Facebook photo of Austin Hopkins’ lawyer posing on Santa’s lap draws criticism

Social media posts by a lawyer defending a former Springboro teacher facing 36 child-sex charges involving first-grade girls in his class upset parents involved in the case.

David Anthony Chicarelli posted pictures of him sitting on Santa Claus’ lap Wednesday after describing John Austin Hopkins’ alleged criminal behavior with first-grade girls in his class as “nothing more than any Santa Claus would do when a small child sits on their lap, especially if they are upset, crying or disturbed. Which is clearly the case in many of these videos.”

Hopkins, 25, of Springboro, faces three dozen charges related to 28 girls in his gym class at Clearcreek Elementary School in Springboro.

He is on an electronic monitor while on house arrest at his parents’ home. He is not allowed to be around children, including relatives during the holidays.

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The motion with the holiday reference was among defense filings Tuesday. Chicarelli and his father, David Allen Chicarelli, are preparing for a pretrial hearing on Dec. 10 in the case, which is scheduled for trial in January. They said critics of the social-network posts were mistaken.

On Wednesday, posts on Facebook and Instagram of Chicarelli on Santa’s lap enraged parents close to the criminal case, prompting a hail of negative comments.

Some of the parents are also part of a federal lawsuit pending against Hopkins, the Springboro school district and employees.

“To make a joke about the seriousness of an allegation of a sexual assault on 28 first-grade girls, it was very classless and disappointing,” said John Pawelski, a Springboro parent and director of the Miami Valley Crime Prevention Association.

Pawelski, also a sheriff’s deputy in Indiana, said he understood Chicarelli, a Springboro High graduate, was charged with defending Hopkins, but criticized the posting, headlined “No comment,” so close to the filing of the motion also referring to Santa’s lap.

“He’s directly relating to his representation,” Pawelski said. “To make a joke and put it out on social media, that’s not professional.”

Pawelski said the posts mocked the alleged victims and their families.

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The elder Chicarelli said the photo with Santa was taken during a Dayton Area Board of Realtors Toys for Tots fund-raiser.

“Everybody was sitting on Santa’s lap and making donations,” David Allen Chicarelli said.

“This has nothing to do with anything,” he added. “It’s not making light of anything.”

Warren County Prosecutor David Fornshell said in response to the Santa’s lap reference in the motion: “I’m not sure what Santa Claus he took his kids to.” The elder Chicarelli said Fornshell’s comment was inappropriate.

On Thursday, Fornshell said the Facebook post “speaks for itself.”

Asked if the post was appropriate for a lawyer involved the Hopkins case, Fornshell added, “Our 100 percent focus is on prosecuting this case. Not the sideshow.”

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