The attorney handling a series of Child Victims Act lawsuits against the Kenmore Tonawanda School District said he received “numerous new complaints” over the weekend from people alleging they were molested by former social studies teacher Arthur F. Werner.
After filing four initial lawsuits against the school district on Friday, attorney Christopher J. O’Brien said he was contacted by 11 more former students who say they were molested by Werner at the Herbert Hoover Elementary School during the 1960s and 1970s.
“We have been taking calls and meeting with victims all weekend,” O’Brien told The Buffalo News on Sunday afternoon. “The victims were all boys when this happened. The new complaints are similar to the four cases we filed on Friday, and unfortunately some of the new complaints are even worse. We do intend to file more lawsuits against the school district.”
The four lawsuits filed Friday name the school district as the defendant. They accuse the district of “negligence, carelessness, lack of supervision and lack of appropriate policies,” which, according the lawsuits, enabled Werner to molest many young students during his 35-year teaching career.
The lawsuits allege that Werner often molested young boys in his classroom, fondling their private parts on the outside of their clothing as they stood in front of an entire room of classmates. O’Brien said some of the victims allege that Werner had them sit on his lap as he molested them at his desk, and others say they were molested by the teacher in his classroom, after school.
Werner, who is in his mid-80s and has been retired since 1993, could not be reached to comment. A publicly listed telephone number for him is no longer in service, and a reporter who went to his Kenmore home got no response when he knocked on doors and rang doorbells. The reporter also left a letter for the retired teacher but received no response.
In a statement issued Friday, the school district said it is “aware of serious and concerning allegations regarding conduct by former members of the district staff at the time of their employment approximately 40 years ago.”
“The district has been committed to taking any and all action within the scope of its authority to appropriately respond to the allegations and has been in communication with the appropriate state authorities regarding this matter. The Ken-Ton School District takes any allegations of misconduct by staff extremely seriously, regardless of how much time may have passed or whether the employee is or is not currently employed by the district,” a district spokesman said in response to The Buffalo News questions about the allegations against Werner.
The Werner lawsuits were first publicized by The News on its website Friday morning. Other Buffalo media have also reported on the cases. According to O’Brien, the publicity led a total of 11 former Werner students from Western New York, New York City, California, several locations in New England and Seattle to contact his law office, saying they, too, would like to file complaints.
“Sadly, we feel this may be the tip of the iceberg,” the attorney said. “So many students suffered through this bad behavior for so many years. The question remains, why was nothing done?”
An alleged victim who filed one of the four lawsuits told The News he was 11 when Werner molested him in the early 1970s.
Now 57, the former Ken-Ton student alleged that Werner “would call you up to the front of his classroom, on the pretense of disciplining you for something.”
“He would put me on his lap and fondle my private parts, or he would fondle me as I stood there in front of the classroom,” the man said, alleging that this happened to him at least six times. “Sometimes, while he was touching you, he would whisper in your ear, ‘I’m sorry I yelled at you. I’m sorry I punished you. I apologize.”
On one occasion, the man said, a female art teacher walked into the classroom while Werner had the student on his lap and was molesting him.
“He just talked to this art teacher like nothing was wrong while he was rubbing my stomach and touching the front of my pants,” the man said. “She had to see what was going on.”