Special Report: Inside the scandal regarding the former YEA! CEO, and how DCI plans to move forward

Mike Lawson • • June 9, 2018

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It was an unfortunate day for music instructors and students everywhere when the likes of the #metoo movement spread to the world of band and orchestra this spring.

In April, The Philadelphia Inquirer ran a story on George Hopkins, the now former director of The Cadets drum and bugle corps (Allentown, Pennsylvania) and former CEO of Youth Education in the Arts (YEA!). The piece detailed the sexual assault accusations brought against him from nine different women.

Hopkins immediately resigned from his positions. He had been director of The Cadets since 1982.

The board of directors of Youth Education in the Arts followed suit, also resigning less than a week later. As of print time, two more women have come forward with allegations against Hopkins, bringing the total to 11 accusers.

“This is a painful moment for all those who care about The Cadets and Youth Education in the Arts,” said a statement from the Board of Directors of Youth Education in the Arts.

The statement continues to say: “The best thing YEA! can do now is move forward through programs like The Cadets, Cadets2, USBands and Xcape. We have a full schedule and intend to keep it.”

According to the statement from YEA!, Hopkins denied the allegations but felt that stepping aside was the best course of action. The Inquirer states that Hopkins’ cellphone has since been disconnected, and when the paper did reach out to him, he declined to meet with a reporter and instead had his lawyer David Blumenthal speak on his behalf.

“Many of these allegations are criminal in nature,” Blumenthal said in an email to The Inquirer. “Such allegations are inflammatory and defamatory and require no further comment. … To be sure, Mr. Hopkins vehemently denies any criminal actions.”

Prior to any of the articles on Hopkins, the YEA! board of directors asserts that they received an email in January. The email expressed the desire to have the CEO of YEA! removed, or the affected women would go to the press with the allegations against Hopkins. The YEA! statement affirmed that the board investigated the matter “professionally and vigorously” and hired a law firm to look into anonymous claims, but “unfortunately, there was no cooperation at all from anyone making those accusations.”

The women who had reached out would not agree to be interviewed or speak of the accusations with Hopkins still in his position. For this reason, the board continued the investigation but ultimately chose to not make any decisions without statements that were not anonymous.

“Despite our pleas for cooperation, we were told so long as George remained in his role, no one would allow herself to be interviewed or reveal any facts that might confirm the allegations,” explains the statement from YEA!. “No responsible board of directors can take action based solely on anonymous allegations. One of the many disappointments in this regrettable situation is third parties who claimed specific knowledge of these allegations failed to assist in bringing this to a proper resolution, offering instead to bury those same allegations if the board took preemptive action.”

In comparison, the allegations from the women that were printed via The Inquirer are very graphic.

In 1980, Debra Barcus (née Gozdek) says that Hopkins groped her on a bus when she was 16, which Hopkins denies.

Twins Linda and Lee Ann Riley were members of the corps in the 1980s and allege that they were raped by Hopkins on separate occasions – Lee Ann at age 17 and Linda at age 19. Hopkins said that he did not have “any nonconsensual relations” with the sisters, and that he did not have “any relations whatsoever” with Lee Ann Riley when she was under the age of 18.

One YEA! employee from the early 1980s who chose to remain unnamed in the Inquirer article says that Hopkins pulled her from her chair and into a closet, forced her onto the floor, and penetrated her with his fingers, all to her objection. Hopkins denies this.

In 1999, a woman who chose to be cited as only her first name (“Marie”) in The Inquirer article said that she got a job working for Hopkins when he began touching her inappropriately, from putting his hand up her skirt, to touching her breasts, and rubbing up his pelvis against her. Desperate to keep her job, she would only say no softly and hoped that he would stop. Worse, Marie alleges that he would also show up uninvited at her apartment, and on one occasion when she let him in, he pestered her to have sex with him. When she asked him to leave, she says that he pushed her onto her bed and raped her. Hopkins has stated that he does not know who Marie is and denied acting that way with any person. Marie also quit.

Kim Carter, who was a Cadet as a young adult, later volunteered for the Cadets at the age of 37 in 2005. She says that Hopkins invited her to a play to talk about potentially hiring her for a full-time job. Afterwards, she says that he grabbed and non-consensually kissed her. He would go on to sexually approach her for weeks while her potential new position hung in the air, she said.

