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Ex-Floyd principal sues over 2010 abuse arrest

A Nye County School District principal who was led out of her school in tears and in handcuffs in November 2010 is suing the detective who arrested her.

Holly Lepisto and husband Edwin filed a civil lawsuit on July 30 against Nye County, the sheriff’s office, the district attorney’s office, District Attorney Brian Kunzi, Sheriff Tony DeMeo, and a former detective who has appeared in numerous news stories of late, David Boruchowitz, mistakenly referred to as “David Burkowitz” throughout the complaint.

The Lepistos charge the sheriff’s office and detective with making a false arrest, the district attorney’s office and Kunzi with malicious prosecution and the sheriff’s office for false imprisonment. The other defendants are accused of negligence and with intentional infliction of emotional distress, among other claims.

Lepisto was arrested along with special education teacher Sarah Hopkins and two special education aides, Phyllis DuShane and Kathryn Cummings, over allegations the teacher and aides had abused special needs first-graders at Floyd Elementary School and that Lepisto attempted to cover it up when confronted by police.

The women were charged with five felony counts of child abuse each and spent Thanksgiving in the local jail.

Those charges were eventually reduced, with Hopkins and Lepisto only facing single felony child abuse charges before any court hearings in the case took place.

However, the controversial criminal case eventually fell apart on Kunzi, who chose to prosecute it himself.

The district attorney’s office only ever secured a misdemeanor guilty plea from DuShane, who received community service as punishment. Charges against Lepisto and Cummings were dropped altogether. And Hopkins, who was the central figure in the case, pleaded guilty to four misdemeanor coercion charges and received four 90-day jail sentences, all suspended, as well as 100 hours of community service.

Both Hopkins and Lepisto would eventually return to work at the school district. Lepisto today is principal of Tonopah Elementary School.

In Lepisto’s complaint, the principal says that at first it seemed the detectives had concluded the initial complaint against Hopkins was unfounded, especially after interviewing several students who said “they loved their teacher and aides.”

Several days later, however, the detectives returned to Floyd Elementary, marching directly to Hopkins’ classroom. Lepisto attempted to stop the police officers, because she feared they would scare the students. That’s when Boruchowitz got nasty.

“His face began to turn red, he began to state in a very threatening voice, ‘I’m done playing fair with you. This is our investigation and we will do whatever we please. And you know what else, you failed these kids,’” the complaint states.

Lepisto says she ran to her office as a result of the threats and had a co-worker act as a witness. When Boruchowtiz returned to where she was, she says he read her the state statute on child abuse, to which she replied none had taken place and so none was ever reported.

“For 90 minutes thereafter, Detective Burkowitz (sic) badgered, threatened, harassed, embarrassed and humiliated Holly,” the complaint reads. “Detective Burkowitz continued to badger, threaten and harass Holly by continuing to ask the same questions over and over again, while all the long receiving the same responses, but yet trying to misconstrue her words to meet and suit his needs.”

Eventually, Lepisto asked to end the conversation. At that point she was arrested. Her husband had arrived and he asked if it was necessary that his wife be placed in handcuffs. The deputies present said he was lucky they were even letting him talk to his wife and that if he made any problems, they’d kick him out of the room.

Soon thereafter, Lepisto was “led through the school, out of the front door with her hands handcuffed behind her back for all to see.”

Lepisto claims she spent more than $39,000 in attorney fees as a result of the arrest. She also says she was forced to seek psychological treatment. Her husband is a party to the suit for “loss of consortium” due to his wife’s ongoing mental anguish.

The couple is seeking general damages, special damages, $39,000 for attorneys fees, punitive damages, prejudgment interest, and trial costs.

The lawsuit was brought by attorney Carl Joerger, who could not be reached for comment. Kunzi was at a conference and had not seen the complaint so would not comment. DeMeo also refused to comment.

Boruchowitz said he has not seen the complaint and withheld comment.

The Lepistos are demanding a jury trial.

Lepisto, Hopkins, DuShane, Cummings and the school district are defendants in a federal civil rights case over the abuse allegations. So far the school district’s insurance plan, POOL-PACT, has spent more than $1 million defending the educators and NCSD.

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