SJ-O coach arrested; attorney's call set off sheriff's investigation
URBANA — A 19-year-old college student from St. Joseph is considering a lawsuit against a former high school coach, his principal, his superintendent and the school district for damages resulting from the coach inappropriately touching her while she was a high school student.
Urbana attorney Tom Bruno said Wednesday that he notified St. Joseph-Ogden High School district Superintendent James Acklin by fax of his intent to seek damages against him, Principal Brian Brooks, and the district on behalf of a young woman who was victimized by Jon Jamison over a period of years starting when she was 14.
Jamison, 33, of Fairmount, was criminally charged in Champaign County Circuit Court on Tuesday with two counts of criminal sexual assault for allegedly having sex with two other female students at St. Joseph-Ogden High School in 2003 and in 2006.
Jamison appeared in court Wednesday with his attorney, Tony Novak of Urbana, and had his case assigned to Judge Harry Clem. He is due back in court March 13 and remains free on bond.
The teen that Bruno represents and her parents came to him late last month with the allegations that Jamison, who was her summer basketball coach in 2007, had inappropriate physical contact with her — contact that Bruno said continued intermittently throughout her high school career at St. Joseph-Ogden High School.
Jamison, a 1996 graduate of the high school, has been on the staff there since 2001 in a variety of roles, including girls' basketball, track and cross-country coach, bus driver, and special education teacher, according to Acklin.
Jamison was put on paid administrative leave as of Tuesday morning, Acklin said.
It was Bruno's call to the Champaign County sheriff's office that sparked its investigation into Jamison's activity over the last few years with female students.
"She's the one who caused me to call the sheriff's office. I am representing her in civil claim against Jamison and against the St. Joseph-Ogden High School district," Bruno said.
Bruno said the contact between Jamison and his client fell short of the legal definition of criminal sexual abuse but was "clearly inappropriate."
Some time after the contact began, the girl was called to Acklin's office, according to Bruno.
"She was confronted by school officials who called her to the office and asked her about rumors they had heard. Because of the inappropriate scenario in which they confronted her and because she was a young high school freshman, her immediate reaction was to deny it.
"Had they followed the law and reported it to the Department of Children and Family Services and law enforcement, I have no doubt the authorities would have had a more skillful approach to interviewing a high school freshman than the awkward and sloppy way she was confronted in the school superintendent's office by the school superintendent and the principal. Her natural reaction was to deny it at the time," said Bruno.
Acklin adamantly denied that he or any member of his staff somehow failed Bruno's client.
"What my principal became aware of was that there might be something unprofessional as far as a teacher either calling or texting a student. That was it. That is not a DCFS call," said Acklin, an educator for more than 30 years.
Bruno said his client's "first and foremost concern was to make sure this didn't happen to anyone else. Her worst fears were confirmed when it became apparent in the last day or two ... that there were others. We're considering our options, but my client has clearly been damaged."
"We'll let the criminal process unfold, but I am putting the school district on notice they should be aware of this exposure," said Bruno.
State's Attorney Julia Rietz said sheriff's investigators have interviewed Jamison, who admitted contact with three girls. Investigators talked to only two of those three, she said, and are continuing to do interviews. Rietz said she's waiting for reports from the investigators before deciding if other charges should be filed.
Bruno said the teen didn't report her contacts with Jamison to any adults until a few months ago, when she shared it with her family, who ultimately decided to hire him to seek damages on her behalf.
Bruno said the physical contact continued while she was at the high school, including once on a bus while they were at an away game.
"He sent her a Facebook friend request three months ago when she was off at college. She declined his Facebook friendship," Bruno said.
Jamison is originally from Ogden and is married. Acklin served as Jamison's cross-country coach when Jamison attended the high school.