Photographer facing statutory rape charges

Recorder Staff
Published: 5/12/2017 10:55:57 PM

GREENFIELD – A photographer best known for his photographs of nude adolescents was arraigned Friday in Greenfield District Court on charges of statutory rape of a 14-year-old Northfield Mount Hermon School student about 40 years ago, when he worked there.

John “Jock” Sturges, now 70, of Seattle was arraigned on two counts, related to alleged incidents between August 1975 and June 1976: statutory rape of a child; and indecent assault and battery on a person 14 or over. After pleading innocent, he was released on the condition that he stay away from the person issuing the complaint and that he have no unsupervised contact with children under the age of 16.

A case status meeting has been scheduled for July 6.

According to the police report filed by Northfield Police Chief Robert Leighton, the alleged victim reported the crime in June 2016, saying that she was 14 years old and Sturges was 28 when he was employed at Northfield Mount Hermon.

She told police that Sturges was her counselor and that she had sex with him, leading to his dismissal at the school.

Her evidence included four handwritten letters that Sturges had written to her after his departure from NMH, a letter she had written to him, and five photos of her that were obtained through a search warrant in another, unrelated investigation. Three of the photos were nudes.

When asked to comment, NMH spokesman Stephen Porter said Sturges had worked at the school as a photography instructor and a dorm head for one year, from 1975 to 1976.

According to school records, Sturges’ contract was not renewed at the end of his first year “because of some dissatisfaction with his job performance,” Porter said. But he added that the comments about Sturges “were not specific in any way. We don’t really know why he was let go. That’s all we can determine from the historical records.”

Porter said NMH is aware that Northfield police filed a criminal complaint against Sturges for an alleged 1975 incident of sexual abuse of a minor, and that “the complaint was based on allegations brought forward by an NMH alumna, who claims Sturges had sexual intercourse with her when she was a student at the school.”

Last spring, Head of School Peter Fayroian hired the law firm Jackson Lewis to investigate alleged incidents of past sexual misconduct. “The firm’s examination of NMH’s historical records uncovered no evidence that the school knew about the alleged sexual misconduct by Sturges at the time, and the school did not renew Sturges’ contract at the end of his first year.”

Porter said the school shared the investigation info with authorities and now “stands ready to cooperate with authorities in any way that would be helpful as they pursue this legal action.”

The law firm had been hired last year after a longtime teacher, Gary Partenheimer, was fired over allegations of misconduct with a female student some 30 years earlier.

The Jackson Lewis investigation found six creditable allegations of sexual misconduct by teachers between 1976 and 1991. And in five of these incidents, the faculty members departed soon after the school learned of the incidents.

Mitchell Garabedian, the Boston lawyer who has represented many survivors of clergy sexual abuse, said the victim in this case originally came to his law firm. “I sent her to the local police,” he said.

Sturges is known for his large-format portraits of nude adolescents. Many of his black-and-white prints feature young people on beaches in the United States and France.

Sturges has published several photography books, and his work is in the collections of many museums, including the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the International Center of Photography in New York, the Denver Museum of Art, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.


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