Former Queens Teacher Cyberbullied for Months, Lawsuit Alleges
QUEENS — A Fresh Meadows teacher and poet says he was the victim of a months-long cyberbullying attack earlier this year by former students or people posing as former students, according to court documents.
Vincent Tomeo, 65, a self-described poet and former history teacher at Francis Lewis High School, at 58-20 Utopia Parkway, says unnamed people harassed him by posting a litany of comments on at least nine different websites, including Facebook, RateMyTeachers.com and AllPoetry.com.
"When I walked into his office to ask him a homework question, he was all flush purple and unresponsive," one comment on RateMyTeachers.com allegedly read. "His head was tilted backwards, he was snoring and mumbling, and he even urinated himself."
Another comment on the website allegedly accused Tomeo of defecating in a classroom.
A self-described "ham" with a master's degree in history and museum studies, Tomeo would sometimes wear historically-inspired costumes while teaching, and even had students dance the jitterbug to teach them about the 1920s, according to a report in the Queens Chronicle.
Tomeo, who says he's published more than 600 poems and retired from teaching "with honors" in 2011, denies all of the statements made about him online, ranging from accusations of "lewd" and sexual acts to dealing and taking illegal drugs.
The harassment went on for about six months, Tomeo said, and he even had to contact RateMyTeachers.com to have the comments removed.
"It's really unsettling," Tomeo told DNAinfo New York. "Really graphic and nasty, and it was getting progressively worse."
Tomeo said the offenders created a fake account on PoemHunter.com and posted poems in his name.
The poems had titles like "Invading the Ladies Room," according to the suit. One poem, called "Being in Good Hands," allegedly contained the line, "On the principal's car, I drew many bright swastikas."
In addition to posting defamatory statements, Tomeo is accusing the offenders of posting photos of him on Facebook, Flickr, AllPoetry.com and the drug website INeedAHit.net, according to the complaint filed in Queens Supreme Court.
In one doctored image, Tomeo is shown "injecting drugs into his arm," according to the lawsuit, while another photo of Tomeo allegedly displayed a Nazi cartoon and swastika.
Tomeo is suing for defamation, violation of right to privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress. He and his lawyer, Joseph M. Brunner, are planning to subpoena Internet service providers to find out the commenters' and posters' identities.
Tomeo said he doesn't know who was responsible, but he doesn't believe the comments actually came from former students.
"I had a very good rapport with my students," Tomeo said. "Teaching gave me purpose. I loved every minute of it."