After one Clash accuser drops lawsuit, four cases remain

By Ben Mook

One of the five men who filed a civil complaint against Kevin Clash has withdrawn his lawsuit alleging sexual impropriety by the former Sesame Street puppeteer.

On April 13, a plaintiff identified in court records as “D.O.” agreed to drop his lawsuit against Clash. Jeff Herman, one of the attorneys representing D.O. and four additional plaintiffs, said the decision was not the result of an out-of-court settlement.

“My client decided to dismiss his lawsuit so that he can focus on his career,” Herman said in a statement. “[D.O.] originally filed to support the other victims and to stand up for himself. He maintains his claims and can refile his case at a later date. This has no bearing on the four other cases.”

Clash has been named in five lawsuits — four filed in New York and one in Pennsylvania — brought by men who claimed they had sexual relationships with Clash when they were teenagers. D.O. claimed he met Clash on a gay phone-chat line in 2000, when D.O. was only 16. In court records, D.O. said, they engaged in consensual sex acts and later had a sexual relationship after D.O. turned 18.

When D.O. filed his civil complaint in November, he became the second of five plaintiffs to seek damages from Clash. The fifth lawsuit was filed early this month by Kevin Kiadii, who described meeting Clash over a gay phone-chat line in 2004 and engaging in consensual sex as a 16-year-old. In the complaint, Kiadii said he realized that he had been physically and emotionally harmed by the relationship in 2012.

The lapse of time between the plaintiffs’ alleged relationships with Clash, and discovery of the damages caused by his involvement with each of the young men, is at the heart of the remaining cases. Federal criminal statutes that deal with coercion, enticement and transportation of minors for sex provide a statute of limitations for civil lawsuits. Under a strict reading of the rules, plaintiffs have six years from the time of the act to seek damages in civil courts. But the laws provide a three-year statute of limitations for plaintiffs who had a disability, which is not defined in the code. These plaintiffs have three years from the end of the disability to seek damages.

In motions filed in the U.S. District Court for Southern New York, Clash’s attorneys argue that, even under the most favorable interpretations of the law, the window during which the plaintiffs could have sought legal remedies expired between 2001 and 2010. Since each of the plaintiffs claims that his status as a minor at the time of his first encounter with Clash qualifies as a disability, Clash’s attorneys argue that the three-year statute of limitations in each of the cases would have expired between 2000 and 2009, three years after each plaintiff turned 18.

“No matter how it is sliced, diced or analyzed, I believe all of the plaintiffs are barred under the statute,” Clash’s attorney Michael Berger said in a phone interview last week.

But attorneys for the plaintiffs point to a discovery rule that sets the clock on the statute of limitations based on the time period in which the alleged victims discover their injuries. Under this interpretation, each of the plaintiffs is well within the statute of limitations, since each of them discovered that they had been damaged in 2012.

Both sides will present their arguments before the New York court May 30 during oral arguments.

The first allegation against Clash surfaced last November, when Sheldon Stephens told the online celeb zine TMZ of a relationship with the famous Sesame Street puppeteer.  Stephens filed a civil lawsuit against Clash but later withdrew it and recanted the allegations as part of a reported $125,000 out-of-court settlement.

Sesame Workshop, the New York–based company that produces Sesame Street and other educational children’s content, granted Clash a leave of absence when the allegations surfaced. One week later, the Workshop announced that it had accepted Clash’s resignation.

Clash had worked at Sesame Workshop for 28 years and received multiple Emmys for his role as the voice of Elmo, one of the Workshop’s most popular characters. In a statement announcing the resignation, the Workshop noted Clash’s contributions to its educational mission but added: “Unfortunately, the controversy surrounding Kevin’s personal life has become a distraction that none of us wants, and he has concluded that he can no longer be effective in his job.”

Another man, Cecil Singleton, had come forward with allegations against Clash, but he, and others who followed, chose to pursue complaints through civil courts. Singleton filed a civil lawsuit Nov. 20 seeking damages caused by a relationship he said began when he was age 15. Three additional complaints, including D.O.’s, were filed in New York.

Stephens, the first accuser, renewed his case last month by filing a lawsuit with a federal court in Pennsylvania.

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