Carter alleges she got the job soon after he started a sexual relationship with her, which Hopkins insisted they keep secret. When she tried to sever ties with him, Carter claims he consequentially took efforts to make her job harder. He then forced her to give him oral sex in a closet, Carter says. She quit in 2006. Hopkins says that he did not have any “non-consensual contact” with Carter.

Jess Reynolds, then 36, says that she met with Hopkins for dinner in 2007, where he would go on to force a kiss with her and press against her. He denied having “any nonconsensual relations” with Reynolds, who he had also instructed years ago.

Megh Toth (née Healy), who formerly worked for Youth Education in the Arts, says that Hopkins climbed on top of her in bed in a hotel room on a work trip in 2006 and began kissing her. She stopped him just short of raping her, she told The Inquirer. Hopkins denied that as well.

An additional accuser, who wished to remain unnamed in the article in The Inquirer, also worked for the organization after being a Cadet. She says that Hopkins would frequently make inappropriate sexual comments and inquire about her sex life after sharing bits about his own. In response, Hopkins’ attorney told The Inquirer that Hopkins never discusses his personal life at work.

Subsequently, two more women came to The Inquirer with accusations against Hopkins following the first article. Jessica Beyer (née Wilson), also a former YEA! employee, says that Hopkins forced her to perform oral sex on him in his apartment and would text her asking about sex, as well as make inappropriate comments in the workplace about her appearance. Another employee, who asked to remain anonymous in The Inquirer article, says that after drinks with coworkers in 2006, Hopkins kissed her in the parking lot, causing her to cover her face with her hands and leave. Although she was laid off shortly thereafter, she had dinner with Hopkins in 2010 to talk about a drum corps rules change that she felt would have a negative effect on her team.

When she ordered a beer, she alleges that Hopkins pressured her into taking a shot, and after she drank it, felt extraordinarily disoriented, to which Hopkins would tell her she wasn’t in shape to drive. He drove her to his home, where she says he brought her wine when she asked for water, and then took her to his room to rape her. When the paper printed this article, they stated that Hopkins did not respond to their calls and texts about the new accusations.

Together, the alleged misconduct spans close to 40 years. Drum Corps International has taken the entire ordeal into serious consideration regarding how to protect the safety of the entire community from occurrences like this in the future. As for the DCI and YEA! communities, the question remains: how can we move forward from this? And how can it never happen again?

“Our intent is to prevent any future instances and change the culture within our organization as the world continues to change around us,” says Dan Acheson, CEO and international executive director of Drum Corps International. “DCI is heartbroken to read the stories of the women in the published accounts. As we move forward, the most important thing for us as an organization is to take steps to make sure these types of incidents never occur again.”

According to Acheson, even prior to these allegations coming to the attention of YEA! in January, the community had already implemented a plan to protect and maintain the safety of DCI participants.

“DCI began a strong focus on participant safety well over a year ago as part of our strategic planning process,” he explains. “One of the primary objectives of the plan contains an emphasis on this topic with a full section devoted to participant health, safety, and well-being. Since adopting the new strategic plan in 2017, the board of directors has been enacting every action outlined in the plan according to the schedule and has even accelerated the timeline on several of the provisions. We have reaffirmed the process of reporting within individual organizations and strengthened the compliance policy.”

In addition, the DCI website now includes a section on ethics and compliance, which features a “Participant Safety” link in the main menu bar for reporting “concerns, alleged non-compliance, or incidents of misconduct with the option to remain anonymous,” he says.

“Perhaps most importantly, we have recently released the new DCI Community Code of Conduct and Ethics Guidelines, which includes clear definitions of many forms of misconduct, measures for individual and organizational accountability, and mandatory reporting guidelines,” Acheson notes. “It also sets forth DCI’s expectations from its participating organizations, while also recognizing the different state laws applicable in each participating organization’s home state.”

DCI has affirmed that these new standards are imperative to fostering a community without any kind of bias and harassment. Together, all of these new additions to DCI policy and proceedings can safeguard against any similar behavior from any DCI community member in the future. And, to put it simply, the year is 2018: we can all do better to prevent this from happening in all areas of our lives.

“Standards and expectations are changing, as must our own. Behavior that demeans, harasses, or reflects bias against another member of our community is not acceptable, in any context,” Acheson says. “Ensuring a positive, safe and welcoming environment has always been a top priority for the board and the executive staff. Through these new standards, we seek to advance that goal while promoting greater awareness and clarity of DCI’s values and expectations. With all these elements working together and with continual improvements, we can safeguard the participants in all of our activities.”

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