William A. West
JEFFERSON_Two former Jefferson Area Local High School female athletes have filed a civil lawsuit against former Star Beacon Sports Editor and Jefferson Falcons coach Donald M. McCormack. McCormack was an assistant varsity girls basketball coach, junior varsity girls basketball coach and softball coach. McCormack was coaching the softball team in 2014 when he resigned for “personal reasons”.
The civil complaint with jury demand states that Jaime Wilson and Elizabeth “Lizzy” Ziemski are survivors of repeated sexual assaults and victims of fraudulent concealment of the same.
Wilson, of Mayfield Heights, and Ziemski, of Dorset, were subject to “months-long course of outrageous, perverted, and criminal conduct” from McCormack.
The complaint alleges his actions were enabled by defendants Jefferson Areal Local School District, Steven Locy, of Roaming Shores, as an individual and as JALSD athletic director, Rodney Holmes, of Dorset, both as an individual and as Jefferson Area High School girls basketball coach, Ashtabula Star Beacon and parent company Newspapers Holding Inc., of Birmingham, Ala., Ed Looman, of Columbus, former Star Beacon publisher, Neil Frieder, of Burton, former Star Beacon managing editor.
Also included as defendants are John Does 1-10, names and addresses unknown to plaintiffs, employees and former employees of JALSD, and John Does 11-20, names and addresses unknown to plaintiff, employees and former employees of the Star Beacon.
Wilson and Ziemski seek a judgement against the defendants, jointly for compensatory damages in excess of $25,000 calculated in an amount which will punish and deter the defendants from such conduct, prejudgement interest, a reasonable attorney fee, plus costs of the action and any other additional relief the court deems proper.
Wilson, a starter on the JAHS girls basketball team, alleges that McCormack “engaged in a reprehensible course of action to isolate and sexually prey upon her from 1999 to 2001.
Wilson’s complaint states that she suffered from repressed memory of the assaults and/or unsoundness of her mind as a result of McCormack’s behavior towards her in violation of Ohio Revised Code 1.02C and as referenced in ORC 2305.16.
McCormack offered her money and clothes as a way to lure her to Jefferson High School to play basketball in 1999. Wilson says that McCormack told her that she would have a better chance of securing a college scholarship.
Wilson states in her complaint that McCormack attempted to control her by 1. Offering cash and gifts, 2. Using his position at sports editor and his control of sports coverage to manipulate her as she sought a college basketball scholarship, 3. Threatening to to limit Wilson’s playing time while seeking a college basketball scholarship, 4. Enticing and encouraging her to drink alcoholic beverages, 5. McCormack acting hurt or disappointed to incur Wilson’s affection, 6. Accessed a computer he gave to Wilson from the Star Beacon in order to read and/or destroy electronic communications and spy on her; providing her with a job at the Star Beacon in order to get alone time with Wilson.
McCormack’s alleged control of Wilson resulted in multiple occasions of nonconsensual contact.
The complaint accuses all defendants other than McCormack of providing McCormack unlimited access to facilities and offices where he could be alone with the plaintiff and perform sexual assaults. Wilson’s complaint states that named defendants possessed actual and or constructive knowledge of McCormack’s propensity and unusual interest in underage students and the likelihood to perform unlawful activities to the plaintiff.
She also alleges that McCormack assaults took place at the Jefferson High School gym. If Wilson objected to McCormack’s behavior he would continue his physical and emotional assaults and write stories containing derogatory comments about her play. Wilson also alleges that McCormack surreptitiously took photographs of her at basketball practice and used them for his own sexual gratification. McCormack is alleged to have exhibited this type of behavior towards other minor females before he came into contact with Wilson with the other defendants knowing or should have known about his perverted behavior the complaint states.
It also states that all named defendants ignored evidence that assaults were going on when a reasonable person would have interceded. The defendants, by continuing to employ McCormack, aided in Wilson’s erroneous perception that nothing was wrong or illegal about McCormack’s conduct.
As the result of the concealment of facts and evidence, destruction of evidence, repression of memory and/or Wilson’s unsoundness of mind, she did discover that she was a victim of childhood abuse until approximately July of 2014.
1. ASSAULT: McCormack intentionally put Wilson in a reasonable apprehension of harmful, unwanted physical contact, including fear of rape and sexual assault.
2. BATTERY: McCormack intentionally committed two alleged harmful assaults with Wilson in which he touched and penetrated her vagina. McCormack is alleged to have kissed Wilson on the mouth, touched her thighs, posterior and breasts intentionally and nonconsensually.
3. SEXUAL BATTERY: McCormack, when in a position of authority, engaged in sexual conduct while Wilson was a minor and attending school where he coached.
