Thomas Vandergrift has been on a six-year quest for justice, ever since Pennsauken school-district officials reported him to New Jersey authorities as a suspected child molester.
The suspected-molester reports subsequently were determined to be unfounded. But Vandergrift reportedly has suffered greatly due to the ordeal, and has been unable to hold a job.
In 2012, Vandergrift filed suit against the Pennsauken school district and various school officials, seeking an unspecified amount in damages and corrective measures within the district.
Last month, Vandergrift moved a step closer to his day in court when U.S. Magistrate Judge Joel Schneider announced a Dec. 4 jury-trial date, barring unforeseen circumstances.
In August 2011, Vandergrift informed school officials that he advised his nephew on proper bathing, after officials complained of body odor emanating from the child. District officials promptly contacted the New Jersey’s Division of Youth and Family Services and reported that Vandergrift may have inappropriately touched his nephew, according to court papers.
Vandergrift contends the suspected-molester reports were retaliatory in nature, because he’s gay and advocated for a proper education for his nephew, who has autism.
Neither side had a comment for this story. But in court papers, district officials deny any wrongdoing and continue to seek dismissal of Vandergrift’s case.
In a deposition, Vandergrift blasted school officials for not questioning his nephew before reporting Vandergrift as a suspected child molester.
“The only reason you called [DYFS] is because I’m gay and advocating for [my nephew’s] proper education,” Vandergrift said. “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].”
Vandergrift 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 teacher, but 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,” Vandergrift said in his deposition. “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’s mother and nephew also gave depositions in his support.
Vandergrift’s mother noted that her son merely instructed his nephew on how to bathe properly, after school officials complained of body odor from the child.
“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.
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