Physical & Mental Abuse at Catlin Gabel, New Lawsuit

Catlin Gabel School sign


Physical and mental abuse at Catlin Gabel is at the heart of a new lawsuit. Three more alumni of Catlin Gabel sued the school with claims they were abused as students. We now represent over 20 former students of CGS who were sexually, physically, and mentally abused at the school from the late 1960s through the 2000s.

The Plaintiffs in the New Lawsuit

Our three clients who are Plaintiffs in this new lawsuit attended Catlin Gabel from the late 1970s to the mid-1990s. Their claims shed light on a culture of physical and mental abuse at the school. Many former Catlin alumni describe a culture of hostility, bullying, and violence towards the students. These three Plaintiffs witnessed and experienced that conduct for themselves.

  • Mark Peterson: Kids’ Introduction to the Catlin Culture of Physical and Psychological Abuse

When Catlin alumni talk about physical and mental abuse at Catlin Gabel, they talk about Mark Petersen. Catlin Gabel’s own shocking report on sexually abusive and inappropriate teachers names Petersen as one of only six teachers identified by name. The report included a total of 21 former teachers and staff members who engaged in sexual misconduct with students. Catlin Gabel released the report last December.

This is what the Catlin Gabel report had to say about Mark Petersen:

Mark Petersen was employed by Catlin Gabel from 1975 to 1997 as a 5th grade teacher. In the 1970’s, Petersen engaged in sexual misconduct with a female student during her 12th grade year. Her parents invited Petersen to their home, where he went on a walk with the student and hugged and kissed her. After that, Petersen and the student would meet up to play sports. He invited her to his apartment when his wife was not home. While there, he asked her questions of a sexual nature. He had her touch his penis. He wanted to have sex but she did not, so they refrained. Petersen later returned to her family home a second time and kissed her when they were out of view of her parents.

The conduct was not reported to Catlin Gabel at the time.

When contacted by Ms. Watson, Petersen confirmed that he had engaged in the reported conduct. He stated that the conduct happened when he was “young and stupid,” and he regretted his actions.

What surprised many was the report’s silence about Petersen’s physical and psychological abuse of students. Alumni had reported Petersen’s physical abuse to Catlin’s “investigator” Lori Watson during the school’s year-long investigation of teacher misconduct. They were upset that the report said nothing about physical abuse.

Mark Petersen taught fifth grade at Catlin Gabel for over 20 years, from 1975 to 1997. Witnesses say he was physically violent with his 10- and 11-year-old students. Examples of Petersen’s abusive conduct with fifth graders include:

  • Pulling kids off a raised platform called the Loft and dropping them the five or six feet to the floor;
  • Shoving or flinging boys into the wall;
  • Hitting a girl in the head with a lunchbox so hard the handle came off in his hand;
  • Dragging boys up, pushing, or even tossing them down the stairs; and
  • Closing girls in a room to and having them physically “fight out” their disagreements.

Petersen’s conduct and anger scared the kids. They didn’t know when it would be their turn to be hurt by him. Watching him pick on kids in their class, seemingly at random, took away their sense of control and safety.

  • Richardson Shoemaker: He Reinforced the Catlin Culture of Abuse

picture of plaintiff as child and table with lawsuit documentsMany of the kids in Petersen’s fifth grade class went on to sixth grade with Richardson “Dick” Shoemaker. “Shoe” was a legendary teacher at Catlin Gabel. He was also a serial pedophile. For decades, Shoemaker groped girls in his sixth grade classroom under the guise of teaching them math. He liked to call girls to his desk at the front of the room, often had them sit on his lap, then touched them secretly on their butts or chests, often under their clothes. He engaged in other acts of sexual molestation outside the classroom.

Shoemaker also liked to spank all the kids in his class, boys and girls. His birthday spanking ritual was mandatory – no one could get out of it. Every kid in his class got turned over Shoemaker’s lap and spanked 12 times on his or her 12th birthday. Maybe birthday spankings are an innocent part of growing up. Maybe friends make a joke or game out of birthday spankings. But a teacher insisting on spanking every 12-year-old in his classroom, bent over his lap, over the child’s objections, is weird. I was a kid in the 1970s and I can’t imagine a teacher doing something like that.

But for kids at Catlin Gabel, it was different. After fifth grade with Petersen and sixth grade with Shoemaker, what did they expect from the adults they were supposed to trust? They came to expect what they got: rough handling, anger, occasional violence, hitting, shoving, boundary violations, sexual touching, spankings, and a deaf ear to their complaints. Students reported Shoemaker’s molestation to Catlin authorities as many as six times before he retired in 2001. The staircase Mark Peterson threw boys down was right outside the school office. Adults knew and did nothing.

  • Middle School: More of the Same

In middle school, the physical and mental abuse at Catlin Gabel didn’t stop. The school is small and there is crossover in the staff between the levels. Many of the same people played several roles in running the school. Dick Shoemaker was a coach, drove the bus, taught sixth grade math, and was a middle school homeroom teacher, for example.

One of the Plaintiffs in this new lawsuit had a run in with Shoemaker on the bus when he was in seventh grade. Our client was on the bus after a girls’ basketball away game. People were still boarding the bus and kids were playing around, including our client. Shoemaker grabbed him, slammed him down on the aisle of the bus, yelling at him to stop playing. Shoemaker then straddled him and slammed his head up and down on the aisle of the bus several times, continuing to yell at him.

Another of the Plaintiffs in this new lawsuit watched Mark Petersen mistreat students throughout their fifth grade year. Later, when she was in eighth grade, our client saw teacher Robin Schauffler grab a nearby friend by the throat and push her against the wall while yelling at her. Schauffler instructed our client not to tell anyone what she had seen.

  • High School: Nothing Changed

picture of three girls at age when they were abused by Catlin teachersOne of our clients in an earlier lawsuit reported a similar incident. When she was a Junior in high school, she saw one of the art teachers grab another student and pin her to a bookshelf in the library with both hands on her throat. The art teacher then threatened our client not to tell anyone what she had seen.

Many of our clients were preyed on by Catlin’s notorious sexual predators when they were in high school. The same culture that allowed teachers to verbally and physically intimidate children naturally turned a blind eye to teachers sexually exploiting high school girls.

The Damage of Random Physical & Mental Abuse

It was the random nature of the violence at Catlin Gabel that was so scary for the kids. This wasn’t old fashioned punishment – a paddling or even a ruler on the knuckles. We may look with disfavor on corporal punishment these days, but many of us went to school when it was OK for a teacher to spank a kid who broke the rules. If they know ahead of time what the consequences are for breaking a rule, children are not so confused by physical punishment, even though they don’t like it or think it is unfair and mean.

But kids can’t understand anger and violence that comes out of nowhere. They can’t understand the random physical and mental abuse at Catlin Gabel. They can’t understand a teacher who picks kids at random to pull off a platform and drop on the floor. Or understand why, among all the kids playing, he is the one slammed to the aisle of the bus. Or why her friend, and not her, gets slammed against the locker and choked.

Sure, these weren’t the worse things in the world that could happen to a kid. But they were confusing and scary. And then add to these fears that the kids were told over and over how lucky they were to go to a fancy school like Catlin Gabel; they should feel grateful. These kids didn’t feel lucky.


Catlin Gabel’s report on abuse was incomplete. It was not a thorough investigation of sexual abuse at the school. It did not cover physical or emotional abuse at all.

If you have questions about abuse at Catlin Gabel, or information you want to share with us, please contact us through our confidential contact page. You can also call us at 503-61605007 or email us at

Dumas and Vaughn Attorneys at Law has law offices in Portland, Oregon and serves clients in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and other states.

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