Crime

Catholic officials, parents interpreted ‘inappropriate texts’ from coach as teenage crush

Woman says Catholic officials covered up abuse by O’Fallon coach for years

A woman is suing St. Clare Catholic School and the Diocese of Belleville. She says she was sexually abused for years by a coach at St. Clare and although four officials knew about the abuse, they did not report it.
Up Next
A woman is suing St. Clare Catholic School and the Diocese of Belleville. She says she was sexually abused for years by a coach at St. Clare and although four officials knew about the abuse, they did not report it.

The athletic director of a Catholic school in O’Fallon knew about inappropriate texts a school coach reportedly sent a 15-year-old student for at least a year before firing him, according to recently obtained police documents.

Thomas Fischer at St. Clare Catholic School was interviewed by O’Fallon police in March in connection with a lawsuit that would later be filed Aug. 20.

The lawsuit, in which the girl is referred to as Jane Doe, says St. Clare coach Michael Giordano sexually abused her from 2009 through 2014.

In the lawsuit, Jane Doe’s lawyer argues Fischer and three former principals employees, who worked for the Diocese of Belleville and St. Clare, intentionally concealed her abuse in order to preserve the reputations of both institutions.

Fischer did not respond to requests for comment on these police reports.

After being fired from St. Clare, police reports state Giordano went on to coach at Blessed Sacrament Catholic School in Belleville.

Police investigate

In Februrary and March, O’Fallon police interviewed Fischer, two social workers at O’Fallon Township High School and Jane Doe after Doe’s lawyer made a report with police about the abuse accusations.

Police documents recently obtained by the BND through a Freedom of Information request contained summaries of the interviews.

Detective K. Effan met with Fischer on March 6 at St. Clare School, according to one police report.

Effan wrote Fischer said Jane Doe’s parents called him in April 2011 and said Doe was receiving “inappropriate texts” from Giordano.

At the time, Jane Doe was 15.

Fischer, who told police he and Jane Doe’s father were close friends, met to discuss the texts with Doe’s parents.

Jane Doe’s parents and Fischer decided Jane Doe “had a crush” on Giordano, Fischer told police during the interview. Fischer met with Giordano and told him to notify him if he had any more contact with Jane Doe.

Giordano was not fired from his position at this time.

The police report does not specify what material was contained in the inappropriate texts Fischer was referring to. However, according to Doe’s lawsuit, Giordano started sending Jane Doe sexually suggestive texts and explicit photos of himself to her in the 2009-10 school year.

According to Illinois law, school personnel are legally required to report sex offenses against a child. The law also states it is illegal to knowingly send sexually explicit images to a minor.

A year after Fischer met with Doe’s parents, they told Fischer that Giordano had been in contact with Jane Doe, according to the police interview report. Fischer met with Giordano, who denied he had been in touch with Jane Doe.

After Doe’s parents told the athletic director of this contact, Fischer said he fired Giordano in 2012.

Giordano told Fischer he had already retained an attorney. According to the police report, Fischer found this “to be very odd if Michael had not done anything wrong.”

After being fired from St. Clare, Giordano started coaching at Blessed Sacrament School in Belleville, Fischer told police.

Fischer also told police he had only talked to Jane Doe once about Giordano when she called him in April 2011.

Jane Doe’s lawsuit states that conversation occurred when she called Fischer in 2011 from the bathroom of her house and told him about the abuse. The suit stated he responded by telling the teenager “she didn’t know what she was talking about.”

Fischer told police he met with Jane Doe’s parents multiple times about Giordano. After Giordano was fired, Fischer contacted the Diocesan Office of Education in Belleville and told them what had happened.

The Diocese and the St. Clare Catholic School board were also named in the lawsuit.

‘Inappropriate behavior’

According to the 2018 report, Jane Doe told police the physical abuse occurred in Belleville, not in O’Fallon. The case was passed off to Belleville police.

Belleville police denied a Freedom of Information Act for reports on Giordano. According to police, the requested reports would:

  • interfere with pending law enforcement proceedings
  • create a likelihood that a person will be deprived of a fair trial;
  • disclose the identity of a confidential source and/or
  • obstruct an ongoing criminal investigation

O’Fallon police also spoke with two counselors at O’Fallon Township High School, where Jane Doe attended from 2010 to 2014.

Mike Engle and Mara Koerkenmeier both spoke with Jane Doe while she was a student, according to the police report. What Jane Doe told them specifically was redacted from police documents.

However, Engle told police Jane Doe “engaged in a lot of inappropriate behavior” and after graduating from high school she “was out of control.” Engle said Jane Doe would “text (him) at all hours of the night” and tell him she was drunk.

According to Jane Doe’s lawsuit, she went to Koerkenmeier’s office on Nov. 5, 2012, and broke down crying as she told her about Giordano’s abuse.

The social worker responded by calling Fischer to tell him what Jane Doe said, according to Jane Doe’s lawsuit.

Koerkenmeier did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Previous investigation

According to police documents, O’Fallon police conducted an investigation into allegations of abuse against Giordano in 2012.

In May 2012, the Department of Children and Family Services told O’Fallon police someone made a hotline call to them in April 2012 regarding Giordano.

A caller indicated a girl was in an inappropriate relationship with Giordano and he had been the girl’s 8th grade basketball coach at St. Clare School.

According to the suit, a friend reported the abuse to DCFS in 2012, the summer after Jane Doe’s sophomore year. It is not clear whether this is the April 2012 call referenced in the police report.

After the DCFS report, the suit states Giordano “continued to sexually harass and/or sexually groom and/or sexually abuse Jane Doe.”

A 2018 O’Fallon police report mentions the 2012 DCFS report and said Jane Doe’s parents were “not cooperative” with the investigation.

According to the 2012 police report, Jane Doe’s mother told police Jane Doe said “she was not going to talk about anything” and “she was satisfied with the situation” since Giordano was no longer working at the school. The report also says Jane Doe’s mother told police she had not made a counseling appointment for Jane Doe.

DCFS told police Giordano had an attorney and was not speaking to officials.

The investigation was closed pending further information due to a lack of statements from Jane Doe or Giordano, according to the report.

Kaley Johnson: 618-239-2526, @KaleyJohnson6

  Comments