Duke Ellington School of the Arts

DC Police Assign New Detective to Reexamine Past Abuse Allegations at Duke Ellington

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D.C.'s Metropolitan Police Department has assigned a new detective to investigate two abuse allegations against a former Duke Ellington School of the Arts writing teacher, Mark Williams, filed 14 years apart. Neither resulted in charges.

The first police report is so old, it has a handwritten narrative and information bubbled in like an old exam from high school. When the News4 I-Team first requested it in October, the police department had difficulty locating it, because it didn't exist in their computer system.

The 2004 report documents allegations of a sexual relationship between the head of the prestigious school's Literary Media and Communications Department and a teenage girl who was his student, noting she "was not of consensual age."

"I thought I was in love with him. I thought we'd spend the rest of our lives together," the young woman, now 34, told the I-Team in an interview in October.

She recalls Williams being placed on administrative leave during the fall 2004 semester and says she knew at the time that he was under investigation because of their relationship.

"He asked me to delete every email he had ever sent me. He asked me to call him from pay phones only," she said.

She says she kept quiet in high school when someone came to her home to ask about the relationship. She doesn't know whether the man, who had her write a brief statement, was an officer or not. She says there was no formal or forensic interview. She denied any sexual contact with her teacher.

"This entire time I just didn't want to ruin his life. I thought that was the most important thing," she said.

Two former students told the News4 I-Team the same teacher abused them at Duke Ellington School of the Arts almost a decade apart. Investigative Reporter Jodie Fleischer has been investigating for three months and reveals questions about how complaints to the school, the district and even police were handled.

That changed over time, as she aged and matured. She came to realize her relationship could not have been consensual.

"That's never consensual. You don't have to give consent and you don't have to say no," said Cmdr. Pamela Wheeler-Taylor, head of MPD's Youth and Family Services Division, which investigates abuse cases involving children.

Wheeler-Taylor says it's common for teenage victims to keep quiet or deny abuse is happening, and that cases are often reported by others, not the victims themselves. She says that can make an investigation more challenging, but not impossible.

But another young woman, whose case was reported in the fall of 2018, says no one ever tried to talk with her about the allegations. She had graduated from the school four years earlier.

The I-Team obtained the police report, which shows she had not been identified and lists her as an "unknown female." That's despite an email sent by her high school boyfriend to more than 100 people reporting the alleged abuse with the subject line: "Mark Williams is a Rapist and a Predator."

Duke Ellington School of the Arts admits it failed to keep records on its teachers prior to 2017, which may have hindered how it handled two sex abuse claims a decade apart. Jodie Fleischer and the News4 I-Team reports on how that and the school's unique relationship with the school district may have allowed a former teacher to avoid scrutiny.

"Nobody ever directly asked me about the nature of the relationship," she said. "It just makes you wonder how many other people it's happened to."

The two young women don't know each other and have told their stories publicly for the first time to the News4 I-Team. They described an eerily similar grooming process nearly a decade apart.

They said Williams scheduled one-on-one writing sessions with them, encouraged them to share intimate details about their lives, then shared his own writings, some of a sexual nature.

They said he led them from sexual conversations to sexual acts. Both said the relationships continued into the beginning of their college years.

Wheeler-Taylor was not in charge of the police division at the time of either investigation and says it's unfortunate that both young women said they were never interviewed by detectives.

"We generally interview everyone that's involved in the situation," Wheeler-Taylor said, adding that it's procedure to talk with anyone who could possibly have information, including other teachers in the department and the student's friends.

But the I-Team tracked down four former teachers who worked in the writing department during the school years in which the abuse is alleged. None had ever been interviewed by investigators.

"I can't really speak on the particulars of how the investigation has taken place because it is still an open investigation, but it will be something that I could look into," said Wheeler-Taylor.

She has since assigned a new detective to work both open cases. Williams has not responded to the I-Team's numerous calls and emails seeking comment about the allegations.

Since March 2020, MPD has arrested three other former Duke Ellington teachers for sexual abuse of students. Court records show, in each of those cases, the victims didn't acknowledge what happened until years later, often after someone else contacted authorities.

“One case is too much, and I knew about definitely more than one,” said Shanya Taylor, who graduated from the school's Literary Media and Communications Department in 2017.

Taylor said she never imagined the acclaim she'd receive for her writing -- of a petition. She posted on Change.org in 2020, calling for justice for victims of sexual assault at the school. More than 5,500 people have signed.

"I knew about this before I even was a student there. And I've heard current students there say the same exact thing," Taylor told the I-Team.

In a statement to the I-Team, the school's current principal, who started in 2017, said, "Although it’s been heartbreaking to hear stories come to light of past traumas that some students have quietly and painfully held in their hearts all these years, I have hope that they are coming into the open now because of a safer and more welcome environment [at] Ellington."

Taylor says she called on the current administration to take action to better protect students, because she believes arts students can be more vulnerable, given the nature of their craft.

“You're not just going to school for academics. You actually connect to some of your teachers on an artistic level," said Taylor. “I think it enables, ya know, a lot of teachers to cross the line.”

Both of the young women said their artistic connection to Mark Williams helped fuel the abuse, and each has struggled for years. They say seeing the support from that petition, and the comments from others who say they were victims, has helped them begin to heal.

"The silence itself has had a very damaging effect," said the second young woman, adding that she hopes her allegations will be thoroughly investigated. "There's something empowering about knowing that he has to face the truth of it."

Reported by Jodie Fleischer; produced by Katie Leslie; shot by Jeff Piper, Steve Jones, Evan Carr and Katie Barry; and edited by Jeff Piper. Rick Yarborough also contributed to this report.

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