Former USU music student suing staff member for $300,000 for sexual assault and sexual battery

Dennis Hirst, who is named in a complaint as the person who allegedly sexually assaulted a USU student in the early 1990's.

CACHE COUNTY, Utah — A former Utah State University piano student is seeking $300,000 in damages for allegedly being assaulted by an employee when she was 17-years-old.

According to a complaint and jury demand filed Monday in First District Court, the victim and plaintiff in the lawsuit was a participant of Utah State University’s (USU)’s piano instruction program for pre-college aged youths. The program, called the Youth Conservatory, is staffed primarily by USU piano majors.

The complaint stated that in 1987, the plaintiff began studying piano at the Youth Conservatory at the age of 11-years-old. The plaintiff’s family often traveled 180 miles between USU and her home in Idaho to attend piano lessons.

In the fall of 1993 when the plaintiff was 16-years-old, she enrolled in USU as a freshman piano performance major. She turned 17 in October of that year, the complaint stated.

At about the same time the plaintiff turned 17, the complaint said she met Dennis Hirst, who was a recent graduate of Bowling Green State University in Ohio, where he studied music. After graduating college, Hirst approached professor Gary Amano for a job in the youth conservatory.

Earlier this year, USU released a report saying students alleged that Amano had exhibited attitudes and behavior that showed gender discrimination against students. The report said that Amano told his students that, “men should get more opportunities because they are likely to become ‘breadwinners,’ whereas female students are likely to become nothing more than housewives and neighborhood piano teachers.” Amano, who had been on a sabbatical at the time of the investigation, retired shortly after the report was released.

Hirst was hired to work in the Youth Conservatory office by Amano, where the complaint states he met the plaintiff through her boyfriend at the time. The complaint said the victim and Hirst often dined out together, and a group of friends hung out at Hirst’s apartment “several times during that school year.”

The complaint stated that the plaintiff’s boyfriend moved to Salt Lake City in the spring of 1994. Despite the boyfriend moving, the plaintiff continued to spend time and socialize with Hirst. The complaint stated that the plaintiff considered Hirst her friend, but she did not have any sexual interest in him.

“Unbeknownst to [the plaintiff], however, Dennis had interest in her and was confiding that interest to Professor Amano,” the complaint said.  During this period, the plaintiff and alleged victim was still 17-years-old, and Hirst was 23.

According to the complaint, Hirst invited the plaintiff over to his apartment in Logan alone three times. During these visits, the complaint stated that Hirst made sexual advances, that continued to escalate until the third visit when the plaintiff awoke to Hirst graphically sexually assaulting her.

Following the alleged sexual assault, the complaint said Hirst had confided what happened to Amano, who informed the plaintiff’s parents what was going on.

“Professor Amano was angry because [the plaintiff’s boyfirend] had been told that Dennis and [the plaintiff] were having sex, and that had interfered with [the plaintiff’s boyfriend]’s ability to prepare for and perform well at his piano competition,” the complaint wrote.

Following the assault, the victim filed a police report and went to a gynecologist, who confirmed that she had been sexually assaulted, the complaint stated.

Police attempted to speak to Hirst, but he refused without an attorney present. They did not pursue the matter any further, the complaint said.

The complaint alleges that the plaintiff has had “constant, violent nightmares,” suicidal thoughts, and many flashbacks because of the alleged assault.

“In 1998, [the plaintiff] married, and from the fall of 2007 through the spring of 2009, Dennis repeatedly walked the sidewalk in front of [the plaintiff’s] home, stopping and staring at [her] and her children. These actions aggravated the ongoing emotional distress that [the plaintiff] was experiencing,” the complaint said.

The plaintiff is seeking $300,000 for damages sustained during and after the alleged assault.