Pugh’s accuser: ‘I didn’t want him to get mad’

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

He spoke softly and politely on the witness stand Friday, answering most questions with a “yes, sir” or “no, sir.”

He smiled and seemed relaxed when talking about his days as a high school track star and on the honor roll, and his position as yearbook photographer at Frederick Douglass Academy, where he would later meet Charles Pugh in a mentoring program.

But when his attorney, William Seikaly, asked the young man, now 20 and known in court filings as K.S., about his experience with the former Detroit City Council president when he was in school, he looked down and struggled to speak in more than a whisper.

“He made me uncomfortable. He used to look at me the way girls did when they were interested in me,” said K.S., a former Detroit Public School student who is suing Pugh for sexual harassment.

The young man, who is seeking at least $1 million in damages, testified for the first time Friday in a civil trial against Pugh in U.S. District Court.

Late Friday, U.S. District Judge David M. Lawson dismissed a claim of assault in the case, leaving the jury to decide claims of sexual harassment and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The case resumes Monday with closing arguments from both sides.

Asked about a series of sexually explicit texts Pugh sent to him — including several in which Pugh asks him to make a sex video for $160 — K.S. said “it was a little crazy to me” and he only wanted his help to get to college.

At the time he met Pugh in 2012, the student was 17 and Pugh was council president.

“My mom raised us not to disrespect adults. I didn’t want him to get mad either,” he testified of Pugh. “I thought it was what grown-ups did. I’ve never been around adults with power. I thought that was how they communicated.”

When Pugh continued to pressure the teen to make the video, he said he kept trying to “blow it off” and Pugh kept bring it back into the conversation.

K.S. also was asked to explain where Pugh allegedly touched him during a car ride after school. He said Pugh leaned over with $40 in his hand, gave it to him and then put his hand on his left thigh.

Seikaly asked his client to get up from the witness stand a demonstrate to the jury. The young man rose from his seat, stood outside the witness box and placed his own hand just below his groin on his left thigh.

“It was uncomfortable ... he touched me like this,” he said.

The young man told the jury how he left home for two months after allegations of Pugh’s behavior became public. He said his extended family disowned him, believing he was gay.

He slept outside, begged for food and had one change of clothes. He didn’t bathe or brush his teeth, he said.

On cross-examination, Pugh’s attorney, Marc Deldin, asked K.S. whether Pugh touched him on DPS property or had sexually explicit conversations with him there. The former student said no.

Pugh, who repeatedly said he considered the student an adult, has denied touching him but has admitted to spending money on him and sending him sexually explicit texts about making a video of him masturbating. Pugh is not attending the trial.

The young man’s mother, Tamu Sanford Gaines, testified Friday that Pugh asked her if he could take her son shopping for shirts. Gaines said she told Pugh no.

When she learned Pugh had taken her son off school property, purchased him clothes and a cellphone, and gave him $160, she became upset and called the school to voice her concerns about Pugh.

“I felt like this was excessive and inappropriate,” she said of the purchases.

On Wednesday, Detroit Public Schools agreed to pay the former student $350,000 to settle its portion of the lawsuit.

However, on Friday, two members of the Detroit school board held a press conference to say the panel will not authorize the $350,000 settlement that the district reached with the teen.

Tawanna Simpson said board members warned then-Emergency Manager Roy Roberts about Pugh but were ignored.

“We unanimously opposed Charles Pugh having a mentoring program in the school without going through the procedures of being fingerprinted and interviewed,” Simpson said. “

DPS spokeswoman Michelle Zdrodowski said in a statement the district complies with state law in regard to all actions taken by the emergency manager.

“Where board review of a proposed action is required, the emergency manager and staff have always presented those matters for its consideration,” she said in the statement.