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Saturday, January 15, 2000

State acknowledges pain
of molested girls’ families

By Debra Barayuga


Parents of two girls who accused a Mokapu Elementary teacher of sexually molesting them in 1994 say the state is finally listening.

In closing statements yesterday after a 2-1/2-day trial, state attorneys representing the Department of Education acknowledged the suffering by the families of Ben and Mary Draughn and Steven and Cynthia Davis because of a teacher's actions.

"The state understands the pain and anguish of the plaintiffs. ... If it were my daughter, I'd walk the same green mile as Colonel Davis and Sergeant Draughn," said Deputy Attorney General George Hom. "It wouldn't happen to my kid."

The Davises and Draughns filed a lawsuit in 1997 against the Department of Education and fourth-grade teacher Lawrence Norton for failing to exercise reasonable care to protect their children.

The parents contend the department failed to look into Norton's background after allegations first arose in 1991 and allowing him to resume teaching with no restrictions after he was acquitted.

They are asking the court to hold the state responsible for Norton's actions and award damages so that the girls and their families can get therapy. The court is expected to issue a verdict at a later date.

"This was the first time in five years I have heard an apology from anyone concerning this matter," said a tearful Cynthia Davis, after listening to Hom's remarks.

"I feel like finally someone has listened carefully and I trust Judge (Sabrina) McKenna will weigh the evidence and render a decision that will take first priority -- the safety of the kids."

Hom defended the department's actions, saying school administrators did a "thorough job" of investigating the allegations against Norton, based on the information available at the time.

The state now knows that Norton had a history of pedophilia and did not seek treatment and that he admitted to abusing more than two dozen children.

Norton was hired in early 1990 before a law went into effect allowing the department to check the criminal backgrounds of prospective employees whose positions bring them into close contact with children.

Hom said not only the plaintiffs have suffered because of Norton's actions, but also those who had trusted him -- administrators, faculty and staff at Mokapu, and the Kaneohe Marine Base community.

And while there has been much anger and frustration, now is the time for healing, Hom said.

Parent Mary Draughn said her daughter urged them to go forward with the suit because she wanted to protect other kids.

"I can go home and look my daughter in the face and tell her she was believed," said Draughn, who left Hawaii with her two children six days after her daughter told her she had been touched by her favorite teacher.

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