Lawyer says student’s ‘youth slipped away’ after Pugh’s sexual harassment
A Detroit Public School student’s youth slipped away after his mentor, City Council President Charles Pugh, tried turning him into a male prostitute, the young man’s lawyer said Tuesday during the start of a sexual harassment lawsuit.
The trial’s early stage lived up to its billing as a seedy sex case, offering testimony about cash for sex, steamy text messages and a public school system that looked the other way as a teenager was victimized while attending Pugh’s mentorship program at the Frederick Douglass Academy.
Pugh is skipping the trial, so the teen’s lawyer repeatedly showed jurors a Pugh prop — a giant color photo of the smiling former Detroit politician and TV personality.
The former student, who is present in court and identified as K.S., claims Pugh harassed and convinced him to produce a sex video, and offered cash for oral sex after spending a year grooming the student during the mentorship program.
“He was sexually harassed by Charles Pugh and it was allowed by the Detroit Public Schools,” the teen’s lawyer, William Seikaly, told 10 jurors. “It would be easy to talk about titillating text messages and make it all about sex but this is about power and the abuse of power.”
The teen is seeking more than $1 million and has sued Pugh, Detroit Public Schools and four school-district officials. The trial is expected to last about two weeks.
Lawyers involved in the case selected a jury of five men and five women earlier Tuesday. The jury is all white except for one black female. The case will be tried before U.S. District Judge David Lawson.
Theo Clemons, the attorney representing DPS and its employees, told the jury in his opening statement that not a single DPS official had information that Pugh was a risk or a threat of sexual abuse or sexual harassment.
Clemons said the evidence will show the student was an 18-year-old adult who was finished with school when the allegations occurred in 2013 and that none of the events in question occurred on DPS property, including a claim that Pugh took the student shopping for clothes and a cellphone and touched him on the thigh.
“He was touched on a pant-covered thigh in Oakland County, not DPS. The text messaging was at home in his basement, not at DPS,” he said.
Clemons said the student responded more than 100 times to Pugh’s texts and never told Pugh to stop texting him. K.S. once asked for an Xbox360, Clemens said.
“He is asking for money and games. This is text messaging between two adults,” Clemons said.
Clemons also told the jury that the student made claims that he suffers from PTSD and life-long depression as a result of the encounters with Pugh.
“He never saw a doctor before ... and now he is diagnosed with PTSD and depression. Not because he was touched but because he received text messages,” he said.
Marc Deldin, Pugh’s attorney, told the jury, the case is about regret: K.S.’s regrets of getting into Pugh’s car and leaving with clothes, money and cellphone on May 31, 2013.
“(K.S.) as an adult was aware of Pugh’s sexual interest in him. He regrets what he did May 31. He is embarrassed and ashamed of what he voluntarily did. He sold his self respect and he regrets it,” Deldin said.
The former student sat in court with his attorneys. Also present were DPS school officials Berry Greer and Monique McMurtry, who also are being sued.
Pugh was not present for jury selection. Neither were Robert Bobb or Roy Roberts, two former DPS emergency managers who are also being sued.
The former politician and local TV personality said his attendance at his trial is irrelevant and that jurors can watch his videotaped deposition while considering the case brought by a former student, who is suing Pugh and DPS. Pugh says as a New York City resident he lives too far from Detroit and cannot be forced to attend.
On Monday, the judge agreed but said Pugh’s attendance is relevant.
“Pugh’s voluntary absence from trial — thereby depriving the jury of one of the tools it might have used to assess his credibility — is relevant to the issues in this case,” Lawson wrote in a filing. “The court will not prevent the plaintiff from arguing that Pugh’s absence from trial is a factor they might consider in determining his credibility.”
Jurors were asked opinions about sexting — sending and receiving sexually explicit messages, primarily between mobile phones. They were also asked what they thought about sexting when one party was much older than the other party.
One juror who said she had a problem with someone sexting her 17-year-old son was dismissed.
Jury selection took about two hours.
The teen sued Pugh and Detroit Public Schools in June 2014, claiming his civil rights were violated. The teen’s allegations preceded Pugh’s resignation in 2013 and flight from Detroit, where he rose to fame as a television broadcaster and politician.
The teen, who wants at least $1 million, reportedly met Pugh in September 2012 when Pugh volunteered for a mentoring program at Frederick Douglass Academy. The student was then 17.
The complaint alleges Pugh, 44, “was given unprecedented access and control over male students at the school without any form of supervision, monitoring or control” by DPS. The suit also alleges that when the teen began participating in the Charles Pugh Leadership Forum at the school, Pugh “began to provide extra attention” and began to “groom him in preparation for making sexual advances.”
In court filings, Pugh has denied the allegations. He also has denied offering to perform oral sex on the teen in exchange for money.
“(I) did not have unsupervised access to students and was never alone with students,” Pugh wrote.
DPS lawyers have said the former student encouraged Pugh to send explicit text messages that included offers of cash and gifts for explicit homemade videos and sex acts.
The trial is expected to focus on Pugh’s sex life. Pugh’s former intern has signed an affidavit claiming he was subjected to unwanted sexual advances and that Pugh regularly played pornographic movies while the intern cleaned his house.
The first witnesses are to be called on Wednesday.