Ex-teacher faces 86 counts of sex abuse

January 07, 1994|By David Michael Ettlin | David Michael Ettlin,Staff Writer

A former teacher at a Catholic archdiocese middle school in South Baltimore was arrested last night on 86 counts of sexual abuse, police said -- most of them apparently involving students there in the 1970s.

At the same time, a woman alleging that the teacher had forced her to have sexual relations with him and other students filed a multimillion-dollar civil suit against him, the Archdiocese of Baltimore, retired Archbishop William D. Borders and his successors, and the Catholic school system, WBAL-TV reported last night.

Accused in both the criminal and civil cases was 52-year-old John Joseph Merzbacher, who taught at the archdiocesan Catholic Community Middle School of South Baltimore from 1972 to 1979.

He was arrested at 7:45 p.m. at his home in the 700 block of Rockaway Beach Ave., in eastern Baltimore County, and was awaiting a bail hearing today at the city's Central District lockup, police said.

The 86 counts -- on charges including rape, statutory rape, sodomy and custodial and physical and sexual child abuse -- involved 10 different victims, four of them male and six female, according to Agent Doug Price, a police spokesman.

The alleged offenses date back to 1972, he added.

The Archdiocese of Baltimore was advised several months ago that the city Police Department was investigating "alleged sexual misconduct" by Mr. Merzbacher, archdiocesan spokesman Mark D. Pacione said last night from a prepared statement.

"Mr. Merzbacher was employed by Catholic Community Middle from 1972 to 1979. [The] archdiocese has cooperated and will continue to cooperate with the police investigation. In addition, pursuant to archdiocesan policies and procedures on handling cases of child abuse, the archdiocese is conducting its own investigation."

The lawsuit seeking $140 million in compensatory and punitive damages from the individual and institutional defendants was filed by attorney Joanne Suder in Baltimore Circuit Court. She said that her filing of the case on the day of the arrest was coincidental, and that she planned to file suits on behalf of several other victims today.

In the Channel 11 report last night, the woman plaintiff in the first lawsuit claimed that she had been forced to have sexual intercourse with her former sixth-grade English teacher starting at the age of 11, and that he also forced her to engage in sex with other students.

The woman also claimed that the teacher had ordered her silence by showing a gun that she said he fired once in front of the class.

"Defendant Merzbacher continuously threatened the plaintiff with harm such that she was unable to contest any of his wrongful conduct," the suit said.

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