Darlington's headmaster, Brent Bell, issued a statement saying sexual abuse is not tolerated at the school.
“We continue to be heartbroken as more Darlington students have come forward to share what they’ve been going through,” Bell said. “We recognize that the situation is very difficult and emotional for those who bravely have come forward and for the entire Darlington community.”
All 17 former students recounted “eerily similar experiences,” said their lawyer, Darren Penn.
Roger Stifflemire, a former English teacher at the Darlington School in Rome, Georgia, allegedly molested male students in the 1970s and 1980s.
They accuse Stifflemire, who taught at Darlington from 1974 to 1994, of repeatedly coercing them into sex acts and of providing them with drugs and alcohol in return. The suits say Stifflemire abused students in his apartment in a Darlington dormitory, in other campus buildings, in his car and at off-campus locations.
One former student said Stifflemire first molested him during a Boy Scouts camping trip on which the teacher acted as scoutmaster. The student was in the eighth grade.
Another said Stifflemire filed disciplinary charges against him in retaliation for rebuffing sexual advances.
Marquette, who served time in prison for child molestation in Alabama, allowed Stifflemire to bring boys to his lake house, where both men engaged in sex acts with students, according to the lawsuits. Marquette, who is in his late 90s, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in 2017 that he didn’t remember whether he had had sex with Darlington students.
Ellis, himself a former student, was accused of molesting at least one younger boy.
The suits filed this week replace an earlier case that combined the claims of 10 former students. They withdrew that suit last December, hoping the Georgia General Assembly would expand the liability of institutions such as Darlington that didn't stop sexual abuse. Lawmakers failed to pass the bill this spring.
The new suits rely on the same law as the original case. They were filed in Oconee County because one defendant, Ellis, lives there, Penn said. The earlier suit was filed in Floyd County, where Darlington was founded in 1905. Suing the school in its hometown seemed risky, Penn said.
“Darlington has such a prominent role in Floyd County,” he said. “It might be difficult to even seat a jury that didn’t know anything about the school.”