4.INTENTIONAL INFLICTION OF EMOTIONAL DISTRESS: McCormack’s conduct directed at Wilson was repeated, outrageous, intolerable in a civilized society and extended beyond all bounds of decency. His actions caused the plaintiff extreme mental anguish and deep-seated emotional issues that have affected her every day since the conduct began.
5. LIABILITY PURSUANT TO O.R.C. 2307.60: Wilson was injured as a result of McCormack’s criminal actions and he is liable for Wilson’s injuries and damages.
Ziemski was mentioned in 374 articles published by the Star Beacon. She was named Star Beacon’s girl basketball player of the year for the 2008-09 season. Ziemski once held the Ashtabula County girls long jump record with a jump of 16-61/2 in 2009.
Her complaint states that McCormack began providing her gifts and a computer in his attempt to isolate her and gain her trust during the summer prior to Ziemski beginning the ninth grade in 2006 and thereafter. His actions culminated in non-consensual physical contact with Ziemski.
The counts against McCormack in regard to Ziemski
6. ASSAULT: McCormack intentionally put Ziemski in a reasonable apprehension of harmful, unwanted physical contact, including fear of rape and sexual assault.
7. BATTERY: McCormack intentionally committed harmful contacts with Ziemski and and allegedly one sexual assault in which McCormack placed placed his hands in her shorts. Ziemski suffered injuries and damages including severe emotional distress.
8. SEXUAL BATTERY: McCormack, when in a position of authority, engaged in sexual conduct while Ziemski was a minor and attending school where he coached.
9. INTENTIONAL INFLICTION OF EMOTIONAL DISTRESS: McCormack’s conduct directed at Ziemski was repeated, outrageous, intolerable in a civilized society and extended beyond all bounds of decency. His actions caused the plaintiff extreme mental anguish and deep-seated emotional issues that have affected her every day since the conduct began.
10. LIABILITY PURSUANT TO O.R.C. 2307.60: Ziemski was injured as a result of McCormack’s criminal actions and he is liable for Ziemski’s injuries and damages.
The counts against McCormack in regard to both Wilson and Ziemski
11. NEGLIGENT AND.OR RECKLESS CONDUCT: McCormack had a duty to avoid harming Wilson and Ziemski. McCormack breached said duty; acted in negligent and/or reckless manner causing injuries to Wilson and Ziemski.
The counts against the defendants Jefferson Area Local School District, Steven Locy, Rodney Holmes and John Does 1-10 (names and addresses unknown to plaintiffs)
12. NEGLIGENT HIRING, RETENTION, SUPERVISION AND/OR ENTRUSTMENT: McCormack was an employee of the JALSD and was supervised by Athletic Director Steven Locy and Rodney Holmes, varsity girls basketball coach. The defendants knew or should have known of McCormack’s incompetence as an employee and that his inappropriate conduct was committed during the course of his employment. The alleged offenses include physical touching of Wilson during basketball practices; traveling with Ziemski to basketball tournaments, giving McCormack a key to the athletic areas of the school where assaults took place and delivering threats of lost playing time, potential plaudits and a chance for a scholarship through evaluation and playing time. The re-hiring of him after suspicious voluntary resignations.
13. FAILURE TO REPORT – JALSD, STEVEN LOCY AND RODNEY HOLMES PURSUANT TO O.R.C. 2151.421: Defendants knew or had reasonable cause to suspect that Wilson and Ziemski, as minors, suffered child abuse and/or faced potential child abuse by McCormack. Defendants failed to report such abuse.
14. VICARIOUS LIABILITY – JEFFERSON AREA LOCAL SCHOOL DISTRICT
15. WANTON AND RECKLESS BEHAVIOR – JALSD, LOCY, HOLMES AND JOHN DOES 1-10: The defendants were reckless and wanton in failing to take reasonable actions to prevent sexual assaults of the plaintiffs and failing to report the alleged abuse to the required statutory authorities.
The counts against the defendants Star Beacon, Ed Looman, Neil Frieder and John Does 11-20 (names and addresses unknown to plaintiffs)
16. NEGLIGENT HIRING, RETENTION, SUPERVISION AND/OR ENTRUSTMENT: Defendants knew or should have known of the incompetence of McCormack and his inappropriate conduct that was committed during the course of his employment. McCormack’s incompetence included the alleged theft of photos of Wilson and alteration of them, printing of articles critical of plaintiffs. McCormack staying with Wilson after working hours under the pretense of doing actual work; stalking, observation and coverage of plaintiffs Wilson and Ziemski. The defendants’ alleged negligent hiring, training, supervision and retention of an incompetent McCormack caused Wilson’s and Ziemski’s injuries and therefore are liable for such injuries.
