GREENFIELD — Two families filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday against the Crotched Mountain School, alleging their young children were verbally and physically abused by several staff members.

Crotched Mountain is a local private and rehabilitational facility for students with developmental issues.

The lawsuit against three aides, one teacher and two other staff members in the school alleges the abuse took place starting when one of the children enrolled in the school in 2011.

The classroom’s teacher is Ashlee Crouthamel of Peterborough. The aides named in the civil lawsuit are Jessica Burt of Hillsborough, Bethany Smith of Bennington and Heather Murawske of Peterborough.

In addition, two more Crotched Moutain employees, Human Resource Generalist Ruth Swain of Contoocook and Crotched Mountain Foundation supervisor Deirdre L. Grimes of Hillsborough, are named as defendants in the civil case.

The three aides — Murawske, Burt and Smith — have been arrested in a criminal case stemming from the allegations, according to Greenfield Police Chief Brian Giammarino.

The alleged abuse includes Burt telling a 9-year-old male student that he was “disgusting” and pinching his nose hard enough to leave bruises.

Allegations against Murawske included taking photos of the boy while he was naked on the toilet and distributing them over the Internet to other employees, according to the civil suit, which was filed in U.S. District Court of New Hampshire in Concord.

The boy, who lives in Sunapee with his parents and was a day student at the school, has a disorder that limits his ability to communicate and comprehend, according to the civil suit.

The lawsuit also says the boy’s mother noticed his penis was red and swollen, and that he told his mother an aide in the classroom had squeezed it. The boy’s mother reported the incident to the teacher, who took no response, the suit alleges.

Another family joined the suit; a Rutland, Vt., woman who is the grandmother of a 12-year-old female student who shared the same classroom alleges in the lawsuit that Crouthamel slapped her granddaughter’s buttocks and an aide slapped her face.

In the criminal investigation, Murawske pled guilty to one charge for violation of privacy and one charge of person requiring to report, Giammarino said. She was found guilty of both counts on Sept. 3 in 8th Circuit Court in Jaffrey and had to pay $250 fines for each count.

Burt is facing a criminal case in Hillsborough County Superior Court, Giammarino said. She faces three counts of endangering a minor, three counts of criminal threatening, three counts of second degree assault, and three counts of simple assault.

Smith is being charged with two counts of simple assault and one count of criminal threatening, and is scheduled to be tried on Nov. 12 in 8th Circuit Court in Jaffrey.

Giammarino said Crouthamel was not arrested as part of his department’s investigation.

Seeking damages

The families in the civil case are seeking monetary damages to cover the medical costs associated with the alleged abuse, the case states. The amount of the requested damages is unspecified.

The civil lawsuit alleges school officials failed to let the families know the abuse was going on.

In an emailed statement, Crotched Mountain Foundation’s Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Michael Redmond said the foundation reported the allegations to parents, the police and the state Division for Children, Youth and Families. Redmond also said the three aides facing criminal charges were let go from the school.

“Authorities are now, appropriately, in charge of investigating and prosecuting the three former staff and their guilt and punishment will be determined by the legal system,” Redmond said in his statement.

But Redmond also said some of the allegations in the civil lawsuit weren’t true.

“This complaint contains inaccuracies and falsehoods and Crotched Mountain will respond accordingly through the court system,” he said.

“The behavior that is alleged here is deeply disturbing and absolutely antithetical to Crotched Mountain’s founding principle that everyone deserves to experience life with the highest level of dignity and respect.”

Ella Nilsen can be reached at or 352-1234, extension 1409. Follow her on Twitter @ENilsenKS.