In 2018, when The Inquirer reported previously undisclosed claims of child sexual abuse by a nationally renowned chess coach in Philadelphia public schools, some impact was immediate.
The former coach, Stephen Shutt, was barred from coaching at Julia R. Masterman School, and Philadelphia’s After School Activities Partnerships ended his role with the organization. Soon afterward, he was banned from U.S. Chess Federation events and had his membership indefinitely suspended. Philadelphia police also launched an inquiry after former students at Frederick Douglass Elementary School told The Inquirer that either Shutt sexually abused them or they saw him abuse others in his Fairmount home in the 1980s.
But, a reader asked through our Curious Philly platform, did anything else come from it? Curious Philly is our portal where readers ask us questions and our reporters find the answers.
Here’s what we know: There was a police inquiry, but it has not resulted in any charges, possibly because the alleged crimes occurred outside the state’s statute of limitations for child sex abuse.
“The investigation has not produced any evidence that can presently be prosecuted,” a spokesperson for the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office said, declining to elaborate. The AG’s Office took the case because of a conflict for the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office. Shutt’s attorney had once been a law partner with District Attorney Larry Krasner, but a spokesperson for Krasner declined to specify the conflict.
Shutt, 78, did not return a voice-mail message this month; in 2018, he denied the allegations. His attorney, Lloyd Long, said by email that they “have no comment on any of the developments.”
Two former students at Douglass, in North Philadelphia, told The Inquirer this month that they had spoken to a police Special Victims Unit detective. He did not respond to a request for comment.
Marci Hamilton, chief executive of Child USA, a nonprofit focused on child protective laws and research, said “there’s no question” that it would be too late to charge Shutt for abuse that allegedly occurred decades ago if the victim was born before 1979.
Before 1982, child sex crimes had to be reported within two years of the offense. “People assumed it was like a broken leg, that a child would tell you” if he were abused, she said.
The statutes of limitations have changed over the years, Hamilton said. In 1995, alleged victims of various sex crimes had up to age 23 to seek criminal charges. In 2002, the age was extended to 30, and in 2007 to 50. Last year, the state legislature eliminated the criminal statute of limitations in these cases. The statutes are not retroactive.
Shutt had been widely praised for developing chess champions among African American pupils. Under his tutelage, Douglass and Masterman won multiple chess championships. He was removed as Masterman’s chess coach on Oct. 19, 2018, when the Philadelphia School District learned from The Inquirer about the former Douglass students’ allegations.
One former Douglass student, Eric Rogers, had told The Inquirer that he witnessed Shutt performing oral sex on two other boys and that Shutt once summoned him into the shower naked. Now 48, Rogers said this month that he realizes criminal charges for those acts aren’t possible but said he wished police investigated whether there were more recent victims.
Another former Douglass student, now 49, said he told the detective that he witnessed Shutt performing oral sex on two other boys and that the chess coach touched him on two occasions.
“It’s disgusting that someone could be abusive to children and there’s no recourse because it happened years ago,” he told The Inquirer this month.
Eleven former Masterman students told The Inquirer in 2018 that Shutt acted inappropriately around them in the late 1980s through the mid-2000s.
One, a chess team member at the school in Spring Garden in the late 1990s, said he tried to speak to the detective, but wasn’t called back. He said he shared a bed with Shutt during out-of-town tournaments and although he couldn’t recall if Shutt improperly touched him, he thought Shutt “probably did.”
He said he wanted to ask the detective to check Shutt’s computer because of a theoretical question Shutt posed once about whether child porn should be legal if the actors were not real, but animated.