Cleveland Art School Failed to Handle Sexual Abuse Claims, Students Allege

Cleveland School of the Arts. Warren LeMay/Flickr

On July 23, Cleveland 19 News reported that a warrant had been issued for the arrest of Terence Greene, the former director of dance at Cleveland School of the Arts (CSA). As per Cleveland 19, Greene has been charged with sexual battery, a third degree felony. These charges relate to accusations from 2008 in which a former student told police that Greene performed oral sex on him in the school’s dressing room. CSA is a performing and creative arts public high school in Cleveland, Ohio. It provides pre-professional and college-preparatory training to students in grades 9 through 12. 

Cleveland 5 News has reported that Greene was arrested on August 3, in Brighton, New York, by a U.S. Marshals-led task force.

An investigation by Observer shows that this is not the first time that Greene has been accused of, or charged with, sex crimes against children. On June 19, a series of Facebook posts from former students of Greene at CSA revived those claims against him.

Eric Payne, a former dance student at CSA wrote that during his 9th grade year at CSA, Greene “used his predatory, empathetic father tone to convince me into doing things physically with him as a minor child.” Similarly, Rashawn Kadeem’s post alleges that after asking to inspect his dance belt, an undergarment worn by male dancers, alone in the locker room, Greene initiated oral sex. Offering confirmation of these allegations, Shiann Cook posted that Greene frequently asked boys about their dance belts, before going into “the dressing room with them for extended periods of time.” 

Nathaniel Joseph Hutson, a former student of CSA, told Observer that Greene initiated sex with him in March of 2002. Hutson was 14 years old at the time. 

According to Hutson, after Greene “realized that I didn’t have a dad in my life, he took that and tried to woo my mother by saying ‘I’ll take care of him and be a father figure to him.’” With Ms. Hutson’s permission, Greene was allowed to provide Hutson rides home and to look after him whenever his mother worked late at night.

Hutson says that on their first drive, Greene began to ask Hutson about his sexuality. After visiting McDonald’s for dinner, Hutson claims that he was taken to Greene’s home where he was forced to perform sexual acts. This was not an isolated incident. Their third encounter took place two months later, when Hutson was forced to receive anal sex. “It was my very first time being penetrated,” Hutson explained. “I told him I was uncomfortable. I did not like it and he just keeps going until he finishes.”

Hutson says the abuse continued through the end of that school year and into the summer at Dayton Contemporary Dance Company’s summer intensive. Hutson claims that Greene chaperoned him there and “made it seem like there wasn’t enough space for all the kids to room together. I ended up having to share a room with him. Like nobody else; it was just me and him. Everyday we had sexual intercourse.” 

This stopped only after he and his classmates contracted food poisoning. Hutson’s case necessitated that he be taken to the hospital and given an IV, as well as treatment for anal fissures, rectal bleeding and hemorrhoids.

According to Hutson, the abuse ended in 2004 when he turned 16. While participating as a member of an LGBTQ youth of color project of the AIDS Taskforce of Greater Cleveland, he sought help from his mentor, L. Michael Gipson. At that time Gipson was the co-founder and director of that project, the Beyond Identities Community Center.

Gipson corroborated this account to Observer. “Nathaniel pulled me aside and said that he had been in a relationship with his teacher for the last year, which would have meant that he started that relationship at 14.” Gipson helped Hutson break the news to his mother. 

“She was devastated,” Gipson says. They reported it to authorities. Greene was charged with four counts of unlawful sexual misconduct with a minor.

Gipson supported the family as they engaged with the police, prosecutor, and court system. While conducting his own investigation into CSA, Gipson learned that “it was commonly understood among other boys that Terence Greene was doing this,” and that they couldn’t understand why Hutson was complaining. 

“Mr. Greene could open doors for them”, Gipson explained. “I think some of them considered it transactional.” 

Part of that bargain included sabotaging Hutson’s case. Gipson says that a group of male and female students did so by “drilling him about whether or not he had sex with an adult teacher that they admired and loved.” Under questioning from his peers, Hutson denied that anything had taken place. During the July 1, 2004 trial, these students took the stand and told the court of  Hutson’s denial. 

When speaking to his mother about Greene’s abuse, Huston revealed he knew another student was also being violated. That student, Shawn Rawls, told Observer that Hutson’s mother contacted him and asked, “‘Will you testify against Terence? We’re going to take him to court.’ She was like, ‘I know you were sleeping with him.’ I denied it and wished them good luck.” Rawls explained that he refused to testify because “I was terrified it would ruin my whole life. It was cowardice.”

According to Hutson, during the bench trial, Greene received help from CSA colleagues and former students who wrote letters testifying to their perception of his excellent character. “It was basically my word against his,” Hutson says. “He pulled some of my fellow classmates in to testify on his behalf to verify that he was getting them scholarships and into colleges.” 

According to Hutson, the trial felt rushed. No mention was made of the fact that he had roomed alone with Greene the previous summer. Greene was acquitted.

Hutson says that CSA never spoke to him about his claims regarding the incident, even though some of the alleged events took place on campus in their locker room. Subsequently, he feels he was “severely persecuted” by CSA’s students and staff for speaking out. 

