Case files in a civil complaint against the Moore County Board of Education, unsealed Friday, allege that a culture of sexual impropriety among Pinecrest administrators and staff enabled a school resource officer to engage a student in sexual activity during her sophomore and junior years.
That student is the plaintiff in a case known as “L.P. v. Moore County Board of Education,” which was filed in Moore County Superior Court earlier this year. The school board voted on Nov. 30 to pay a $200,000 settlement in that case.
Case files and related documentation were sealed from view of the public after a joint motion by the school district and the plaintiff on Sept. 18. The order to seal that case expired on Dec. 18.
Those court filings allege negligence on the part of Moore County Schools and the Moore County Board of Education. The lawsuit relates to alleged sexual encounters between the plaintiff and Joshua M. Evans, a former officer for Moore County Schools Police, between April 2016 and January 2017.
The Pilot is withholding the plaintiff’s name due to her age, 16, at the time of the alleged sexual involvement with Evans.
She graduated from Pinecrest in 2018, and now claims that the district was negligent in retaining “unfit” staff members including Evans and the high school’s principal at the time, Bob Christina.
“Principal Christina and other such administrators were unfit for employment due to their preoccupation, distraction and concern over their own nefarious acts and affairs,” the suit reads, continuing that moreover, “such preoccupation, distraction and concern proximately resulted in a failure to supervise Defendant Evans during the time period in question.”
Evans had been working for the school's police department for almost five years when he was arrested on Feb. 20, 2017 and charged with five counts of having sex with a student. He was later indicted on additional charges connected with each alleged incident involving the plaintiff.
An August 2019 jury trial in Moore County Superior Court cleared Evans of charges of sex with a student and crimes against nature connected with two of the alleged incidents.
The same trial included similar charges related to three other incidents that the student said occurred in late December of 2016 and in January of 2017, but the jury could not reach a unanimous verdict and the court declared a mistrial.
No movement was made to retry the case.
Moore County court records show that all of the remaining criminal charges against Evans were dismissed on Monday afternoon. Filings state that the “state is not confident it is able to prove each element of the case beyond a reasonable doubt.”
A statement from the plaintiff’s attorney, Thomas M. Van Camp, sent to The Pilot on Tuesday morning says that he was notified of the dismissal in writing Monday afternoon.
“My client and her family are extremely disappointed with the actions taken by the District Attorney’s office and we are investigating circumstances surrounding these dismissals. A further statement will be issued once more facts are available.”
In the former student’s civil complaint, she accuses the school district and Board of Education of failing to adequately supervise Evans — and other Pinecrest employees who she blames for turning a blind eye to his alleged conduct.
Moore County Schools said in a statement that Evans was immediately suspended in February 2017, when administrators became aware of the plaintiff’s allegations. Evans later resigned the same day he was arrested.
“Moore County Schools cooperated fully with the law enforcement investigation, which led to multiple criminal charges against Mr. Evans but did not result in a conviction. In September 2020, the former student filed a civil suit against Mr. Evans and Moore County Schools. Because of the different standards of proof, the absence of a criminal conviction is not a bar to civil liability,” the schools’ statement reads.
“In November 2020, Moore County Schools participated in a mediation with the plaintiff and her attorneys in an effort to resolve the case amicably. The parties reached a tentative agreement, which the Board of Education approved on November 30.”
“The settlement agreement specifically states that Moore County Schools denies any negligence, liability, or wrongdoing and that the purpose of the settlement is to avoid the expense, disruption, and inherent uncertainty of litigation. The Board of Education is pleased that this matter has been resolved in a fair and respectful manner that was mutually agreeable to both parties.
“Moore County Schools is legally prohibited from sharing confidential personnel and student information. We ask that the media and members of the community understand the extreme sensitivity of this case and the paramount importance of the plaintiff’s well-being and respect her privacy in this matter."
Court files unsealed last week allege that the student had been meeting with Evans on a weekly basis since her ninth-grade year. The school assigned her to Evans, with her parents’ knowledge, after she experienced bullying.
Those meetings gradually increased in frequency throughout the student’s sophomore and junior years to the point that the student says she was in Evans’ office almost daily. Sexual encounters allegedly began to take place in Evans’ office at Pinecrest at the end of the plaintiff’s sophomore year. The plaintiff also places several of the alleged sexual encounters at Evans’ Aberdeen home.
The former student alleges that Pinecrest’s staff failed to report or investigate Evans’ conduct due to inappropriate sexual relationships among themselves that involved several administrators and resource officers. Her case also accuses the school of deleting school surveillance footage to protect Evans once the Moore County Sheriff’s Office began investigating.
Moore County Schools’ police referred the investigation to the sheriff’s office in early 2017 after they were contacted by a Young Life counselor to whom the plaintiff had disclosed her sexual involvement with Evans.
“Although the suspicious and inappropriate nature of Defendant Evans’ relationship with (the plaintiff) was readily apparent to numerous members of the faculty and administration, such individuals failed to take reasonable measures to investigate such relationship and discover the unlawful acts taking place due to their distraction from and fear that such investigative measures would expose a broader environment at Pinecrest High School of frequent sexual misconduct between and among faculty and administration,” the suit reads.
The former student’s civil case against the school district also contends that the Moore County Board of Education updated its policy regarding staff-student relations in January 2017. The case alleges that those changes were “narrowly tailored to Defendant Evans’ unlawful sexual contact with (her) and were made in direct response to suspicions about Evans.”
District records show that those amendments were largely the replacement of existing policy language with boilerplate text from the N.C. School Boards Association, which were adopted by other school boards in North Carolina around the same time.
The case also notes that the school board amended its “whistleblower policy” in April 2017 to rename it “prohibition against retaliation.” The board at that point adopted language encouraging employees to report illegal practices and ethical violations and pledging to protect those employees from retaliation or “adverse employment consequences.”
However, the amendment did remove language protecting the anonymity of employees who report such complaints.
“The protection extends to those whose allegations are made in good faith but prove to be mistaken,” the 2017 policy stated. “The Board reserves the right to discipline employees who know or have reason to believe that the report is inaccurate.“
Reach reporter Mary Kate Murphy at email@example.com or 910-693-2479.