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Mills faces suit after sexual assault

A former Mills Children’s School student teacher pleaded no
contest last month to multiple felony counts of sexual abuse
involving a child, and is scheduled for sentencing Dec. 16 in
Alameda County Superior Court according to court records. In
conjunction with this case, there has also been a civil suit filed
against Mills College by the family of one of the victims.

Thomas Reeves, 38, remains in jail and is expected to be
sentenced to 12 years under the plea bargain, according to
Assistant District Attorney Tim Wellman, the prosecutor on the
case. Court records indicate he pleaded no contest to two counts of
continuous sexual abuse-defined as unlawfully engaging in three or
more acts of substantial sexual conduct with a child under 14, two
counts of a single lewd act upon a child under 14 with clauses
indicating multiple victims, and one count of possession of child
pornography. According to the plea agreement, Reeves must also
register as a sex offender, pay restitution to his victims, and
submit blood and saliva for AIDS testing and filing in the state
DNA database.

According to court records, the plea covers four victims,
including one student enrolled at the Mills Children’s School when
Reeves was a student teacher in the fall of 1997. Two of the other
girls involved were students at Lockwood Elementary in Oakland,
where Reeves was a teacher after leaving Mills, and the fourth was
the daughter of a friend of Reeves, according to Wellman. State law
requires Reeves to serve at least 85 percent of his sentence before
he will be eligible for release.

In Nov. 2002, Reeves was arrested in Sacramento in a sting
operation by agents from the state Department of Justice, after
police said he tried to set up a date with a 12-year-old girl. When
authorities arrived instead, published reports say they found
Reeves with condoms, baby oil, a disposable camera and a Barbie
doll. He still faces criminal charges in the Sacramento case. In
Jan. 2003, after hearing of his arrest, the family of the Mills
victim came forward accusing Reeves of abuse allegedly occurring in
the fall of 1997.

The civil suit, filed last month in Alameda County Superior
Court by one of the victim’s family against the college, Mills
Children’s School employees and Reeves, alleges that school
officials knew Reeves posed a risk to students.

The family is seeking undisclosed damages, based on mental
anguish suffered because of the “malicious, oppressive and
fraudulent conduct” of Reeves and Mills, according to court
documents. According to the lawsuit filed, the family claims Mills
Children’s School and its employees failed to protect the child
from “negligent and/or criminal acts of third parties, including
defendant Tom Reeves.” The lawsuit alleges that Mills employees had
knowledge that Reeves “posed an unreasonable risk but failed to
take any measures to protect [the victim] from sexual abuse,” that
Mills employees “actively encouraged [the victim] to socialize
privately with Reeves, enabling [him] to have unsupervised access
to [the victim],” and that Mills employees had “actual and
constructive knowledge that Tom Reeves was engaging in
inappropriate contact with young female students.” The lawsuit also
alleges that Mills employees had received numerous complaints from
parents, prior to the alleged molestation, about Reeves’
“inappropriate expressions of affection,” “the provisions of gifts
given by [him] to their young children” and that he had “displayed
his underwear to [a] kindergarten/first grade class.”

Robin Isenberg, legal counsel for Mills College, said that
although the college has not yet officially been served with the
lawsuit, they are aware of it and have retained outside legal
counsel to handle the case.

Suzanne DiLillo, director of the Mills Children’s School, said,
“I’m confident that matters of fact revealed in litigation will
show no basis of fact for allegations of misconduct by employees of
the Children’s School.”

“It is really hard to figure out how we would be responsible for
parents’ actions in this case,” said Isenberg. “There is no
connection to the college or Children’s School, the alleged
molestation did not take place on college property.”

None of the documents filed with the court claim that any abuse
occurred on Mills property.

After the family reported the abuse to the school, court records
indicate that Mills reported the family to Child Protective
Services for abuse. CPS investigated the report, and subsequently
cleared the family of the charges.

Claire Stephens, Reeves supervising teacher at the Children’s
School, resigned last year.

According to registrar Alice Knudsen, Reeves was enrolled at
Mills in the graduate program for the 1997-1998 school year. He
received his teaching credential from Mills in 1998.