Attorney: JFK case began two years ago
BRACEVILLE – The lawyer representing 11 former John F. Kennedy High School students who say they were sexually abused by a baseball coach in the mid-1980s said he was first contacted more than two years ago by someone who lives in Massachusetts.
Over the course of those two years, Boston-based attorney Mitchell Garabedian, who has worked with victims of abuse by clergy for several years, found 10 more people who said they were abused at the hands of Brother Stephen P. Baker, a Franciscan brother, who was the Eagles’ baseball coach and athletic trainer when the abuse took place between 1986 and 1990. The person who contacted Garabedian in Massachusetts was one of the 11 victims.
Garabedian spoke by telephone at a news conference at the Holiday Inn Express sponsored by the Road to Recovery, an organization that helps victims of sexual abuse at the hands of Catholic Church clergy and employees.
Also on hand were two of Baker’s victims, who did not want to give their names or be photographed. One of the men said he still lives in the area. The other man declined to say where he lives now.
Both men said they went through counseling for several years and were coming forward now to encourage victims of sexual abuse to get help.
The Youngstown Diocese, which oversees the school, released a statement saying that they were not made aware of the allegations until almost 20 years after the abuse occurred and when they found out, they reported the cases to the Trumbull County Children Services Board.
The diocese urged anyone who has been abused to report the abuse to both civil authorities and the diocese.
Garabedian said Wednesday that the victims settled for ”five figures” each and he has since been contacted by a 12th victim. The case never reached a courtroom and was settled through arbitration over four days last summer. The settlement was finalized in October and includes no admission of any wrongdoing on the part of the three religious entities.
The attorney said he was pressed to reach a settlement since civil statutes of limitations were running out. ”But this isn’t about the money. This is about closure and about clients that have to heal,” Garabedian said.
Nancy Yuhasz, a spokeswoman for the diocese, said Baker was at the school from 1986 to 1991. She said she did not know where he went before or after his tenure at JFK because the Franciscan order assigns priests and brothers to schools, not the diocese.
Robert Hoatson, co-founder and president of Road To Recovery, said the two planned to speak out earlier but they postponed that after the school shooting in Newtown, Conn.
Garabedian said he thinks Baker is still abusing young boys and men because he is a serial pedophile and they are only stopped by jail. He said there should be an independent investigation of the school for the years the 11 say they were abused.
The two men said the majority of the abuse happened when Baker would tell them they were injured and needed treatment for their injuries. He also repeatedly groped students in the hallways, which became sort of normal and the joke among those in the know was to stay away from Baker.
”It (groping) contributed to the atmosphere of it not being a big deal,” one of the men said.
Garabedian claims the abuse also occurred in the athletic trainer’s room, school hallway, Baker’s classroom and on trips to Columbus and Virginia.
One of the men said after awhile, players would not report injuries because that would mean Baker would want to treat them.
”Unless there were dire circumstances you didn’t go in there (training room),” the man said.