Rust, ex-professor accused in sexual abuse lawsuit

Court NewsBy Patsy R. Brumfield
Daily Journal

HOLLY SPRINGS – An unnamed woman claims Rust College knowingly rehired a sex offender who allegedly raped her in his office in 2012, a new federal lawsuit claims.

She also claims her alleged attacker, 64-year-old Sylvester Oliver, used the United Methodist Church-supported college “as a hunting ground” for victims “of his perverted desire for sexual gratification.”

Her lawsuit, filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Oxford, accuses Rust College of knowing about “the sexual abuse activities” of Oliver for years, “and certainly before he was rehired as a faculty member in 2009.”

Dr. Ishmel Edwards, Rust’s vice president for college relations, told the Daily Journal later Wednesday the school does not comment about lawsuits.

However, he noted that Oliver is no longer employed at Rust and that “safety of our students is a primary concern.”

Oliver could not be located for a comment.

The case is assigned to Presiding Judge Michael P. Mills in the Oxford-based court.

Ursula Yvette Holmes, an attorney with The Cochran Firm in Memphis, filed the lawsuit seeking $2 million in damages.

The 16-page document states that the “Jane Doe” defendant’s name is not used because she “was a victim of a sex crime.”

She accuses Rust of failing to protect its female students from “the unlawful behavior of its employees,” including Oliver.

The lawsuit claims Rust asked Oliver to resign in the early 2000s because of an alleged inappropriate sexual relationship with “at least one female student,” then he was hired by Memphis City Schools, which reportedly fired him after investigation into a report of a minor’s molestation.

Rust rehired him in 2012.

District Attorney Ben Creekmore confirmed that Oliver is under indictment in Marshall County accused of the Rust student’s sexual battery, although the case has not yet come to trial. Sexual battery is the state’s legal phrase for sexual penetration or rape.

He pleaded not guilty to the charge.

After his arrest, the lawsuit states, Oliver voluntarily resigned his faculty post at Rust. He reportedly was selected “Teacher of the Year” during his time at Rust.

The woman also claims Rust’s president, David Beckley, told faculty, staff and employees they will be terminated if anyone cooperates with the investigation or litigation of claims arising from the woman’s assault allegations.

Edwards denied the allegation, saying it “is absolutely false.”

patsy.brumfield@journalinc.com