Suit says CMS overlooked band director’s record of inappropriate sexual behavior

Duncan Gray was a teacher and band director at West Charlotte High School.
Duncan Gray was a teacher and band director at West Charlotte High School. Observer file photo

A former West Charlotte High student has sued Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, saying the district failed to protect him from sexual harassment and assault by his former band teacher.

Duncan Gray taught band at West Charlotte High from 2007 until he was criminally charged with sexual assault on a student in April 2016. He was suspended after his arrest and resigned in June. In December Gray pleaded guilty to taking indecent liberties with a student, a felony, and was sentenced to 30 months’ probation with “sex offender special provisions.”

In a suit filed Tuesday against Gray and the school board, the former student’s lawyers say Gray had “a well-known and well-documented history of engaging in inappropriate sexual behavior with students,” including discipline and/or termination from a previous job based on reports of such behavior. It alleges that CMS “had actual notice of prior incidents” involving Gray’s sexual behavior with students, and that CMS suspended Gray in March 2011 after a cellphone containing “explicit sexual conversations with one or more West Charlotte students” was found.

CMS has acknowledged that Gray was suspended at that time but has not given a reason. The district declined to comment on the lawsuit.

Gray, 59, was band director at Johnson C. Smith University before working for CMS.

The police report says the incidents that led to Gray’s arrest happened at West Charlotte High between August 2010 and June 2014. The victim was 13 years old when at least one of the reported crimes occurred, according to police documents.

The student is named in the lawsuit filed by Arnold & Smith law firm, but the Observer does not report the names of sexual assault victims.

The suit says the student played trumpet in West Charlotte’s band his freshman year, but in spring of 2011 Gray told him to switch to French horn and gave him lengthy after-school tutoring. When giving the student rides home, the lawsuit says, Gray would touch the student’s legs and suggest “engaging in homosexual acts with him.” Eventually the sexual comments spilled into school hours, and Gray began calling the student at home, the suit says.

The suit says that was about the time when CMS became aware of “explicit sexual conversations with one or more West Charlotte High School students,” leading to the March 2011 suspension.

The suit says that in fall 2011, Gray touched the student’s genitals during a horn lesson in the auditorium, which was interrupted when someone banged on the door. After that, it says, the student avoided Gray, who continued to make suggestive remarks.

When the student rebuffed Gray’s advances, the band director made disparaging comments about him and his musical abilities, tried to delay his graduation by fining the student “for an alleged failure to repay a stipend,” and told the student, “If you say anything I am going to get you,” the suit alleges.

The suit seeks damages for sex discrimination; deprivation of the student’s constitutional right to personal security; negligent hiring, supervision and retention; infliction of emotional distress; assault; battery; and deprivation of the student’s constitutional right to an education.

Ann Doss Helms: 704-358-5033, @anndosshelms