New details about child-molestation claims lodged against Thomas Vandergrift emerged last month with the release of his deposition.
Vandergrift, a former school teacher, is embroiled in litigation against New Jersey’s Pennsauken School District and various school officials.
In August 2011, district officials contacted the New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services and reported that Vandergrift may have inappropriately touched his nephew.
Vandergrift contends the reports were retaliatory in nature because he advocated for a proper education for his nephew, who has autism, and because Vandergrift is openly gay.
Vandergrift filed suit in 2012, seeking an unspecified amount in damages and reforms within the school district. But his suit remains held in abeyance while a similar suit filed by his mother and nephew is litigated.
District officials deny any wrongdoing and filed Vandergrift’s August 2015 deposition with the court as part of their defense.
In his deposition, Vandergrift blasted district officials for failing to question his nephew prior to contacting DYFS and reporting him as a suspected child molester.
“The only reason you called is because I’m gay and advocating for [my nephew’s] proper education,” Vandergrift stated. “If I wasn’t being a pain in the rear, trying to get him the right education, you wouldn’t have called. If I was straight, you wouldn’t have called. Don’t you see that? There was no reasonable belief [of inappropriate touching].”
He added: “No one from your district even had the balls to ask [my nephew] if [his] uncle touched him. Instead you ran and called DYFS because I was gay and advocating.”
At the time of the allegations, Vandergrift was employed as a school teacher, but said he no longer wishes to hold that profession.
“I can’t wait to go to law school because I’m going to come back and make sure every single kid in that district is being served properly,” he testified. “I’m not going to go back as a teacher because I can’t be around kids because [school district officials] fucked me up in the head.”
Vandergrift gave additional details about DYFS’ visit to his parents’ home, where they investigated the child-molestation reports.
“I get upset, my mom’s upset, my dad’s upset, we’re all crying. Well, [two investigators] start raiding the house and going through everything. Closets, pantry, refrigerator, sink, bedrooms. They tore apart my parents’ house, their castle, because of baseless accusations from your district. [My nephew] had to get naked and they checked his body parts.”
After investigators realized the reports were baseless, they became sympathetic to the family, Vandergrift testified.
“You should have saw them standing there and how upset they were that they had to do this based on the BS that the district was pulling. I mean, they were seriously so appalled and so apologetic that it was like they couldn’t believe another human being did this to a family of a disabled kid.”
Vandergrift said a male investigator who appeared to be gay called him “girl” in a comforting manner when speaking to him. “When you say ‘girl,’ you kind of know that you’re a friend of Dorothy,” Vandergrift testified.
He also testified that his nephew suffered pervasive antigay bullying while he was a student in Pennsauken. Eventually, the child was transferred to a private school.
“Your entire district is antigay, and it goes from all the way down to the kids calling my nephew ‘gay’ and ‘faggot’ in class and your principals doing nothing, to your school psychologist saying that we shouldn’t get upset that [my nephew] is being called ‘gay’ in school because it happens out in the world, all the way to your people calling DYFS on me and bringing up my sexuality,” he testified.
District officials also released the deposition of Vandergrift’s mother, who staunchly defended Vandergrift. She has legal custody of Vandergrift’s nephew. She said Vandergrift merely instructed his nephew on bathing properly, after teachers complained the child had body odor.
“You have a little boy who’s 9 years old who doesn’t know anything and it’s not that you’re touching them. You just say, ‘You’ve got to wash down there in your man parts.’ Yes, I think it’s OK. Because if no one else can do it, how’s he going to learn anything?” she testified.
District officials also released the deposition of Vandergrift’s nephew, who denied that his uncle touched him inappropriately.
The matter remains pending before U.S. Magistrate Judge Joel Schneider, who’s based in Camden.