Wheeling WV – A 28-year-old man filed a lawsuit against a former Ohio County coach and teacher he claimed groomed him for sexual abuse from the age of 13.
The lawsuit filed by Christopher Birch alleged that 42-year-old Elizabeth Harbert began grooming him in 2005 by taking care of him when he was 13 years old and in the 8th grade, according to the Associated Press.
Harbert let Birch move in with her and her then-husband when she was his science teacher at Bridge Street Middle School.
She and her husband were both coaching Birch in track at the time, and the boy was living with his grandmother, according to The Intelligencer.
Harbert eventually divorced her husband and gave birth to Birch’s first child in 2007 when he was a student at Wheeling Park High School, the Associated Press reported.
Birch was 16 and Harbert was 32 when the first baby was born.
Birch lived with his former teacher for 15 years and they went on to have three more children together, The Intelligencer reported.
But Harbert threatened to take away the children if Birch ever left her, according to the lawsuit.
Birch said that when he graduated from high school, Harbert told him that he had to get a job in the coal mines to “provide for his family” rather than going to college, according to Heavy.
She also refused to allow him to date girls his own age or go to school dances.
Birch said he was suing his former teacher because he wanted to end his relationship with her but still be allowed to see his children, the Associated Press reported.
The lawsuit also alleged that school employees were negligent by not investigating reports of sexual abuse of Birch by Harbert, The Intelligencer reported.
The complaint, which is largely focused on the Ohio County Board of Education, said that employees received multiple reports that the teacher was abusing Birch but that nobody did anything to stop it, despite the fact the single, divorced teacher suddenly turned up pregnant amidst the allegations.
After the baby was born, Birch moved back in with his grandmother in Wheeling but the sexual relationship with Harbert continued, according to The Intelligencer.
Birch complained that Harbert would not allow him to put his name on the first baby’s birth certificate for fear she would get into trouble, according to Heavy.
Recent DNA tests confirmed that he is the father of Harbert’s oldest child, The Intelligencer reported.
Harbert continued to teach in Ohio County until she resigned at the beginning of the 2018-2019 school year.
Birch and his oldest child are suing Harbert, the Ohio County Board of Education, and their former school principal and current Ohio County Board of Education member Christine Carder, according to The Intelligencer.
The former student’s civil lawsuit, filed on April 4, was quickly followed by criminal charges against the mother of his children.
Harbert was arrested on May 1 and charged with sexual abuse by a parent or guardian, being in a position of trust and allowing sexual abuse to be inflicted upon a child, and displaying of sex organs by a parent, guardian or custodian, The Intelligencer reported.
She appeared before Ohio County Magistrate Patricia Murphy the same day she was arrested and was released on a $10,000 bond.
Harbert has now alleged that the victim was the one abusing her, and not the other way around, Heavy reported.
Her attorney Mark Kepple read a statement that said his client “challenges any and all allegations which suggest she consented to a relationship” with Birch.
“We are confident that the civil justice system will expose the decade-plus history of the physical and emotional abuse she suffered at the hands of Birch and vindicate her fully,” Kepple said.