A federal lawsuit filed by two former Brookfield High School students alleges school administrators and the police failed to take the appropriate action when a former Brookfield police officer obtained nude images of several underage girls at the school and began sharing them on social media apps.
According to the court complaint, two plaintiffs say they were contacted in 2021 by a friend who recognized one of the plaintiffs in nude images being shared on Instagram. Both were minors at the time the images were taken.
Although the women initially went to the Brookfield Police Department to file a complaint, the court complaint alleges the police department failed to follow through with their investigation and did not contact the Department of Children and Families (DCF). They then went to the Danbury Police Department, who put them in contact with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which then launched an investigation.
DHS eventually centered on Officer Steven Rountos, the school resource officer assigned to Brookfield High School.
The DHS investigation determined the pictures were illegally obtained by hacking into their social media accounts and that the “images of Plaintiffs had been found pursuant to a search warrant on a cell phone belonging to Officer Rountos.”
A search warrant executed for a flash drive from Rountos’ office computer “resulted in a list of approximately 30 names of persons,” many of which the plaintiffs recognized from high school, including one freshman student attending the school in 2021. Rountos admitted to distributing the pictures and was arrested in 2022. In addition to the lawsuit, he has also been charged with evidence tampering for trying to destroy evidence.
The bombshell findings by DHS resulted in Rountos’ termination. High school principal Marc Balanda reportedly took a leave of absence following Rountos’ admission, resulting in two interim principals, one of whom resigned, according to the lawsuit. Bolanda returned from his leave of absence and remains high school principal.
The lawsuit was filed not only against Rountos, but against the Brookfield Board of Education, the Brookfield Superintendent, Brookfield Police Department, the Brookfield Police Chief, the initial investigating officer and high school principals, alleging they failed to properly supervise Rountos, alert the necessary authorities and follow through with their investigation.
According to the court complaint, Brookfield police and school supervisors knew that Rountos was “engaging in behavior with students that raised concerns, including spending noticeable amounts of time favoring the attention of female students, on several occasions giving students rides in his police cruiser, and communicating with students socially through various forms of digital media.”
The plaintiffs also allege that supervisors, administrators and the police department failed to notify DCF or the victims themselves even after having learned the results of DHS’s investigation and despite being mandated reporters and failed to take appropriate steps to monitor Rountos and protect the students.
Denise Rice, a parent of children attending Brookfield schools who has had her own issues with the BOE, said she should be shocked by the allegations in the lawsuit, but isn’t.
“The district has become one of coverups, but this one is particularly disturbing because of the sexual nature,” Rice said. “I hope finally anyone that was involved gets what they deserve and the girls get justice.”
Brookfield resident Kathleen Carter questioned how BOE Chairman Bob Belden, who announced he was running for selectman alongside former First Selectman Steve Dunn, could run for election while being involved in a lawsuit like this.
“The parents of Brookfield deserve transparency, which they are not getting at all, and a lot of them don’t even know about this,” Carter said.
Previously, in 2021, a parent filed a complaint against the high school cheerleading coach alleging mental and emotional abuse. However, the investigation concluded that the complaints did not amount to abuse and were more a matter of coaching style. The findings were corroborated by the state’s Office of the Child Advocate.
The plaintiffs are seeking monetary damages, punitive damages, statutory damages and attorneys’ fees and costs. The complaint was filed on May 30 in federal court. The defendants have not yet filed their replies.