YMCA being sued in federal court over alleged rape

JOHNSTOWN — The family of a 12-year-old girl allegedly raped by a former Fulton County YMCA employee at the facility filed a $10 million civil lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Albany Thursday against the facility and the accused suspect.

The Albany law firm of O’Brien & Wood, PLLC filed a federal complaint against the Fulton County YMCA and suspect Tyler R. Benton, 19, whose address is not being released by authorities. The firm is representing the family of an alleged 12-year-old victim in the case.

“I represent the 12-year-old girl,” attorney Ryan Finn told The Leader-Herald Monday. “The family left the child at the YMCA thinking she was safe in a facility like the YMCA … [The alleged suspect] decided to rape her in the locker room.”

The Fulton County Sheriff’s Department has arrested Benton in connection with the recent incident at the YMCA on Harrison Street in the town of Johnstown. Benton is charged with one felony count of first-degree rape in connection with sexual activity allegedly involving an underage person. He is accused of having sexual intercourse with a person under the age of 13, according to the sheriff’s office.

Sheriff Richard Giardino told The Leader-Herald on April 26 that the incident was brought to his office’s attention by the YMCA’s executive director.

The suspect was arraigned in Perth Town Court and initially sent to the Fulton County Jail in lieu of $2,500 cash or $5,000 bond bail. A jail spokesman said today he has since been released. Benton will appear June 19 in Johnstown Town Court.

A news release issued by O’Brien & Wood, PLLC alleged the lawsuit was filed against the YMCA due to its “failure to protect a 12 year old from a predator employed by the agency.” The complaint outlines a pattern of activity by former YMCA employee Benton that “should have raised alarm bells. Unfortunately for the 12-year-old victim, the YMCA ignored these obvious signs and only took action after the unthinkable occurred.”

In the release, Finn stated: “As a father of a young girl, this makes me sick. The YMCA was very quick to spin the story and make it seem that they did everything they could to work with the police. Missing from these reports is the simple fact that this horrific tragedy occurred at the YMCA facility, by a YMCA employee. Based upon the pattern of activity uncovered to date, I expect other victims to come forward. The YMCA should be ashamed of itself.”

The release says those with relevant information to this investigation, should inform Ryan Finn at rfinn@obrienwood.com.

According to the federal lawsuit, Benton tried to excuse his behavior by claiming he was just “excited.” The suit says he allegedly lured the child into the family locker room by deception, claiming that he was looking for a manager to return a key and asking for the child’s help. On the day of the rape, Benton had spent several hours working in the “Teen Center” just before the assault, court papers said.

“During this time he acted inappropriately toward the … plaintiff and several others, for example, by having … children sit on his lap, rubbing their shoulders, and hair, and having inappropriate conversations. Defendant Benton had previously engaged in similar conduct throughout his employment. It is alleged that the YMCA had actual knowledge of defendant Benton’s behavior based upon direct observation, reports and complaints from co-workers, children, and … yet no action was taken to stop the behavior while it was occurring.”

Court papers say: “This is a claim for personal injury; conscious pain and suffering; severe emotional distress; negligent infliction of emotional distress; intentional infliction of emotional distress; gender discrimination; sexual exploitation; and, sexual harassment. The basis of the claim is that defendant Benton abused his power and influence to take advantage of the infant plaintiff, and by forcibly raping her.”

Four courses of action of action are part of the suit, and a trial is requested.

The first course involving negligence says the defendants had a “non-delegable duty to make sure that the plaintiff was properly supervised and cared for while at the YMCA.”

The second course requests an award of damages to compensate the victim “for the emotional and physical harm, damage to reputation, loss of enjoyment of life, embarrassment, and humiliation she has suffered and will continue to suffer.”

The third course alleged “intentional infliction of emotional distress and battery against all defendants.”

The fourth course alleges violation of state Human Rights Law.

Attorney Adam Cooper — representing the YMCA –couldn’t be reached this morning for comment.

Michael Anich covers Johnstown and Fulton County news. He can be reached at manich@leaderherald.com.

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