SALT LAKE CITY — A former Utah State University student filed a civil lawsuit late Monday against current piano department faculty member Dennis Hirst, seeking more than $300,000 in damages for alleged sexual assault, sexual battery and other claims.
The former student, Jaime Aikele Caliendo, alleges Hirst sexually assaulted her while she was a 17-year-old freshman in 1994, according to the lawsuit filed in 1st District Court in Logan. The Deseret News usually does not identify alleged victims of sexual assault, but Caliendo, now 41, agreed to be identified and is named as the plaintiff in the lawsuit.
USU spokesman Tim Vitale confirmed Tuesday that the school launched a Title IX investigation involving Hirst several weeks ago. Title IX is a federal law that charges universities with ensuring students receive education without sex-based discrimination.
“We received information that we felt we needed to look into … to see if there was any safety issue at hand for students. We hired an outside attorney to look into the issue,” said Vitale, who didn't disclose details about what prompted the university's investigation.
Messages left seeking response from Hirst were not returned Tuesday. In an April Deseret News story that mentioned a 1994 police report Caliendo filed, Hirst denied allegations of sexual assault.
The lawsuit and investigation follow another investigation earlier this year that resulted in the resignation of the head of USU’s piano program and the removal of the Title IX office coordinator.
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Vitale said the university was not aware that a lawsuit against Hirst had been filed, but that the school has hired outside counsel, Mary Ann May from Parr Brown Gee & Loveless in Salt Lake City, to conduct the Title IX investigation involving Hirst, who is currently employed.
“The purpose of a Title IX investigation is to stop any kind of behavior that could be a safety concern and to prevent concerns from happening in the future,” said Vitale.
According to the civil lawsuit, Caliendo was 17-years-old when Hirst, then 23, was employed as a music teacher with the USU Youth Conservatory. The two became acquainted through mutual friends, the complaint says. Hirst invited Caliendo over to his apartment, where he lived alone, on three occasions.
On the first visit, Hirst helped Caliendo with her music theory homework while he carved bassoon reeds, the complaint states.
The sexual assault and sexual battery claims in the lawsuit deal with the second and third visits to Hirst's home. On the second visit, Hirst allegedly partly removed Caliendo’s clothes, groped her and continued to do so despite her verbal objections, the lawsuit states. On the third visit, the lawsuit alleges that Hirst assaulted and sexually battered Caliendo.
Caliendo seeks a jury trial and more than $300,000 in damages in her complaint that details six causes of action: two for sexual battery claims, one for sexual assault, one for assault, one for intentional infliction of emotional distress and one for negligent infliction of emotional distress.
Caliendo filed a report with Logan police on July 1, 1994, alleging sexual assault by Hirst, but no charges were filed, the Deseret News reported in April.
"Shortly after speaking with the police, Jaime began having constant, violent nightmares that have continued off and on through today," the lawsuit states.
From the fall of 2007 through the spring of 2009, Caliendo’s “emotional distress” was aggravated by Hirst, who “repeatedly walked the sidewalk in front of Jaime’s home, stopping and staring at Jaime and her children,” according to the lawsuit.
Caliendo identified herself to the Deseret News as former student number 10 in an April USU report that evaluated allegations of sexual harassment in the music department, after several women claimed in Facebook posts that they had been mistreated by department employees.
The report reflected interviews with 60 witnesses and hundreds of pages of documents. The report stated that between 1994 and 2012, students or parents complained of a series of incidents involving sexual harassment by four members of the faculty.
Former student 10 reported “allegedly threatening conduct” to the university Title IX office some time after she left the piano program, according to the report.
“According to former student 10, the Title IX Office declined to do anything about this complaint,” the report reads.
The report also recommended Hirst be removed as interim coordinator of the piano program, but did not recommend any other specific sanctions.21 comments on this story
USU Interim Provost Laurens H. Smith, followed up with a letter of reprimand addressed to Hirst dated July 3, 2018. The letter made no mention of Caliendo’s claims, but referenced the report’s findings that Hirst “enabled or ignored” piano department head Gary Amano’s “discriminatory acts against female students for a period of years.” The letter also outlines expectations for Hirst, which include participation in a training program on “sensitivity behavior and anti-discriminatory conduct.”
In a letter of response, Hirst said, “As far as I know, I did not contribute to a psychologically abusive environment, although I was employed as a faculty member in the piano program directed and defined by Gary Amano.”
In April, USU President Noelle Cockett announced the resignation of Amano and sweeping changes to the school's Title IX office. Later that month, Cockett said Stacy Sturgeon had been removed from her position as Title IX coordinator.