told teachers about the abuse in 2002 and again in 2004 but nothing happened to Puterbaugh either time and that she ended up recanting or simply not pressing the issue.

She testified that when she told a guidance counselor, she felt as if the guidance counselor yelled at her.

"She had told me that I really needed to think about what I’m saying. That these are serious allegations, and that he’s a good man and a good teacher," the woman testified, adding the counselor was stern with her and intimidating.

"She made me feel terrible. ... I was just a kid, and I got scared," and she let the matter drop, the woman told jurors.

The woman testified that it was perhaps a month or two later that she tried to commit suicide — one of four attempts to kill herself between the ages of 13 and 18.

She said she longed to have "normal" kid problems.

'Just a shell': She started acting out and having behavioral problems that by 10th grade caused Dover Area High School to move her to an emotional-support curriculum through Lincoln Intermediate Unit.

"I was just a shell of the girl I was once," she told jurors. "Like a hurricane comes and destroys your home … everything is ruined or gone. That’s how I felt on the inside."

At the end of 10th grade, after she and her parents met with a district official about her behavioral issues, she permanently withdrew from Dover Area High School and went to a school for troubled kids, she said.

Later, she became addicted to alcohol and pills, then turned to heroin, Holt said during his opening statement Monday.

She has trust issues and has been unable to have a normal adult relationship, according to Holt.

Puterbaugh's attorney, Joseph Green Jr., argued during his opening statement that Puterbaugh was "a good teacher ... who went off the rails" and suggested the woman could be suing for money.

Green said his client maintains he had no sexual contact with the girl until she was 16. That happens to be the age of legal consent in Pennsylvania.

Sharon O'Donnell, the attorney representing Dover Area School District, told jurors during her opening statement that district teachers "listened compassionately" to the girl and tried to protect her but that she recanted her allegations.

As Holt pointed out repeatedly to jurors, no one from the school district called police or child protective services.

In federal prison: Puterbaugh, 51, formerly of Dover Township, is serving a 15-year federal prison sentence for having hundreds of images of child pornography. His release date is scheduled for August 2027, according to federal Department of Corrections records.

In February 2014, Northern York County Regional Police filed 661 counts of possession of child pornography against Puterbaugh, which were later amended to seven all-encompassing felony counts.

Puterbaugh initially was placed on unpaid leave. In August 2014, the school board voted unanimously to fire him.

He pleaded guilty in York County Court in June 2015 to statutory sexual assault and involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, both felonies. He was sentenced to five to 10 years in prison, to run concurrently with his federal prison time.

The victim in the sexual assault charges is the woman who is suing Puterbaugh and the district.

Pain and suffering: Holt filed a civil-rights lawsuit on behalf of the woman in August 2015, arguing that her rights were violated by the abuse and by the district allegedly failing to protect her.

One of Holt's pretrial filings states the estimated value of the woman's pain and suffering is in excess of $5 million.

The civil trial is expected to resume Tuesday, July 10, with more testimony from the woman, who has not yet been cross-examined.

— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at levans@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.