Riverhead High School principal Charles Regan exchanged explicit text messages and photos with an 18-year-old student and “sexually assaulted” her in his office last week, the final act that led the relationship to be exposed publicly, according to court filings and an attorney representing the victim.
Attorney John Ray of Miller Place said Mr. Regan “predatorily groomed” the student for months, starting in January.
The lurid details were laid out at a press conference Monday afternoon. The victim, Anastasia Stapon, who was adopted from Russia at age 5, agreed to speak publicly as she announced her intention to sue Mr. Regan, the school district and its board members for $10 million.
“I am here to expose this evil, dirty man,” she said, sitting alongside her parents, Maryanne Wojcik and Theresa Stapon of Riverhead. “I am a victim. The Riverhead police have done nothing. Charles Regan and the Riverhead school have destroyed me.”
Ms. Stapon filed a notice of claim, a precursor to a lawsuit, alleging that Mr. Regan attempted to seduce her at a time she was suffering from depression and that he repeatedly brought her into his office so he could “break down her mental and psychological defenses.” In text messages to Ms. Stapon, the principal allegedly tried to persuade her to stop seeing a counselor and threatened male students who had shown interest in her.
The notice of claim also says the district failed to supervise Mr. Regan and was negligent in hiring him.
“She was a sitting target for a predator,” Mr. Ray said.
No criminal charges had been filed against Mr. Regan as of press time. Mr. Ray said the district should immediately suspend Mr. Regan without pay and criminal charges should be filed by police. Mr. Regan could not be reached for comment.
Ms. Stapon said she entered Mr. Regan’s office with a friend on April 30. They sat and talked with the principal until her friend left. When they were alone, they talked about how she had to leave for a field trip. When she got up to go, they hugged and he pulled her by the neck into an embrace to kiss her. She estimated they kissed for a minute.
“When everything was over, I got out of there as fast as I could,” she said.
During the press conference, Ms. Stapon’s attorney displayed evidence of “offensive photos and texts.” One photo shows Mr. Regan wearing only a pink towel around his lower body. In text messages, he encouraged Ms. Stapon, who will turn 19 in June, to masturbate and described how he wanted to see her naked.
“You can only wonder what was this man doing as a principal besides texting her?” Mr. Ray said.
One printout of text messages the attorney displayed includes an exchange that began at 4:48 a.m. April 29, in which Mr. Regan encourages her to go to his office that day and describes details of what he wanted to do with her sexually.
“I’m sick to my stomach,” said Theresa Stapon. “He’s broken her and she was already broken.”
The relationship began in January and escalated beginning in March. Ms. Stapon said she thought of him as a mentor and father figure.
“I thought he was trying to support me and get me to a better place because that’s what he told me for a very long time,” she said.
Mr. Ray said he believes other district officials knew what was going on. He described an occasion when an assistant principal burst into Mr. Regan’s office twice while the two were together. He said he believes the assistant principal was concerned about what was happening in the office. When the doors are closed, the inside of the office cannot be seen, he said.
“This foul creature has done this before,” Mr. Ray said in a press release. “But he has been tolerated. The local police absurdly refuse to act because the student victim is 18. The school district has not suspended him, but only ‘reassigned’ him.”
Ms. Stapon said that after she and the principal kissed, she confided in a friend, who relayed the information to a teacher. During spring break in April, she also confided in two other friends, she said.
“They were in shock,” she said.
The principal also forced Ms. Stapon to destroy evidence, the attorney said, but erased messages were recovered through the cloud.
Mr. Ray said a teacher inadvertently alerted Mr. Regan that he was in trouble. At that point, he called Ms. Stapon into his office and attempted to delete all the texts.
Riverhead Police Chief David Hegermiller said the “matter is under investigation.”
“I really can’t say much more,” he said. “There’s a lot of evidence to go through.”
Mr. Ray said a Riverhead detective told Ms. Wojcik that no criminal charges had been filed.
Ms. Wojcik said that Mr. Regan admitted to her, over the phone, that he made a mistake and apologized.
“He doesn’t even say hello,” she said. “He says, ‘I’m sorry.’ There’s a big pause and he said, ‘I’m sorry for what happened.’ He said the district office will be contacting you and will be calling you to ask you questions.”
Mr. Regan pretended to counsel Ms. Stapon while isolating her from her family, friends and school counselor, according to court filings.
“Her principal, who had been her mentor, her hero, is in fact just a pervert who used his power over her to ensnare her in his dirty sexual traps,” a statement from the attorney said.
On April 18 and 19, the attorney said, the principal threatened via text to kill two male students who expressed interest in Ms. Stapon.
Mr. Ray said there are at least three criminal violations that can result from Mr. Regan’s actions: second-degree harassment, third-degree sexual abuse and second-degree unlawful imprisonment.
The school district announced last Tuesday that Mr. Regan had been “administratively reassigned” pending an investigation into a “personnel matter.”
Assistant principal Sean O’Hara is serving as acting principal, Superintendent Aurelia Henriquez said.
In the statement sent to parents and the media by the school district last week, Ms. Henriquez said: “While we understand that there will be questions surrounding this matter, the district is legally prohibited from sharing further details on it. We appreciate your patience as we perform our due diligence regarding this matter.”
The district declined further comment, again referring only to the statement, which was posted last week on the district website.
Mr. Regan, 48, of Quogue, earned $187,693 in 2018, according to SeeThroughNY. He is married and has two sons. He replaced David Wicks as high school principal in 2013, when Mr. Wicks became the district’s assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction. Mr. O’Hara then filled Mr. Regan’s position as assistant high school principal.
Mr. Regan was first hired as an assistant principal in June 2006 in a split school board vote. His position was created when the district eliminated department chairperson positions, a decision that encountered opposition from the teachers union and three board members.
In his previous role at the Eastport-South Manor Central School District, Mr. Regan was dean of students and served as a crisis prevention and school suspension supervisor, according to a past News-Review story. Mr. Ray said there were other victims during Mr. Regan’s tenure there who had similar experiences with him, but added that he could not reveal that information yet. Ms. Stapon’s family has been in contact with those individuals, he said.
Fellow students at Riverhead High School described the news as shocking.
One junior said she had thought Mr. Regan was a great principal and someone she respected.
“I didn’t see this coming,” she said.
A freshman said: “As a man trying to grow up, I just have to learn that that’s wrong. It’s not OK.”
Top photo caption: Anastasia Stapon at Monday’s press conference. (Credit: Grant Parpan)
Editor’s Note: This story was updated to reflect the version set to appear in print May 9.
WITH MAHREEN KHAN