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Out of bounds: NBC 5 investigates local coaches accused of abusing their players

According to that analysis, 135 Chicago-area coaches have been fined, suspended, disciplined, or convicted of sexual abuse or misconduct since 2010. The ongoing investigation of criminal cases, teacher firings, and disciplinary records from sports organizations has uncovered a variety of misconduct that may or may not lead to termination, loss of license, or state perpetrator registration. of sexual offences.

More than two-thirds of the coaches we identified have been accused of abusing student-athlete dependants, who are almost always teenagers or children. Problem coaches span a wide range of sports and schools, from elementary through high school to college. Some have been repeat offenders, exposing holes in a system that lacks comprehensive monitoring or oversight.

These cases often involve grooming, defined by RAINN as “manipulative behaviors that the abuser uses to gain access to a potential victim, force her to accept the abuse, and reduce the risk of getting caught.” NBC 5 experts spoke to said coaching presents a special opportunity for grooming.

Coaches can spend many hours with athletes outside of the school setting and can more easily blur the lines of normal interest and attention in a student’s life to intrude into something that becomes dangerous. Teachers may also have the opportunity to improve the lives of their students; but coaches, by the nature of their roles, have more unsupervised contact, especially at night and on weekends.

Former Legal Prep Charter Academy basketball coach Jamel Helaire-Jones is a local coach accused of abusing his players, one of whom has come forward with his history of sexual abuse as a 17-year-old. “I didn’t really interact with him until my senior year,” said the former player, who agreed to be identified as Jane. She filed a civil lawsuit against Helaire-Jones and Legal Prep, detailing her alleged abuse over several months in 2018.

Jane said in her gown that Helaire-Jones would show many of her players individual attention. He worked with specific players on their skills during practice, as many good coaches do, and also monitored his players via SMS. “He was just asking me how my day is, how I’m doing, I’ve eaten,” said Jane. “Just normal stuff, normal stuff like that… It was okay at first, because I’m like ‘Okay, he just wants to know how I’m doing because I’m one of his players, so maybe that’s how he coaches. [He wants to] check his players.'”

In her lawsuit, Jane said Helaire-Jones regularly gave her and other players a ride home after practice. The suit details a night in which she said they were alone in the car when she took a detour. “He pulled into an alley and then parked and then took his private parts out,” Jane said. “I looked at it and he looked at it and he was like, ‘Do you want to suck it?’ And I’m like, ‘No.'”

In her lawsuit, Jane alleged other inappropriate behavior by her coach over the course of her senior year. Helaire-Jones, according to the lawsuit, tried to grab her breast on two occasions; he kissed her; he asked her to perform oral sex; he sent her several explicit text messages; and sexually assaulted her in the gym. Helaire-Jones’ attorney declined to comment on the lawsuit. Legal Prep also declined to comment, citing ongoing litigation.

“He was a methodical groomer,” said Yao Dinizulu, Jane’s attorney.

Helaire-Jones also faces a lawsuit brought by another Legal Prep student, who claimed she was also abused by the coach in 2018. Dinizulu said text messages Helaire-Jones sent to Jane and others other student were eventually discovered by a parent, then by administrators, and finally by the Chicago police.

According to the lawsuit, Helaire-Jones was fired from Legal Prep on November 30, 2018. Cook County prosecutors charged Helaire-Jones with seven counts of felony sexual assault in the two legal prep cases. He pleaded not guilty and his attorney declined to speak to NBC 5 Investigates about the criminal charges as well as the second lawsuit. Jane’s lawsuit alleged that the home runs and repeated flattering comments established a pattern of seemingly caring behavior that would eventually become predatory.

“It builds another layer of trust, because you [have] to remember: Mr. Jones was actually, not only was he a coach, but he was a dean,” Dinizulu said. “There was a sense of authority, a sense of respect that was due to him, by the nature of the title that was entrusted to him by Legal Prep.”

For weeks, NBC 5 Investigates has been monitoring cases of local coaches who have been credibly accused or convicted of sexual misconduct. The process isn’t simple and that’s part of the problem. We searched through a variety of sources: local news; criminal cases; civil cases; teacher dismissal proceedings, state boards of education revoking teaching licenses, settlement agreements, and “forbidden” and “unfit” lists published by the US Center for SafeSport – an organization established in 2018 to address the problem coaches issue – as well as lists published by Olympic-sanctioned organizations for individual sports in the United States

In all, NBC5 Investigates has collected records on nearly 250 coaches, and we continue to review the stories of dozens of additional coaches, ranging from Little League and youth sports to public and private school coaches, to coaches at the college and professional level. Most are in close proximity to Chicago; others are in the state of Illinois or Indiana. Most have been credibly accused or convicted of sexual abuse in the years since 2010; others have been charged or convicted before.

Whether these coaches are fired, placed on the state’s sex offender registry, or legally punished depends on the specifics of each case. The offender registry and schools that implement background checks can help filter out coaches with questionable backgrounds.

But NBC 5 found the process to be piecemeal at best, with no single comprehensive system that monitors and disciplines objectionable coaches. And we’ve found that there’s no consistent way for athletes or their families to trace a prospective coach’s past.

Jane’s lawsuit alleged that there were major problems with how Helaire-Jones was hired by Legal Prep, accusing the school of hiring Helaire-Jones before she passed the required background check. “There was plenty of extensive information for anyone curious enough about their students’ safety to at least do a survey to find out more and, in this case, not hire him,” Dinizulu said.

More about Helaire-Jones’ past and what happened to Legal Prep will be explored in part two of Out of Bounds, airing Tuesday night.

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