By VANESSA DE LA TORRE, email@example.com, The Hartford Courant
Published: June 23, 2016
HARTFORD — The mother of a 13-year-old girl who police say received sexual text messages from a longtime Hartford school administrator is suing the school system, top school officials and the city of Hartford over alleged negligence in the case.
A state marshal was serving the defendants with a civil complaint Thursday, said the woman's attorney, A. Paul Spinella of Hartford, who expected the lawsuit to be filed in court in the coming days.
Eduardo "Eddie" Genao, 57, who is listed as a defendant and accused of inflicting "emotional distress" and trauma on the girl, resigned as the city schools' executive director of compliance after police confronted him at work over the text messages. He was arrested April 13 on a felony charge of risk of injury or impairing the morals of a child, and has not yet entered a plea in the criminal case.
A major allegation in the complaint is that the city and the school system allowed Genao, a career educator who worked for the district since 2005, to prey on the girl despite years-old claims that he sent inappropriate electronic messages to a female student and an employee when he was principal of Sport and Medical Sciences Academy.
"The city knew or should have known that they had a very dangerous person in their mix," Spinella said Thursday. "They didn't red flag him, they promoted him."
Along with Genao, the complaint names Superintendent Beth Schiavino-Narvaez; her chief of staff, Gislaine Ngounou; Hartford Public Schools' chief labor and legal officer, Jill Cutler-Hodgman; the board of education; board Chairman Richard Wareing; and the city of Hartford.
Wareing, who said he was served Thursday, declined to comment. A city spokesman said the city does not comment on pending litigation, and school officials did not have an immediate response.
Genao's defense attorney, Hugh F. Keefe of New Haven, said Thursday that he had not yet read the civil complaint and could not comment.
The civil allegations outline the basics of the criminal case, beginning with how Genao met the 13-year-old at a district-sponsored symposium on race and equity at Hartford's Bulkeley High School in March. The girl's mother told police that Genao was sitting next to her daughter as she took cellphone photos of a professor's slideshow on institutional racism. Genao introduced himself as "Eddie" and asked the ninth-grader to text him the photos.
Soon after the March 19 event, Genao initiated a text message conversation with the girl that started out friendly, such as confirming that she lived in New York state, police said. The messages eventually turned "sexually explicit" — Genao requested that the girl send "daring" photos of herself and asked whether she had ever "done it" or been sexually aroused, according to the arrest warrant. Police said Genao also texted a photo that showed a man's bare upper thigh region.
Genao, whose educational career in New York City and Hartford spanned more than three decades, abruptly resigned his $176,274-a-year central office job after internal affairs investigators with the Hartford police department seized his personal cellphone on April 5. He has been out on bail since his arrest and is expected to appear in court July 13.
Spinella sent letters to city and school officials last month requesting Genao's personnel file, any complaints against Genao, and all records connected to internal investigations of Genao. He also asked that they not destroy any evidence.
One of the records in Genao's personnel file is a January 2008 written reprimand from while he was Sport and Medical Sciences' principal for behavior that district officials at the time had deemed "inappropriate and unacceptable."
The district found after an investigation that Genao used "exceedingly poor judgment in engaging in social interactions with a student electronically," the reprimand states, and that he "engaged in the same conduct with a former student who became an employee; again, you exhibited poor decision-making."
Citing concerns for student privacy, the city's corporation counsel initially rejected The Courant's request for records from that investigation and has since been slow to the release them.
Among the heavily redacted documents that the city has released are two statements that Genao gave in the presence of a union representative and a worker with the state Department of Children and Families in late 2007. Genao, a church-going, married father of four, said in the interviews that his online chats were "innocent," that he "never meant anything of a sexual nature" and that his "career and family are on the line."
His online screen name was "Nolocreo5a," according to the records. In Spanish, "no lo creo" translates to "I don't believe it."
"I do not have any idea of what I meant when I asked during the chat session if she was talking to Mr. G. or Eddie," Genao said during one of the interviews. "[Redacted] has never given me any cause to feel I was making her uncomfortable. I did tell her to erase the conversation. It is always a good thing to erase all conversations. I may have asked if she could be online later that night. To my knowledge no student has complained to me about being kissed on the cheek, hugged or intertwining my fingers with theirs."
Genao also said that he had learned his lesson and "prayed for guidance and forgiveness for any mistakes I have made."
Hartford school officials have said that DCF did not substantiate the 2007 claim and that is why Genao's punishment was limited to a reprimand. A DCF spokesman said last month that the agency could not comment on that case.
The same day he accepted the reprimand, Genao requested a job transfer within the school system. He became executive director of Hartford's adult education center in the summer of 2008 and advanced to several other central office roles, including his promotion in 2012, under former Superintendent Christina Kishimoto, to assistant superintendent for early literacy and parent engagement.
The civil complaint served Thursday alludes to the earlier claims, saying that Hartford officials "knew or should have known that Genao had engaged in inappropriate behavior with minor children."
Wareing, one of the board members who approved Genao's 2012 promotion, said he was unaware of the reprimand at the time of his vote. "I wouldn't have voted for it had I known what was alleged to have happened," Wareing told The Courant. "Do I feel blindsided? Yes."
Messages left for Kishimoto, now a schools chief in Gilbert, Ariz., have not been returned.
Narvaez demoted Genao during a central office reorganization in late 2014, several months into her tenure. But Genao, whose most recent job involved handling compliance issues with expulsions and adult education, remained one of the district's highest-paid employees.
The 13-year-old girl's mother lambasted school leaders at a Hartford school board hearing in early May, painting the district as lax toward Genao's alleged misbehavior. While the mother has identified herself publicly, The Courant is not reporting her name to protect the identity of the alleged victim.
"I brought my daughter to what I thought was a safe environment," the woman said of the March 19 symposium. "They're talking about equity in education and I thought this is where education was going to meet justice. As a 24-year veteran in the educational system and a newly admitted attorney, I really thought I was going to come away with something."
The complaint notes that a family friend, Aaron Lewis, tried to alert two top officials — Wareing and Ngounou, the chief of staff — several days after the Bulkeley event of an "urgent matter concerning one of your directors with regard to inappropriate child contact," according to the messages from Lewis, president of a literacy and advocacy group in Hartford called The Scribe's Institute.
Wareing said he missed the email in his inbox, and Ngounou has publicly apologized for not "aggressively" pursuing the tip. The messages did not mention Genao's name.
The girl's mother has said the state's mandated reporter law should have been followed in the case.
Days after Genao's April 5 resignation, Narvaez and Mayor Luke Bronin asked the state Office of the Child Advocate to investigate the school system's response. Child Advocate Sarah Eagan has met with Narvaez and will examine district records as part of her work.
"It's a very unfortunate and troubling set of facts that led to this review," Eagan said last month. "But we're very encouraged by the district's proactive approach to making sure their practices are where they need to be."
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