Tawfeeq Abdul-Lateef, a 19-year-old from Philadelphia’s Feltonville section, says he suffered a dislocated shoulder and a chipped tooth at the Glen Mills Schools, where counselors would spit in his face, insult him with racial epithets, and take turns beating him during what was known as “All Call.”
Raymond Ward, a 29-year-old from Collegeville, says a counselor choked and slammed him to the floor of the showers and forced him, while naked, to pick lint from the ground for more than an hour.
Laboy Wiggins, a 48-year-old from the Wilkes-Barre area, says a counselor regularly sexually assaulted him, grabbing his penis and inserting fingers into his anus.
These are among the allegations included in 13 lawsuits filed recently against Glen Mills Schools, detailing decades of alleged abuse at the now-shuttered campus for court-ordered boys in Delaware County.
Founded in 1826, the school once drew students from across the country and was known for its top-tier athletic program. It closed last April following a February 2019 Inquirer investigation that revealed widespread physical abuse and cover-ups.
Five of the lawsuits were filed Wednesday by the law firms of Eisenberg, Rothweiler, Winkler, Eisenberg & Jeck, and Dion, Solomon & Shapiro. The attorneys have filed eight similar suits since November and say they now represent more than 300 former Glen Mills students who allege they were abused there between 1976 and 2018. Additional suits are expected.
The lawsuits contend that despite the school’s “advertised image, Glen Mills’ leadership created and maintained a culture of fear and abuse, and ignored the medical and educational needs of its residents.”
“This shouldn’t happen to children,” Nancy Winkler, one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys, said at a news conference Wednesday. “These boys have been shattered. The men have been broken."
Winkler described a pattern of teenagers being sent to Glen Mills to be rehabilitated, only to emerge as angry, isolated, and distrustful of adults as a result of the abuse they suffered.
Another former Glen Mills resident from Upper Darby, identified in court documents only as “M.A.,” says he was raped by a counselor while a staffer watched the door — as frequently as two or three times a week.
Wiggins, who grew up near Temple University and agreed to be identified publicly, said that when he tried to report the abuse, he was beaten and his life was threatened.
“He used to call me a black motherf—er after he sexually assaulted me," Wiggins said of a counselor.
“In my head, I’m living a nightmare. Every day,” he said. “It’s hard for me to trust, to be around people, to socialize. Even though when this happened I was in my teens and now I’m in my late 40s, it’s like I lived it yesterday. It hurts like it just happened.”
Jeff Jubelirer, a spokesperson for Glen Mills, said the new allegations "can only be described as heartbreaking. Our attorneys are now evaluating the lawsuits. In the meantime, Glen Mills Schools continues to cooperate with all governmental authorities.”
Glen Mills is also facing two potential class-action suits.
In October, a second Inquirer investigation found that staffers at the state Department of Human Services had failed to fully probe reports of abuse at Glen Mills raised by families and professionals. DHS is the state agency that licenses and monitors privately run residential facilities for court-ordered youth.
Last week, Gov. Tom Wolf proposed $5.1 million in new funding to bolster the state’s oversight of residential juvenile programs. The money would add more than 100 additional staff positions within DHS.
At Wednesday’s news conference, Abdul-Lateef, who alleges he was viciously beaten while at Glen Mills, said staffers there seemed to have a “type of anger built into them, and they had to let that rage out on us.” Staffers, he said, would take turns pummeling him.
Once outgoing, Abdul-Lateef has become taciturn and doesn’t even go to his family reunions anymore. He had hoped to play college football, but is now working as a UPS package handler and cutting hair in South Philly. He said he suffers from emotional breakdowns and feels like a failure.
“Glen Mills took the positive light I had as a teenager,” he said, “and now all there is left is darkness.”