“I wasn’t able to stay in the school of arts because the energy was so toxic and it was all towards me,” Hutson says. “All of the energy was saying, ‘Get out.’ The principal, the teachers, some of the students were blaming me.” During the trial, Greene was placed on leave, which Hutson believes caused this resentment. Feeling overwhelmed, he transferred to a different high school before Greene resumed teaching at CSA. 

Though Hutson took a year off from dance, he eventually started taking classes at East Tech High School. After joining a Cleveland-based dance group, called All-CIty Dance Ensemble in 2006, he learned that Greene—who had taken a year off from teaching the group—was rejoining the troupe as an instructor.

“I had to be in his classes again,” Hutson says. “It felt like he was stalking me or trying to intimidate me. It always felt like the end goal was to try to make sure I never had a dance school.” Eventually, Hutson gave up on concert dance and moved to Georgia.

While speaking with Observer, Hutson claimed that during their evenings together, Greene frequently spoke about having sex with other students at the school. In an interview with Observer, Rawls said that similar conversations took place between him and Greene as well.

Rawls claims that his sex abuse also began in 2002. He was 16 years old at the time and dealing with a difficult home life.

“I moved out of my parent’s house,” Rawls explained. “I had my own place and I was in a really vulnerable space. I had to work and pay rent and pay bills, I was an adult, while still in high school.” 

Rawls believes that this situation made him a target for Greene. 

Despite only having had one year of training when he joined the school in 2001, when he was 15 years old, Rawls was placed in CSA’s highest level of dance rehearsals and middle level of classes. While struggling to keep up with his more experienced peers, he says that Greene repeatedly told him he was “talentless and would never make it as a dancer.”

“He was old school,” Rawls explained. “He would publicly cuss me out and cut me [from performances]. It was cultish. After a couple months of just constantly being cut and broken down, everything that came out of his mouth seemed like the truth. Then he started to tell me, ‘Maybe you’re someone you’re not read to fully be.'”

These vague insinuations continued until February of 2002, when Rawls claims that Greene asked Rawls to drive him home. 

“I think his license was suspended”, Rawls says, “So he’s like, ‘Give me a ride home.’ And then he was like, ‘Have you thought about the question?'” According to Rawls, this went around in circles until he says that Greene asked him, “Have you ever thought about being with another man?”

Rawls claims that Greene told him, “You’re not good at dancing because you’re not gay. Once you start being the true gay self that you are, that’s when you’ll really start dancing.“

“When we got to his house,” Rawls says, “He starts touching me down there.” This culminated in Greene forcing sex without a condom.

At school, Rawls says that this resulted in him receiving positive feedback from Greene and coveted roles in dance performances. Rawls said he tried to convince himself that the improvement meant that he was gay, but he couldn’t ignore his discomfort with Greene’s behavior.

Rawls said that Greene also assaulted him on campus, and would try to pull him out of classes during the school day. “One time, all the dudes were in the dressing room, and he came rushing there and was like, ‘I gotta talk to Shawn.’” According to Rawls, after his classmates left, Greene demanded oral sex. 

This continued through his junior to senior year when Rawls says that he realized, “I didn’t like it because I wasn’t gay and it felt wrong.” According to Rawls, what pushed him over the edge was Greene’s attempt to force sex between Rawls and Hutson. 

At that point, Rawls decided to tell Greene he would no longer have sex with him. “When I turned him down,” Rawls says, “all hell broke loose.”

Rawls says that Greene attempted to negatively affect his school performance and GPA. “He couldn’t fail me, but he spoke to my advisors and they told me, ‘Terence says that you’re no good. You have no talent and you will never do this.’”

According to Rawls, “I started getting cussed out again and kicked out of classes and performances.” Rawls says that this retribution continued after his senior year. While auditioning for schools, Rawls claims that after each audition teachers told him they were surprised at how well he had done because Greene had called to them that he was not very good.

Soon after graduating from CSA, Rawls left Cleveland permanently.

Additional reporting from Cleveland 19 News revealed further allegations from 2008. A CSA student named Nehemiah Spencer told the publication that Greene invited him to his home to make CD’s for a performance. According to Spencer’s account, this turned into Greene touching him inappropriately while asking him sexual questions.

Spencer told Observer that he sent Andrew Koonce a Facebook message about the alleged incidents in May of 2014. At the time, Koonce was CSA’s principal. The message read, in part:

“I’ve kept this in for such a long period of time and I was afraid of what might happen if I was to say something, but through the years it’s been eating at me to know that there may be other students like myself and who also may be prey to his personal desires,” Spencer wrote. “I’ve finally grown to a place to accept within myself to say that enough is enough and something needs to be done…I hope that we could cause an ending to this mental damage that he’s causing to students one being myself.”

After sending the message, Spencer and his mother met with Koonce in May to detail the allegations. 

Spencer says that Koonce told him and his mother that Greene’s employment with CSA would be terminated. Publically, the school allowed Greene to resign at the end of the school year.

