Local theater director in court for sexual assault of teen actors

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Daniel Checovetes is in Waterbury court facing claims by three women that he used his position to sexually assault them as teenagers. (Submitted)

By ELIO GUGLIOTTI and BRIGITTE RUTHMAN

REPUBLICAN-AMERICAN

Lawsuits filed this month in Waterbury Superior Court by three women claim a Southington theater director used his position in three community theaters to sexually assault them when they were teenagers.

They allege Daniel Checovetes, 42, sexually assaulted them as teenagers after meeting them while they participated in and prepared for theatrical performances at various venues.

The lawsuits name the Naugatuck Teen Theater, Landmark Community Theatre Inc. in Thomaston, Northwest Connecticut Association for the Arts Inc. and the Warner Theatre in Torrington, the Thomaston Opera House Commission, the town of Thomaston and Checovetes.

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Checovetes, is originally from Bristol, having been a 1996 graduate of Bristol Central High School.In 2014, he served as director for the annual Older Members’ variety show, which is a fund raiser for the Boys and Girls Club of Bristol Family Center. He also worked with other local teen theater groups in the area, that have not been named in a lawsuit.

Allen Stone, artistic director for the OM show, said the show’s committee did not want to make a comment about Checovetes.

The lawsuits filed by attorney Jason E. Tremont are separate but similar. Attorney Tim Ramsey, who works with Tremont, said two of the women filed complaints with police “some years later,” but no investigations were launched and no arrests were made.

The three women, then 14 to 17 years of age and now in their 20s, have agreed to have their names used in legal documents, Ramsey said. The Republican-American and the Observer do not publish the names of alleged sexual assault victims.

“Knowing what happened, they don’t want it to happen to anyone else,” Ramsey said.”The types of things that happened were horrific. It was nonconsensual sexual assault.”

The defendants declined to comment.

“The Warner is unable to comment on pending legal matters but we are fully cooperating with the principals involved in this case,” said Brian E. Mattiello, chairman of the Warner’s board of directors.

One woman contends she met Checovetes in 2015 through a production at the Landmark Theatre, and he sexually assaulted her in 2015 and 2016. Another claimed she met him in 2008 and he sexually assaulted her in 2009 and 2010.

Checovetes did not return a message seeking comment. He has no pending criminal cases or convictions, according to state judicial records.

Asked whether criminal charges could still be lodged, Senior Assistant State’s Attorney Terri L. Sonnemann in Torrington said each case would need to be investigated separately. Criminal charges would depend on the teens’ ages, alleged sexual acts and any statutes of limitations that apply. He had access to girls as young as 6.

Thomaston First Selectman Edward Mone declined to comment last week saying only that he is aware the suits were filed and are “in the hands of attorneys.” The theater in Thomaston is part of the Town Hall complex.

The lawsuits say the sexual assaults occurred on the grounds of the theaters, in private rooms within them, as well as at other locations. The women are suing the theaters for allowing Checovetes to act freely with minors, and for failing to prevent the sexual assaults. They allege the theaters knew or should have known that he was sexually assaulting the teens and “had a propensity to sexually abuse and/or sexually assault and/or sexually exploit minor females.”

“It was commonly known” among theater participants that Checovetes had “unusual relationships” with minors, the lawsuits claim.

In a complaint against all three of the theaters, Checovetes is accused of causing “serious and permanent injury and damage” exacerbated and intensified by a lack of timely treatment.

Robert Rosa, chairman of the Naugatuck Teen Theater, declined to comment. The theater, founded in 1995, is a nonprofit organization. Its productions are open to high school and middle school students.

Checovetes most recently worked with the Little Theatre of Manchester, which suspended its relationship with him indefinitely after learning of the allegations. A statement issued by the theater said Checovetes worked with adult volunteers and his role didn’t directly put him in a position to oversee or to be alone with minors. The statement said there have been no allegations or observations of inappropriate behavior with Checovetes at the Little Theatre of Manchester, but the theater decided to sever ties with him.

“LTM takes allegations of this nature very seriously and prides itself on providing a safe and secure space for our staff, volunteers, artist and creative personnel,” the statement read.

Two of the three women who claim they were sexually assaulted as teenagers by theater director Daniel Checovetes filed complaints with police.

No arrests were made, though it’s unclear how much investigating police conducted in either case.

One of the complaints was made Dec. 28, 2017, to Southington police and the other to Thomaston police on Sept. 25, 2013.

Checovetes lives in Southington and hasn’t responded to requests for comment. His Facebook page and Twitter feed have been deactivated.

Police confirmed Tuesday the complaints were filed but said they couldn’t release further information or comment about details because the cases involved juveniles.

In Thomaston, the case was transferred to New Haven, where no case involving the name exists, police there said.

The Southington case was closed without action. Details about that complaint weren’t immediately disclosed and may not be available because it involved a juvenile teenager, Southington police Lt. Stephen Elliott said last Tuesday.

It’s unclear whether police will review the matters, which would involve consultation with prosecutors.

Usually, criminal prosecutions precede civil cases because the civil litigation can rely on the facts, circumstances and conviction revealed by a criminal case. A criminal case must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. In civil litigation, a preponderance of the evidence is the standard.

Statutes of limitations for sex crimes vary and have changed often over the years. The most serious cases — Class A felonies involving aggravated assault, the use of force, kidnapping or rape of a child under the age of 13, or cases involving the discovery of DNA evidence — have no limitations as a result of statutory changes in 2002. The statute of limitations in existence at the time of the alleged crime applies.

The statute of limitation for second-degree sexual assault, which is sex with an underage victim, is 30 years or five years after authorities were first notified.

Checovetes has until the end of the month to notify police whether he intends to hire an attorney or represent himself against the allegations, which were filed by attorney Jason E. Tremont.