If you or someone you know needs resources or support related to sexual violence, contact the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault’s 24/7 hotline at 800-871-7741.
A 20-year-old Brewer woman claims in a federal lawsuit that she was sexually abused between the ages of 13 and 15 by a man contracted by the Brewer School Department to work as an athletic trainer at the city’s high school.
The woman is not being named by the Bangor Daily News because she is a victim of alleged sexual abuse.
The lawsuit, filed this week in U.S. District Court in Bangor, lists multiple defendants including her alleged abuser, Benjamin Pushard; his parents and brother; his former employer, Healy Chiropractic LLC of Brewer, and its owner Dr. Patrick Healy; the Brewer School Department; high school Principal Samantha Pangburn; school softball coach Morgan Small; and an unidentified Brewer police officer.
She is seeking $5 million in compensatory damages and $10 million in punitive damages.
The plaintiff claims that all of the defendants in addition to Pushard knew or should have known that Pushard, 27, of Brewer was having sex with a student, and should have intervened to protect her from him. When the lawsuit was filed on Monday, the plaintiff had not yet informed police of the abuse, according to her attorney Ezra Willey of Bangor.
The age of consent for sexual relations in Maine is 16. Even if a person is over 16 and consents to sexual contact or intercourse, it is illegal in Maine for anyone with “instructional, supervisory, or disciplinary authority” over that person to engage in sexual activity with that person. This includes teachers, coaches and corrections officers.
Pushard did not respond to a request for comment. It could not be determined whether Pushard has hired an attorney.
Jason Moffitt, director of public safety in Brewer, said Thursday that because the city was named in the lawsuit, “we have forwarded the case to an outside agency (Penobscot County Sheriff’s Office) to avoid the appearance of conflict.”
The school department contracts with Healy to provide athletic trainer services to students, according to Superintendent Gregg Palmer.
Pushard worked for Healy until April 15, when the Brewer School Department received a notice of claim, the first step in filing a lawsuit, from Willey.
“Upon receipt of the plaintiff’s allegations concerning Mr. Pushard, the superintendent notified Dr. Healy who immediately went to where Mr. Pushard was working and terminated his employment,” according to the school department. “He has not worked with Healy or with the school department since that time.”
Palmer also said the department is looking into the plaintiff’s allegations.
“Nothing matters more to us than the safety of our students, and the policies and procedures we have in place are there to protect each and every one of them,” he said Wednesday. “Our school committee, administration, teachers, and all staff are committed to student safety and that is at the heart of our mission.”
Healy on Thursday referred questions about the lawsuit to his attorney, Tyler Smith of Kennebunk. Smith said the alleged sexual abuse happened before Pushard was hired in August 2018 to work for Healy.
“Mr. Pushard was neither employed by nor affiliated with Healy Chiropractic at the time of the alleged occurrences described in the complaint,” Smith said. “Mr. Pushard is no longer employed with Healy Chiropractic. The claims against my clients are meritless and we are confident that they will be dismissed.”
Pushard still was listed as an employee on Healy Chiropractic’s website on Wednesday morning, but after a call from the BDN seeking a comment on the lawsuit, the information was removed.
Pushard grew up in Brewer and attended school there. He played baseball and basketball in high school and graduated from the University of Maine, according to the deleted biography.
The complaint meticulously lays out how Pushard and the then-teenager got to know each other using Snapchat, Twitter and other social media platforms. The student first reached out to Pushard in late 2014 at the suggestion of Small, Brewer High School’s junior varsity softball coach, who had dated him in high school.
Small allegedly told the girl that Pushard “was a really helpful and kind person” and could possibly help her with her mental health struggles. At first, the communication between the two did not include flirting but that changed early in 2015 and by June of that year Pushard began having sex with her a month after she turned 14, the complaint said.
During that softball season, Brewer High School softball coach Danielle McDonough learned an unrelated adult man, now believed to have been Pushard, had given the girl a ride home after practice, according to the complaint. The coach spoke with the girl’s parents and said she would only allow the plaintiff to go home with her sister or other family members, but McDonough did not report the incident to school officials.
By April 2017, Pushard and the then-15-year-old girl were having sex regularly and were being gossiped about by other students, the complaint said. The girl allegedly went to Pangburn and expressed concern about rumors that she and Pushard were having sex. She told the principal that she didn’t know Pushard very well and didn’t know why there were rumors about them.
“Principal Pangburn did not take what [the girl] said any further and it ended in her office,” the complaint said. “[She] took no action. At the very least Pangburn should have investigated why rumors were occurring to rule out bullying.”
Pushard took steps to conceal that he was having sex with a young teenager and was worried he could be charged with a sex crime, the complaint alleged. He met her in parking lots, then had her get into the back of his Jeep and covered her up so she could not be seen. He’d drive to his parent’s home, park in the garage and sneak her into the house to have sex with her, according to the lawsuit.
The plaintiff ended the relationship in May 2017 but has suffered physically and emotionally because of the abuse, suffered the loss of enjoyment of life and recreational activities, incurred medical costs and the loss of earning capacity, all of which will continue in the future, the complaint said.
“Benjamin Pushard, assaulted [the] plaintiff without her consent or a valid basis by accosting her, physically assaulting her, detaining her improperly and demanding she participate in sexual conduct with him, prohibiting her from leaving of her own accord and bullying, harassing and assaulting [her], and invading her privacy, including through the recording of sexual videos and photographs,” the lawsuit alleges.
The plaintiff is seeking a jury trial.
Correction: An earlier version of this report misstated how old the victim was in 2017.