Spencer told Observer that he met with a lawyer in June to prevent Greene from working with kids in the future. Spencer says that the lawyer told him his case “didn’t have enough evidence in it so I needed more people to come forward.” Spencer began seeking other survivors of Greene’s abuse.

Hutson told Observer that he was contacted by Spencer on Facebook on July 11, 2014. Their Facebook messages show that the two exchanged stories about their experiences. Spencer asked Hutson to join him in reporting Greene.

Hutson told Observer that because a family member had recently passed away, and because of his earlier experience bringing charges against Greene, he declined. 

Spencer says that he spoke to other alleged survivors, some of whom contacted the school, though none felt comfortable with speaking with a lawyer.

Cleveland.com’s reporting revealed that Andrew Roman, an attorney for the school district, sent information to Detective Tom Ross on July 24, 2014, revealing that seven former students had come forward with allegations of abuse. At the time, Ross was a member of Cleveland Police’s sex crimes unit.

As per Cleveland.com, Ross failed to investigate the case or 59 other sex crimes cases that were assigned to him. In 2018, he was demoted from sergeant to patrol officer. He is no longer a detective.

Koonce now serves as a network group leader for elementary schools with the Cleveland Metropolitan School District. A spokesperson for the district did not respond to requests for comment before publication. 

However, a spokesperson for the district told Cleveland.com that the district stopped renewing Greene’s contract in 2014 and that it was unknown why he had been reinstated following the 2003 criminal trial. The school board and CSA are currently being sued by 5 former CSA students, who are not named in the suit.

Spencer told Observer that after he spoke to Koonce, he was not questioned by anyone associated with a Title IX investigation, and he has no knowledge of one being launched. Schools that receive federal funding are legally required to maintain safe educational environments and must launch Title IX Investigations in response to reports of sexual discrimination, harassment and assault. Failure to do so could result in losing federal funding. 

Hutson also says he was not contacted or questioned by anyone associated with a Title XI investigation.

After leaving CSA, Greene found new employment working with children the following year, this time with Cuyahoga Community College’s (Tri-C) associated dance academy. As the director of programming, Greene was responsible for training students aged 6 to 18. 

In an email exchange with Observer regarding how Greene was vetted and the status of his employment, Jenny Febbo, Vice President of Integrated Communications for Tri-C responded:

“Mr. Greene resigned in lieu of termination. The criminal background check did not show the acquittal, rather it indicated that he passed the criminal background check.”

In a statement to Cleveland.com, a Tri-C spokeswoman said that while the school was unaware of the 2014 allegations, their hiring policies did not disqualify potential hires based on “allegations of sexual abuse or any other crime,” 

The statement provided to Cleveland.com also revealed that in October 2019, a high school student reported to the Garfield Heights police that Greene sexually abused him off-campus following a school activity. According to the statement, though the student declined to press charges, school officials “took steps” to fire Greene.

Tri-C allowed Greene to retire in January 2020.

Greene appeared at the January 2020 conference of the International Association of Blacks in Dance (IABD), in Philadelphia, where he taught classes. Ja’ Malik, an educator and alumnus of CSA familiar with allegations against Greene, told Observer that he was baffled to see him there.

Ja’ Malik says that he wrote a post on Facebook calling for Greene to be listed on the National Sex Offenders registry in the hopes that IABD would dissolve its relationship with him.

Greene’s website indicates that he has been associated with the organization since 2000. ln 2014, he led the committee to host IABD’s 27th conference in Cleveland.  

Following up on that post, Ja’ Malik contacted IABD’s leadership asking them why Greene had been present. Ja’ Malik told Observer that “Denise Saunders Thompson (President & CEO of IABD) told me she didn’t know about any previous allegations against Greene but she was going to look into it. She got back to me later and thanked me for bringing it to her attention.”

IABD declined to comment for this article.

To date, Terence Greene has been allegedly sexually abusing Black male adolescents for nearly 20 years. 

Rawls told Observer that he has dedicated his life to empowering dancers to recognize signs of abuse and to speak up when they suspect that something is wrong. Hutson told Observer that in addition to recognizing abuse, students must feel safe to seek help without fearing retribution. 

Hutson, Rawls, and Spencer separately told Observer that they don’t want to be seen as victims, but rather as advocates for change. Hutson claims that Greene once told him that he was also abused as a child and that this was “just the way things go.” Rawls shared that, “More than prison, I want Terence to get help. And I want everyone he hurt to get help too.”

Spencer has returned to Cleveland where he is using his education from Juilliard and performance experiences to create healthy opportunities for the next generation of dancers. He is doing this through an art program that he is developing “to cultivate young dreams and help artists create stability.”

“We have to set the bar higher with better morals and ethical principles. That’s the only way we can look to change lives. If we never address where things went south in our lives then we are just leading the next generation down a path of being complacent with the way things are.”

Rawls and Hutson told Observer that they don’t wish to return to Cleveland. Reflecting on speaking out about the abuse he encountered in dance, Rawls said, “I’m fighting to change something that was supposed to give me hope, but failed to protect me.”

Cleveland Art School Failed to Handle Sexual Abuse Claims, Students Allege