Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Buchtel Coach Accused of Sexual Battery

Some thoughts on Claude Brown, Buchtel High School’s football coach and his arrest yesterday.

From the latest report in the ABJ, it looks bad for him – police are alleging he confessed. But this is a heartbreaking story no matter how it turns out. Brown has been a successful coach in the city’s most challenged high school. He has been extremely successful with a gaudy win percentage. Among other things, he sent Antonio Pittman off toward a promising pro career. Most importantly, he was in the position a male role model in a part of Akron that needs all it can get. In short, he’s a guy you hope you can get behind. But all that’s gone now.

As to the charge, the term “sexual battery” sounds more like a crime of force. Police are now saying that the sexual relationship was consensual, which was what I read into the early reports. My guess, then and now, is that he was charged under subsection (A)(7) which reads:

    (A) offender, when any of the following apply:

    (7) The offender is a teacher, administrator, coach, or other person in authority employed by or serving in a school for which the state board of education prescribes minimum standards pursuant to division (D) of section 3301.07 of the Revised Code, the other person is enrolled in or attends that school, and the offender is not enrolled in and does not attend that school. R.C. § 2907.03.
So like the police spokesman said, the crime is one of violation of trust and abuse of position.

The Ohio statutes proscribing sexual conduct with minors were written with an elegance not usually seen in criminal law. At every level you can see the concerns about differences in power between children and adults. For example, sexual conduct is a serious crime regardless of consent for any adult with a child younger than 15. From 13-15, an alleged offender can offer a defense that he (usually it’s a he, but I’ve prosecuted women, especially under this section) reasonably believed the victim was older than 15. For children 12 and under, the offender’s belief about the age of the victim is irrelevant. It’s one of the few instances in criminal law of what we call strict liability – the offender is guilty regardless of his mindset about the victim’s age.

The levels of offenses also reflect concerns about relative position and power. If the victim is under 12, the crime is rape, a first degree felony. From 13-15 it’s “Illegal Sexual Conduct with a Minor,” and the level of offense varies depending on how much older the perpetrator is than the victim.

Which brings us back to Mr. Brown. Generally, sex with a 17 year-old isn’t specifically defined as a crime. In some jurisdictions the state can get away with a charge of Contributing to the Delinquency of a Minor, but that doesn’t fly in Summit and is a Misdemeanor 1 in any event. It’s Brown’s status as a coach and teacher in the victim’s school that elevates the crime to a felony.

Which is as it should be. First off, there’s consent and then there’s consent. Rather than wade through the thicket of authority over the student and what the parties beleived when, whether a student might have feared retribution for refusing or sought advantage by consenting and whether there was real harm done and all that stuff that a judicial system simply can’t be equipped to do, the law simply says don’t do it.

But even if we assume for the time being that the relationship was truly consensual – and we can bet Brown will have defenders who shout loudly that it was -- it’s still wrong. Teenagers get crushes, sometimes on much older adults. That doesn’t mean it’s good for them or anyone else to consummate the relationship. An adult in a position of trust and responsibility is charged with, well, being the adult. He’s supposed to make the mature, responsible, healthy choice. From what we can tell, Coach Brown didn’t. And everyone loses.


Anonymous said...

I saw this yesterday, but figured I'd let you handle it.

All I could think was WTF?