In June 2010, Joseph Denice, a 24-year-old educator in Queens, pleaded guilty to sexually abusing a 12-year-old boy. Months later, the boy’s parents sued Denice’s various employers, including New York City Department of Education, the Child Care Center of New York, and World of Discovery Day Camp. The parents claimed that Denice had abused the boy at the summer camp, among other places. World of Discovery, however, argued that the abuse occurred only on residential properties and not at the camp.
The suit trudged along for a few years, through depositions and discovery. Then it took a sharp turn.
On January 12, 2014, the boy’s parents, Edwin and Loredana Johansmeyer, showed up at the camp’s open house to hand out flyers that began:
Please help us protect the vulnerable!
We are parents of a child who was molested at World of Discovery Day Camp of Queens by a counselor, Joseph Denice (who worked here roughly from 2003 through 2009).
So last month, World of Discovery counter-sued the parents for defamation.
The camp accused the parents and their lawyer, Michele Betti, of trying to “extort a settlement from the Camp” by threatening to go public with their claims.
“Rather than merely exercising their First Amendment rights, Defendants began to actively deter parents from enrolling and re-enrolling their children in the Camp through disseminating statements about the Camp that were false and defamatory,” the complaint states.
The flyer reads:
We are here today because we are concerned about others who might be hurt or have been hurt by Denice, especially those who may be suffering in shame, secrecy and self-blame.
For the past several years, we have tried to get World of Discovery Day Camp officials to publicly admit that our child’s allegations against Denice are credible. They have refused. Camp officials have refused to turn over their ‘investigation report’ to us despite numerous requests.
It charges that Denice gave the child alcohol and cigarettes and physically abused him at the summer camp.
“As a direct result of the negligence by camp officials, our child was abused,” the flyer continued. “Our fear is that there are other children and young adults who were hurt as kids by Denice and who are now depressed, isolated, addicted, ashamed, and struggling.”
The Johansmeyer argue that World of Discovery should have suspected the abuse because Denice wrote the checks to cover their son’s camp tuition without their knowledge.
Their lawsuit claims that Denice abused their son at his school, I.S. 25, and at an after-school program, in addition to at the camp. Criminal prosecutors had charged that Denice tricked the boy into thinking that child services were investigating his parents and he needed to give him a “full-body scan” to check for signs of abuse.
World of Discovery argues that there was no evidence any abuse occurred at the camp. The complaint cited testimony of the victim and his mother:
Q: You testified earlier that Joseph Denise did not touch you inappropriately
while you were at the day camp; is that correct?
Q. Previously you mentioned that the body scans took place between April and
June of 2009 [prior to plaintiff’s attendance at the Camp]; is that correct?
Q. That was the only time Joseph Denice had inappropriately touched
[your son]; is that correct?
A. As far as I know, yes.
Q. As far as you know, that is the only time period where any sexual abuse
The Johansmeyer, however, claim that these are cherry picked excerpts that do not tell the full story. They charge that Denice slept in the same bed as their son during an overnight trip. The camp, they state in the flyer, “had no protective measures in place to make sure adult camp counselors, like Denice, were not sleeping in the same bed as the children.”
Denice was sentenced to six months in jail. Following his release, he volunteered at Saint Mel School in Queens but was kicked out after a parent accused him of contacting a child on Facebook. In May 2011, he pleaded guilty to forging checks and was sentenced to five-to-ten years in prison.