The former West Tisbury library director who abruptly resigned in April after less than a year on the job has been charged with two counts of sexually abusing a child while he worked as the director of the Haverhill public library more than 20 years ago.
Howard Curtis, 57, who worked as the library director in West Tisbury from June 2006 to March of 2007, was indicted by a grand jury in Salem superior court in June and pleaded not guilty to two charges of sexually assaulting a child.
The charges were brought after a former Haverhill man, now age 34, notified the city he planned to file a civil lawsuit against Mr. Curtis, the city and the local chapter of the Boy Scouts of America. In the lawsuit, filed last week, the victim claims Mr. Curtis sexually assaulted him while he was a Boy Scout and later when he worked at the library.
Mr. Curtis worked as the library director in Haverhill from 1981 to 1996, and also served as an assistant Boy Scout troop leader. Mr. Curtis no longer lives on the Island, and according to police the criminal and civil charges have no connection to West Tisbury.
However, allegations from Haverhill that Mr. Curtis was involved in a sexual assault likely played a part in his departure as West Tisbury library director. According to town records, the West Tisbury library board of trustees first heard the allegations from town counsel Ronald H. Rappaport on Feb. 20, who said he received a tip from West Tisbury police chief Beth Toomey.
The minutes of the Feb. 20 meeting indicate Mr. Curtis claimed the allegation had no merit, but said he would be willing to resign to avoid any publicity.
Chief Toomey could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Mr. Rappaport said yesterday he could not say whether the board asked for Mr. Curtis’ resignation or whether he resigned on his own, but he said minutes of board meetings and other town records accurately chronicle the library director’s split with the town.
A settlement agreement drafted by town labor counsel Jack Collins was signed by Mr. Curtis and library trustees chairman Hermine Hull on April 26, although records indicate he resigned on March 21 and moved out of his office on March 23.
Among other things, the ratified agreement contains a clause barring the town from suing Mr. Curtis and vice versa, and another clause stipulating the board does not recognize any unlawful or wrongful behavior while he served as director.
The man who filed the complaint against Mr. Curtis, who now lives in New Hampshire, claims that he was repeatedly sexually molested by Mr. Curtis when he was about 10 years old. The lawsuit also claims that Mr. Curtis molested him when he was 13 years old and worked for the library.
The civil complaint charges Mr. Curtis with sexual harassment, sexual assault and battery, infliction of emotional distress, negligence and negligent infliction of emotional distress, and charges the city of Haverhill with sexual harassment, negligence, and negligent infliction of emotional distress. The lawsuit also makes similar claims against the Boy Scouts.
The lawsuit seeks an unspecified amount for damages, attorney fees and punitive damages
Mrs. Hull said yesterday she could not comment on the specifics of Mr. Curtis’s resignation, but she did say there were some things that concerned the board of trustees back in February that prompted them to extend the initial probation period for Mr. Curtis.
“There were issues we needed to explore further, and at the time we did not feel comfortable making [Mr. Curtis] a full-time employee,” Mrs. Hull said.
Elaine Pace, vice chairman of the library trustees, said the board first heard rumors about Mr. Curtis last winter and immediately contacted the town attorney. She said the board informed Mr. Curtis of the allegations in February but never asked for his resignation.
Mrs. Pace said the trustees contacted Mr. Curtis after he left the position about materials he allegedly ordered using a library account that could not be accounted for. When reached, Mr. Curtis told the trustees the materials were for his personal use, and he later sent a check to the library for approximately $3,000 to cover the cost of the materials.
Mrs. Pace, who was chairman of the screening committee that hired Mr. Curtis, said library officials thoroughly reviewed his application, performed a criminal background check and contacted references before they hired him. She said there were no red flags during the interview process.
“When it came down to Mr. Curtis and the other finalist — a woman from Iowa — both the committee and members of the community unequivocally agreed he was the best choice,” she said.
Mrs. Pace noted that Mr. Curtis had not been found guilty of anything, and cautioned people to reserve judgment until all the facts come out.
She said the library is now thriving under new library director Beth Kramer.
“We are in great shape and we have many things to be excited about. I hope people don’t get too caught up in this, because it has nothing to do with the town and the library,” she said.