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Former Lake Washington basketball coach Barry Johnson pleads not guilty to sexually harassing female student | UPDATE
Former Lake Washington boys basketball coach and instructional assistant Barry Johnson was placed on administrative leave in December despite the team’s success on the court. The coach never returned to the sidelines even though the Kangs played in the state tournament.
At the time, Lake Washington School District officials declined to comment on why Johnson was placed on leave. The coach resigned on March 13.
But according to the Kirkland Police Department, Johnson was charged April 3 with communicating with a minor for immoral purposes. Johnson pleaded not guilty to the gross misdemeanor on Tuesday morning at the Kirkland Municipal Court. Johnson is scheduled for a pretrial hearing on June 4.
Kirkland police submitted the criminal citation along with a probable cause affidavit on Jan. 13.
Johnson did not return phone calls from the Reporter.
According to the results of an internal investigation by the Lake Washington School District, obtained by the Reporter, a 17-year-old female Lake Washington High School student, who has not been identified, asked to be excused from class on Dec. 13, 2011. She wanted to alert a counselor that she believed she had been sexually harassed by Johnson, 38. The counselor took the issue to associate principal Prato Barone, who talked with the student and subsequently placed Johnson on leave with pay later that day. Parents of Lake Washington basketball players were also notified that day of the change via email, but were not told why Johnson was on leave.
Investigators determined that Johnson’s conduct could reasonably be interpreted as grooming and that he intended to peruse a sexual relationship with the female student.
According to the investigation, the incidents began in September 2011 when Johnson gave the female student a hug, which Johnson has admitted to but different witnesses have given contradictory accounts.
The inappropriate interaction between the two began to take a more dramatic turn when Johnson allegedly began to ask the student about her personal life.
Johnson was also found to have acted in direct conflict with the district’s personal conduct policies in other situations.
During a 2010-2011 evaluation, the district warned Johnson about maintaining professional boundaries with students after administrators voiced concern about his interactions with female students. But in the actual evaluation Johnson was given a grade of “satisfactory” in the student relations category. The only unsatisfactory marks Johnson received were in punctuality and quality of work, but he showed improvement from his prior evaluation.
He also allegedly made comments during the 2009-2010 volleyball season to another coach about female student-athletes.
In another incident last fall, Johnson admitted to calling the female student a slut in front of another LWHS employee and told investigators that he apologized for the comment, according to the district’s investigation.
In December 2011 Johnson allegedly used the word “Sandusky” as a euphemism to describe sexual acts between two men, referring to the scandal involving Penn State University former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky. He allegedly told a male student, while looking at the alleged 17-year-old victim, that those acts were okay if it was a 16- or 17-year-old female student because she would know what she was doing, according to LWSD documents.
And the issues with the female student are at the heart of the investigation.
Johnson purposefully sat closer to the alleged victim, in the back row, during the fourth-period class in which he was an instructional assistant. Many of the students in the class have corroborated this allegation.
“I would guess that Barry spends about 80 percent of his time in class with (the female student),” one witness told police. “As far as I know Barry is not assigned to one particular student or table.”
But the investigation alleges that Johnson would interact with the female student in a “flirtatious” manner. He even resorted to pulling the girl’s hair, purposefully bumped her chair if she was ignoring him and would make sure their feet would touch. He allegedly asked the student, “Why don’t you like that? When a guy likes a girl, he picks on them,” the documents continue.
Johnson admitted to asking the female student about her breakup with her boyfriend over text message during class on Nov. 10. Johnson said the female student initiated a discussion a few days later about her sexual preferences. The girl told investigators that Johnson initiated the inappropriate discussion before class.
During the conversation, Johnson allegedly asked the student inappropriate questions in which the student responded, according to LWSD documents.
In another instance, Johnson allegedly asked the victim inappropriate questions, including if she would have sex with someone his age or if she was a virgin.
On Dec. 12, Johnson “friended” the female student on Facebook. That night the teacher engaged in a texting conversation from his “Kanghoops” Facebook page where he allegedly asked for her phone number, asked personal questions and what it would take to become one of her “besties” or best friends, the investigation continued. The conversation also referenced the drug Ketamin, a horse tranquilizer. Johnson does not dispute the conversation, according to the investigation. The Facebook page and “friendship” with many students in social media directly violates the district’s policies. Johnson told investigators that he created the page to encourage support for the team and was trying to help students with drug and alcohol problems.
One student defended Johnson in a statement to police, saying he thought both the female student and Johnson “just took it too far.” He also told investigators that Johnson “helped him stay clean.”
Johnson and the female student had a conversation the next day in the cafeteria where he allegedly commented on the female student’s appearance, attempted to grab her hand, asked her if she was afraid of him and what her favorite drugs were. The female student told investigators the alleged conversation made her feel harassed and afraid.
A friend of the female student told police that “she decided to report (what was going on) after Barry asked, ‘are you afraid of me?’” The question alerted the alleged victim that Johnson knew what he was doing was wrong, according to the friend’s statement.
That same friend told police that Johnson’s hand was also seen brushing against the student’s breast. Johnson said that he apologized to the victim and that it was inadvertent.
The report also states that Johnson discussed his own drug use with students.
The female student sent out an email to Lake Washington basketball players, friends and classmates to explain what was going on. She began the email by stating that she would not make any false accusations and understood the magnitude of her accusations.
“Things like this could potentially ruin someone’s career. Their life,” the student wrote.
The student said she told Johnson to stop his behavior to no avail.
“Barry sexually harassed me. He made me uncomfortable. He made me dread coming to fourth period. It sucked. Well no, it more than sucked,” the student wrote. “It made me feel skeevy and icky. All I wanted after I left was a shower. I don’t think people realize that it doesn’t stop after you leave. It is always there, in the back of your mind, making you feel sick and slutty and stupid and guilty.”
She goes on to say that she became “frightened” of him.
“Frightened that maybe it would become more than comments, talk and invading questions,” she wrote.
She explained that she felt like people were blaming her for Johnson’s dismissal and apologized to the basketball team.
The LWSD gave Johnson the opportunity to resign from the coaching position via email on Feb. 27. Johnson, who is married and has children, officially resigned on March 13.
“Words do not adequately express the pain this situation has caused me and my family,” wrote Johnson in his resignation to the LWSD. “I am making the choice to move forward with my life and to find a new way to support my family. I realize that if I were to fully challenge these allegations and win, I would never feel comfortable at Lake Washington High School again.”