17. VICARIOUS LIABILITY – STAR BEACON
18. PUNITIVE DAMAGES: Plaintiffs incorporate each and every one of the foregoing allegations and assertions as though each were fully restated. The injuries suffered by Wilson and Ziemski were a direct result of each of the named defendants’ reckless, willful and wanton misconduct from which plaintiffs demand an award of punitive damages.
The plaintiffs are represented by Michael D. Goldstein (0075661) Goldstein &Goldstein Co., L.P.A. and Christian R. Patno (0047380) McCarthy, Lebit, Crystal & Liffman Co., L.P.A., both of Cleveland.
McCormack was arrested at his 67 E. Erie St. home in August 2014 on two counts of sexual imposition by the Ashtabula County Sheriff’s Department. The investigation after the Sheriff’s department received complaints about McCormack’s behavior from parents of current and former students.
McCormack was a 28-year employee of the newspaper and was the sports editor for the past 16 years. He was a Jefferson Area Schools girls’ junior varsity basketball coach, Jefferson assistant varsity girls basketball coach and most recently Jefferson varsity softball coach. McCormack resigned from his 2014 Jefferson Area School softball head coach position mid-season for personal reasons.
McCormack was arraigned in August 2014 before Eastern County Court Judge Robert Wynn on four felony charges in Jefferson. McCormack was charged with three counts of gross sexual imposition, class four felonies, and one count of endangering children, a class three felony. The charges stem from incidents that allegedly occurred in the years 1999 and 2000. McCormack’s bond was set at $25,000 or 10 percent or cash surety. He was represented by attorney John Fatica of Cleveland. He is not to contact the alleged victim in any way. McCormack is not to have contact with anyone under the age of 18.
On December 16, 2014, the Ashtabula County Grand Jury returned a seven-count indictment against Donald Michael McCormack, former Jefferson High School assistant girls basketball and head softball coach and former Star Beacon Sports Editor. The seven-count indictment charges Mr. McCormack with three counts of Sexual Battery, each of which are third degree felonies; one count of Endangering Children, a felony of the third degree; on count of Gross Sexual Imposition, a felony of the fourth degree; and two counts of Sexual Imposition, each of which are misdemeanors of the third degree.
The charges involved four female victims. In addition, Rodney R. Holmes, head girls basketball coach at Jefferson High School for several years who is presently on administrative leave by the Jefferson Area Local School District (JALSD), has been indicted by the Grand Jury on two counts of Failing to Report Child Abuse or Neglect under Section 2151.421 of Ohio Revised Code, both of which are first degree misdemeanors. On August 15, 2014, investigators from the Ashtabula County Sheriff’s Department commenced a lengthy investigation after the filing of complaints with the JALSD and the Ohio Department of Education in or about June 2014 by parents of current Jefferson High School students and players alleging inappropriate conduct by Mr. McCormack toward the student-athletes.
In particular, one former player – a victim of egregious sexual misconduct by McCormack – reported being recruited by McCormack from another school district to play basketball at and attend Jefferson High School (prior to open enrollment going into effect), and being provided by McCormack free rent at one of McCormack’s relative’s vacant apartments, cash, financial assistance and gifts during her junior year for the purpose of developing a sexual relationship with the child at the time.
It is further alleged that McCormack’s conduct and actions caused serious psychological harm to this particular victim. The sexual misconduct by McCormack was allegedly reported to Holmes, the head basketball coach of Jefferson High School since the 1980s who enlisted McCormack as an assistant coach in 1986 and who substantially relied on McCormack’s coaching assistance throughout the years.
Holmes failed to report such misconduct to authorities as required by law. Holmes was also allegedly present and observed other inappropriate conduct of McCormack towards players, yet failed to report such conduct to authorities. Over 80 witnesses were interviewed as part of the investigation conducted by the Ashtabula County Sheriff’s Department, with the assistance of the FBI and Ohio Attorney General’s Office Bureau of Criminal Investigation. Search warrants were obtained and searches executed at McCormack’s residence and the Star Beacon offices, among others. McCormack’s case will be litigated in the Ashtabula County Court of Common Pleas. Holmes case was transferred to Ashtabula County Juvenile Court.
McCormack,was arraigned before Ashtabula County Common Pleas Court Judge Ronald Vettel Dec. 30 on seven additional charges alleging improper sexual activity. Five of the charges are felonies, the other two misdemeanors. McCormack plead not guilty to the seven charges alleging improper sexual activity with high school girls he coached. Four victims have come forward with allegations against McCormack. He appeared in court with Cleveland attorney John Fatica. A large group of former players and their families attended the brief hearing.