Ohio University may face trial in suit related to former officer’s rape of minor

A judge recently denied Ohio University’s motion for summary judgment in a case related to a former OU police officer’s repeated sexual abuse of a minor in 2005-06. The survivor’s lawyer says the case will likely head to trial in November.

In an affidavit, plaintiff Alison Arocho alleges former OU Police Department Officer Robert A. Parsons “raped me approximately 100 different times over the course of a few months in 2005/2006,” when Parsons was employed by OU. Arocho was 15 years old when the abuse began. She says Parsons almost always got her intoxicated before sex.

In 2006, Parsons pled guilty to unlawful sexual conduct with a minor. He was eventually sentenced to six months in prison and fined $10,000, among other penalties, according to court records.


Arocho sued Ohio University in 2019 in the Court of Claims of Ohio, seeking compensation for damages. Arocho says in her affidavit that Parsons often raped her in his police cruiser or in OU buildings, frequently in uniform. She says she “felt as though she could not call the police because Parsons was the police.” Additionally, she says Parsons threatened to arrest members of her family if she did not comply with his wishes, including by lying to authorities about what was happening. 

“It’s really important that there’s responsibility here by the university… for my client,” said Arocho’s attorney, Michael Fradin. “She has suffered extremely from this—life-changing beyond what one can begin to comprehend.”

OU Chief of Staff Carly Leatherwood declined to comment on the case in depth, but said in an email, “The University denies any liability in this matter and remains confident that it will prevail in this matter as the case proceeds.”

In two separate decisions in August and September, Court of Claims of Ohio Judge Dale Crawford denied OU’s motion for summary judgment in the case. 

Summary judgment motions can succeed when they show there is no “genuine issue” with the material facts of the case. The judge must consider the motion with the evidence viewed in favor of the party opposing the one who filed the motion. In this case, that’s Arocho.

Crawford’s decisions allows Arocho’s four claims of negligence to move forward:

  • OU failed to protect Arocho from “foreseeable sexual abuse.” 
  • OU failed to exercise reasonable supervision of Parsons, resulting in harm to Arocho.
  • OU retained Parsons as an OUPD officer after OU knew, or should have known, about Parsons pursuing sexual relationships with minors.
  • OU negligently inflicted emotional distress upon Arocoho.

In the Aug. 29 decision, Crawford states that while “hindsight may offer a different perspective of Parsons’s conduct than may have been apparent in 2005-2006… a genuine issue of material fact exists whether, based on the University’s knowledge, a reasonably prudent person would have anticipated that harm to a minor, such as Arocho, was likely to result from the University’s actions, or inactions, relative to Parsons.” 

Athens County Children’s Services investigated allegations similar to Arocho’s in 2001, which prompted an administrative investigation by OU, according to Arocho’s filing. In its motion for summary judgment, OU argued that the 2001 investigation was inconclusive. However, Crawford ruled that, when the evidence is construed in Arocho’s favor, “a reasonable person would conclude that the University was on notice about Parsons’s suspected inappropriate conduct with minors.” 

Arocho’s suit argues that the investigation should have prompted OU to supervise Parsons more closely. OU counters that Arocho cannot establish that Parsons was on duty when much of the abuse she suffered occurred and that the university had no duty to supervise his off-duty conduct. 

In his ruling, Crawford wrote that the evidence, viewed favorably to Arocho, shows OU “did not closely supervise Parsons’s whereabouts” in 2005, which gave Parsons “a heightened opportunity to have access to minors for unlawful purposes.” 

Allowing Arocho’s claim that OU negligently retained Parsons as an employee to proceed, Crawford notes testimony that “one week passed from the time that he was notified that Parsons was the subject of a criminal investigation to the time that Parsons was placed on administrative leave.”

OU claims there is no evidence that it could have done anything to prevent the abuse Arocho suffered. OU notes Arocho “was not an OU student, she was not an OU employee, and she did not live on OU’s campus.” Additionally, OU notes Arocho did not meet Parsons through his employment at OU, but because she attended school with his daughter, where Parsons also coached. 

In his decision denying summary judgment, Crawford cites statements from Arocho and her sister that Parsons often “bragged” about his job as an officer and that he threatened to have Arocho’s sister arrested if Arocho did not comply with his wishes. Crawford found that, construed in Arocho’s favor, the evidence suggests OU’s employment of Parson’s helped facilitate his abuse of Arocho, specifically with reference to infliction of emotional distress.

Two other claims in the case were dismissed following Crawford’s order.

A Title IX claim was dismissed without contest. A federal appellate court ruled in a related case that Arocho’s Title IX claims against OU could not proceed because Arocho was not an OU student and could not prove she was denied educational opportunities. 

A claim of assault and battery based on vicarious liability was also dismissed without contest.

Fradin said while it is possible the case could be resolved before trial, OU has given no indication it will attempt to settle. Fradin said it is highly unusual for a case like Arocho’s to go to trial, adding, “It is important for other victims of sexual abuse… that we set a precedent in terms of the responsibility of the university in situations like this.”

“It’s important in a case like this—where there’s clear notice by the university and they didn’t take appropriate action—that there are legal consequences, and that there’s justice for that, and that there’s some degree of vindication,” Fradin said.

The Ohio Attorney General’s Office, which is representing OU, declined to comment.

A trial in the case is currently slated to begin Nov. 21. Arocho seeks an estimated $10 million in damages from OU, according to court documents.

Documents related to the case:

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