Loyalty runs deep at the Citadel. David A. Carroll graduated from the state-supported senior military college in 1984 with a degree in history. He is also a longstanding member of the alumni association and donor to the school's development foundation. When the Citadel began admitting female students in 1994, Carroll signed up his then-infant daughter for a provisional appointment, an alumni perk that guaranteed her a spot at the school as long as she met certain physical and academic requirements.
But after watching how the school handled an accusation of sexual misconduct by Citadel graduate and former summer camp counselor Louis Neal "Skip" ReVille, Carroll says he'll stop donating money until he sees a change in leadership. And when his daughter graduates from high school in May, she will not be attending the college.
"When asked in the past if I went to the Citadel, I always stood a little taller and answered with a resounding 'Yes,'" Carroll says. "Lately, when asked the same question, I assume a defensive posture and reply rather sheepishly, 'Yes, why do you ask?'"
Carroll says many graduates are hesitant to speak out against the Citadel — "You don't want to criticize the mother institution," he says. To him, that's a big part of the problem with the way the Skip ReVille case was handled. When a former camper from the school's now-defunct summer camp came to the administration in 2007 and made an accusation against ReVille, a 2002 Citadel graduate, the only people who investigated that accusation were fellow Citadel graduates and employees.
After ReVille was arrested in Mt. Pleasant on Oct. 28 on a charge that he had fondled a child, at least eight more people told police that they, too, had been molested by ReVille as children. It's the same opened-floodgate effect that played a role in the investigation of Charleston teacher Edward Mein Fischer in the late 1990s. One former student of Fischer's came forward with allegations in 1997, saying that Fischer had sexually assaulted him in the 1980s while he was a student at James Island High School. After his arrest was announced, 12 other students came forward to the solicitor with accusations. In 1999, Fischer received a 20-year prison sentence for 13 counts of sexual abuse, although he later confessed to victimizing 39 boys in his 40-year career.
Gregg Meyers, a Charleston lawyer who represented the families of many of Fischer's victims, sees another important similarity between Fischer's story and ReVille's: A school had the chance to stop a molester before he could hurt other children, and it failed to do so. Before Fischer taught at James Island, he was a teacher and athletic advisor at the private Porter-Gaud School. When officials there caught wind of accusations being made against Fischer, they declined to report it to police. Fischer left the school, and Porter-Gaud provided recommendations that got him jobs at other schools.
"The Citadel wasn't out affirmatively trying to help ReVille get another job," Meyers says, "but they were doing nothing to limit his exposure. Any child that this guy molested after 2007 is going to the Citadel and saying, 'What were you doing sitting silent? ' "
After working as a counselor at a Citadel summer camp from 2001 to 2003, ReVille continued to surround himself with children. He taught English and coached basketball at Pinewood Preparatory School in Summerville from 2002 to 2006, hosted four foster children in his home from 2004 to 2006, coached at the Mt. Pleasant Recreation Department from 2007 to 2011, coached tennis at Bishop England High School from 2008 to 2010, and coached basketball at Moultrie Middle School from 2009 to 2011. At the time of his arrest, he was a vice principal at Coastal Christian Preparatory School. He also held boys' Bible studies with the youth of Eastbridge Presbyterian Church, where he and his wife are members.
Meyers says five families have contacted him for consultation so far, saying their children were victims of ReVille's. He says any claims made against the Citadel will have to be investigated on an individual basis.
"Now if you want to hand me a good lawsuit, by all means, keep quiet, don't say anything, don't investigate, and don't report," he says.
Documents released by the Citadel surrounding the ReVille case indicate a pattern that Meyers calls "thinking it halfway through." The first half is to wonder whether the family of the victim will sue the school for the incident, and the Citadel appears to have put a lot of thought into that. The second half, which there is no indication that the school followed through on, was to find out where ReVille was currently working to let the employer know about the allegations.
One of the main players in the released documents is attorney Mark C. Brandenburg, general counsel for the Citadel. The genesis and authorship of some pages in the packet are sketchy, and a spokesman from the school has refused to explain certain ambiguities.
Some things are crystal clear, though. What is known is that in May 2007, Brandenburg sent a letter to a claims manager at the Insurance Reserve Fund, a branch of the State Budget and Control Board that provides insurance for the college, asking for financial support to travel to the family and interview them about their claims. His reasoning was that "the school believes it would be beneficial to both the IRF and the institution, and the most likely approach to lead to a quick and inexpensive resolution of this claim."
Brandenberg got approval for the reimbursement and traveled to interview the former camper and his parents in July 2007 (see story, p. 26). When he arrived, the camper told Brandenburg that he had been coerced into watching pornography and masturbating in ReVille's room in 2002. The young man pleaded, "I don't want him to do to another kid what he did to me."
The camper's father, a Citadel graduate, indicated that he did not want to sue the school, but he asked what the school could do about letting his son enroll as a student. His son's grades had gone down the tubes after the summer of 2002, and he had recently received a rejection letter from the school.
