Friday, May 23, 2008

Cheerleader files lawsuit against coach who raped her

A former University of Tampa cheerleading coach’s victim filed a negligence lawsuit against the school saying that failure to perform background checks led to the assault.

Heather Wienclawski’s victimization by her cheerleading coach back in 2004, caused severe emotional distress which led to her not being able to complete her studies.

Chris Knopik, the victim’s attorney, says that UT put a sexual predator instead of a mentor in a position of trust.

"Young people in college will look at their professors and coaches as mentors. In this circumstance, it seems the University of Tampa put exactly the wrong person in this position."

The university was negligent in its hiring of [Thomas Andrew] Hall and should have known about his criminal history through background checks, the complaint said.

Hall had been arrested and charged with aggravated battery on a police officer and resisting an officer with violence in 1993, FDLE records show. He pleaded no contest to the charges.

The university "failed to take any action to investigate, reassign or discharge Coach Hall from the cheerleading squad when it became aware" of the charges that, the suit argued, made Hall unfit to serve as cheerleading coach.

The complaint also said the university failed to supervise and monitor Hall, evaluate his interactions with female cheerleaders and did not ensure that a female coach accompanied him.
According to the complaint and an arrest report, this is what happened on the night of Dec. 10, 2004:

Wienclawski told Hall that she was leaving the cheerleading squad to work as an intern in Orlando. The coach offered to take her out to celebrate and introduce her to business contacts. Wienclawski accepted the invitation, believing it was a good networking opportunity.

Hall picked up Wienclawski at her dorm and went to the Blue Martini bar at the International Plaza in Tampa. Later that night, a friend arrived to take Wienclawski home. Hall refused, saying he was responsible for Wienclawski and "that he felt obligated to ensure her safe return," the complaint said.

Hall and Wienclawski then left, but she kept asking her coach if he could take her to her friend's house or her dorm. Hall instead drove her to his home, according to a Tribune story published in 2004.

Wienclawski was raped at the house, the complaint said. She was "intoxicated and sick" at the time of the attack, according to a criminal arrest affidavit.

Hall pleaded guilty to a charge of sexual battery with slight force, according to FDLE records. He was sentenced to 6 years probation, a supervision program and lifetime sex offender registration.

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