A three-month investigation resulted Monday in the arrest of a former Springboro teacher accused of sexually touching 28 first-grade girls during class and prompted a promise to “effect changes” in the district from a lawyer representing several parents.
John Austin Hopkins, 25, of Springboro, was indicted on 36 counts of gross sexual imposition involving more than two dozen girls younger than 13 years old in his class at Clearcreek Elementary School in Springboro.
The charges stem from a grand jury review of Hopkins’ “sufficiently questionable” touching of 88 girls in more than 100 incidents and triggered by a complaint to school officials in March, according to Warren County Prosecutor David Fornshell.
Fornshell said his office realized “this was going to be bigger than anything we’ve ever handled, in terms of potential victims.”
“We’re pleased he’s finally behind bars,” said Angela Wallace, a lawyer representing 28 of the 88 girls whose interactions with Hopkins during class were the subject of an investigation by the Springboro Police Department and Warren County Prosecutor’s Office.
Wallace said “our primary goal” is to “effect some real changes” in the district “to ensure that the girls are protected.”
Wallace said Hopkins had a doorbell alerting him when someone entered his class and that her clients wanted “to make sure this sort of thing never happens again” in Springboro.
Fornshell confirmed the presence of a doorbell, but said there were others on classroom doors in Springboro.
“The gymnasium did have a doorbell, however it did not signal when people entered. Based on the investigation, and evaluation walk-throughs by administration, the gymnasium door was never locked during class time,” Scott Marshall, the district’s communication coordinator, said in an email.
“Other teachers’ classrooms had a doorbell (not all), as classroom doors (not the gymnasium) are typically closed and locked during class,” Marshall added in response to questions about the doorbells.
Wallace said the school district failed to oversee Hopkins’ class as required by state law, delaying discovery of the alleged child sex crimes.
School officials should have watched the video or discovered what was going on by going into his class as part of required evaluations, Wallace said.
“This would have been discovered long before March,” Wallace told WHIO-TV after the hearing.
Contrary to Wallace’s claims, Marshall said, “Hopkins had in-person evaluations by administration, along with both a pre- and post- conference, during the 2018-2019 school year.”
Hopkins resigned from his job with the school district on March 12. He also resigned from a job as swim coach at the Coffman YMCA in Springboro.
Hopkins was arrested at 10:10 a.m. at the Springboro Police Department and booked into the Warren County Jail at 12:28 p.m., according to jail records.
He remained in the jail without bond Monday, awaiting arraignment scheduled for 1 p.m. Wednesday.
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The alleged sexual conduct occurred between Dec. 12 and March 6, according to the indictment.
The charges stem from an investigation — based primarily on security video taken in the gym — begun in March after police received a report of inappropriate physical conduct with a first-grade female student.
“We were able to identify 88 female first-grade students who had some type of physical interaction with Mr. Hopkins,” Fornshell said during a press conference Monday. “His focus definitely was on the little girls.”
Fornshell said all of the incidents included in the indictment essentially happened in the open view of other children in the area of the Clearcreek Elementary School gym.
Hopkins placed many of the girls on his lap in a sexual manner and reached up under their shirts and reached up skirts and touching buttocks, Fornshell said.
Hopkins’s lawyer, Ed Perry, declined to comment.
The school district placed Hopkins on administrative leave on March 8 over possible misconduct.
“This has been a very long wait,” Wallace said Monday.
Rather than charge Hopkins earlier, Fornshell said his office decided to build the entire case and show all the video during the special grand-jury session to show Hopkins’ “pattern of conduct.”
“You want the grand jury to see the extent of the conduct,” Fornshell said.
Since Hopkins resigned, authorities were unconcerned about Hopkins remaining free, while they built the case.
“We didn’t have a concern he was still going to be interacting with these children in this context,” he said.
Fornshell said they were also in contact with Hopkins’ lawyer.
“We didn’t have a real strong concern for him to flee the jurisdiction,” Fornshell said.
Although Hopkins worked as a substitute in previous years and at the Y, prosecutors have no evidence of other children being victimized, Fornshell said.
Fornshell said girls competed for Hopkins’ attention.
“One of the girls was convinced they would be married ‘when she got older,’ ” Fornshell said.
Fornshell encouraged parents to make sure their children understand the limits of “appropriate touching.”
He said some families, the victims and their parents, would be dealing with this for years.
Fornshell indicated he expected Hopkins’ defense would attempt to show the touching was not for sexual gratification.
“I’m sure that will be the defense,” Fornshell said.
Hopkins faces up to five years in prison on each count, but Fornshell cautioned that the sentence was unlikely to be much longer on the current charges.
Forensic interviews with the victims were also conducted, but much of the evidence comes from the videos shot during Hopkins’ gym classes, viewed over more than 500 hours during the police investigation. The system retained the video for three months.
Over the past two months, two prosecutors reviewed video identified through the police investigation to build the case on Hopkins.
“They loved him as a teacher because of the amount of affection he was showing them,” Fornshell said. “What these kids didn’t realize was this was completely inappropriate and criminal.”
WHIO-TV Reporter John Bedell contributed to this report.
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