"I think this young man deserves for the Citadel to take another look at him," the father said. Later, he added, "And — and that's — you know — but it's up to him. He's an adult. But for me, I think the Citadel was — was part of the root cause. I think that it can be part of the root cause to fix him. And, you know, I think it's a very inexpensive way for the Citadel to say, do you know what? We'll fix our own. We'll — we'll — we'll keep this within — within a family, and off we go."
In a later e-mail to the IRF, Brandenburg wrote about the father, "He is a Citadel graduate ... and I suspect feeling much of the typical desire that graduates have to see their sons attend the Citadel." He wrote of the son that he "seems interested in attending, though not as interested as his father is in seeing him attend." He also said he detected "animosity" from the former camper's mother.
Ultimately, the school offered to help the former camper work his way through remedial classes at a community college so he could get into the school, and Brandenburg even got approval from the IRF for a $20,000 settlement to be paid to the family. But the documents indicate the family stopped contact with the school after freshman matriculation in 2007, and in August 2008, a representative from the IRF wrote a letter to Brandenburg indicating that the agency would close the ReVille file "due to a lack of pursuit" by the family.
Time appears to have run out for the family of that camper to sue the Citadel over the ReVille case. As Brandenburg indicated in an e-mail to the IRF, his interview with the family in July 2007 was "an unequivocal trigger of the statute of limitations." The family had three years to act. However, families of later victims could still sue the Citadel for failing to stop ReVille.
The school never turned the accusation over to police, and nowhere in the documents is there an indication that the school tried to contact ReVille's later employers to advise them of the claim that had been made.
To be fair, Brandenburg's job is to protect the Citadel's legal interests. The school was sued in 2003 when five campers from the same summer camp claimed they had been molested by Marine Corps Capt. Michael Arpaio, who later served 15 months of a 10-year prison sentence for sexual abuse. The school ended the suit in 2006 with a $3.8 million settlement, but another former camper came forward with a lawsuit against Arpaio and the Citadel last week.
So aside from Brandenburg, who else knew about the allegation against ReVille? According to a letter written by Brandenburg to the IRF, the boy's father initially tried to call the college's president, Lt. Gen. John W. Rosa, when he heard the claim from his son. Rosa's secretary answered the phone, and Brandenburg responded on behalf of the president. Meeting itineraries show that Brandenburg spoke with Rosa multiple times about the case, although Rosa has said that it was presented to him as a matter of settlement, not a criminal matter.
Rosa, for his part, is no newcomer when it comes to dealing with sex scandals. As a former Air Force major general, he was promoted to superintendent of the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., in 2003 after four leaders of the school were removed in the wake of a systematic cover-up of the rapes of dozens of female cadets.
According to Rosa, Brandenburg tried to contact other campers to corroborate the claims he had heard. "After initial communications were not returned, it was understood they did not want to speak with us," Rosa said. He says the camp staff, when questioned, spoke highly of ReVille, who had been elected Honor Court chair and received a graduation award for public service during his time as a student. ReVille denied the camper's accusation.
The administration of the Citadel kept the accusations under wraps until after ReVille was arrested in October. This was in spite of Brandenburg's assertion, in an e-mail to the IRF, that the camper's story was "believable."
"Skip, as I have reported before, denies all of this," Brandenburg wrote. "However, Arpaio's initial denials were equally forceful, and unfortunately, ultimately proved totally false."
Gregg Meyers has worked on many child sexual abuse cases involving schools and churches, and he knows the telltale errors that institutions commit when someone comes forward with an accusation.
He lists three steps that any organization should take:
1. Report the complaint to police. Even if the evidence is insufficient to prove the claim, turn it over to someone whose job it is to investigate such things.
2. Ask around to find out if any other children have been affected in your own institution.
3. Find out where the accused person works, and give the employer notice of the accusation.
The Citadel took none of these steps.
Looking back on his case from the late '90s, Meyers calls Porter-Gaud's response a form of "paralysis," a period of indecision and keeping quiet that ultimately led to a child molester being let off the hook.
"The Citadel unfortunately has been in that same paralysis of 'We don't know what to do, so we're going to do nothing and hope that this whole thing blows over,'" Meyers says.
He says the ReVille case should be a wake-up call for "every organization that has children as customers." That means reviewing policies to prevent sexual abuse and having a plan in place for when someone comes forward with an accusation. The Charleston-based nonprofit group Darkness to Light can provide training and advice. Meyers points to the Boys & Girls Clubs' strictly enforced policies on adult-child conduct — specifically their rule that says no adult can be alone with a child — as a good example.
"If somebody in Spartanburg sees the City Paper or Post and Courier and sees a jury verdict in the headlines," Meyers says, "somebody ought to choke on their cornflakes and say, 'We need to talk about this at our next board meeting.' "