Evanston police investigate sexual assault allegations against former ETHS teacher


Daily file photo by Allie Goulding

Evanston Township High School, 1600 Dodge Ave. Police are investigating online reports of sexual assault against a former ETHS drama teacher.

Rishika Dugyala, City Editor

Police are investigating reports of sexual assault against a former Evanston Township High School teacher, Evanston police Cmdr. Joseph Dugan said Friday.

Dugan said school officials called the Evanston Police Department “right away” Wednesday after some ETHS graduates — through tweets and posts on a private alumni social media page — alleged the teacher had initiated inappropriate sexual contact with them during his tenure roughly 20 years ago.

In a Thursday statement, District 202 superintendent Eric Witherspoon said following the allegations, officials had determined that the “acting teacher” had purchased a ticket for the “Showcase ETHS! A Tribute to YAMO’s 60th” event on Sunday.

ETHS officials issued a no-trespass order, which Witherspoon said would “prohibit (the teacher’s) presence on campus and at any school-related or school-sponsored activities and events.”

Dugan said if someone receives the order and still violates it, the school can call the police to arrest the individual for “criminal trespass.”

Screenwriter and former ETHS student Jeffrey Lieber, 48, said he initially shared his story on Twitter. Lieber told The Daily the drama teacher would use sexual innuendo, grab students’ genitals and grope them.

“What became apparent very quickly is that if you wanted to be part of this club, you had to play these games,” Lieber said. “You had to deal with the sexual innuendo, deal with the abuse.”

In an interview with the Chicago Tribune, the teacher denied the allegations and said he didn’t know why they were being raised now.

“I’m not a sexual predator, for goodness sake,” he told the Tribune. “I’m a grandfather.”

When some of Lieber’s former classmates saw his tweets and mentioned the teacher would be attending the Sunday reunion event, Lieber said he posted in a closed Facebook page for YAMO alumni, prompting the police investigation.

Within 24 hours, Lieber said his post had nearly 300 comments — a third of which, he added, were people sharing their own experiences with the group.

“(These are) stories of students who found a home in the theater only to be driven away by the behavior,” Lieber said. “We all knew this was out there, but the sheer size and scope of it really kind of overwhelmed me.”

Writer and producer Ben Wexler, another ETHS graduate and Lieber’s peer, tweeted Wednesday that he too was assaulted. Wexler said although people may think it would be easy to stand up for oneself, it isn’t in the moment — the teacher cast all the plays, and Wexler’s dream was to become an actor.

“I’m not mad at my 17 year-old self, who didn’t think it was that big a deal (and) didn’t want to make waves,” Wexler wrote. “I’m mad at my 30 year-old self, who knew better. Who knew there were still kids being taught by this guy.”

Lieber said he confronted the teacher in a letter after he left for college, but the teacher “made all the usual excuses” and said the situation was a misunderstanding. Lieber added that his only regret was not going public during that time.

However, he said, he finds it hard to believe that the “secret” remained only among students while the teacher was employed.

“Given the fact that this has been going on since the early 70s (until) the mid 90s, how could people not know?” Lieber said. “I would like there to be a public looking at of who knew what when and why it wasn’t stopped.”

Lieber said he already spoke with Evanston police.

Dugan said the investigation is still in the preliminary stages, and detectives are trying to reach and make interview arrangements with more ETHS graduates.

“We’re taking the allegation very seriously,” Dugan said. “We want to talk to everyone, no matter if it’s a witness, potential victim or anyone of the sort.”

This story was updated Sunday at 8:35 p.m. with quotes from Jeffrey Lieber.

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