Scott Studer, the school’s former freshman boys basketball coach, pleaded guilty to eight counts of illegal use of a minor in a nudity-oriented material or performance, formally admitting he had secretly recorded dozens of his players and student-athletes since 2005.
Scott D. Studer betrayed the values he claimed to teach his basketball players each time he turned on his video camera and recorded the boys showering nude in their locker room.
Trust. Respect. Family.
“My bad decisions went against everything that I ever talked about,” the former Jackson High School freshman coach said Wednesday after pleading guilty to eight counts of illegal use of a minor in a nudity-oriented material or performance.
“I wish I could take it all back, make everything better for them, but I can’t. I hope someday they can find in their hearts to forgive me. But I understand if they can’t.”
Stark County Common Pleas Judge Frank Forchione sentenced Studer, 46, of Jackson Township, to a 15-year prison term, although Studer could be placed on probation after serving two-thirds of that sentence.
Studer, a part of Jackson’s basketball program for three decades, did a horrible thing to the players, their families, their school and the community, the judge said.
“When they think of you now, they’re going to think of you with disdain,” Forchione said.
The judge said he had taken into account Studer’s lack of a criminal record and cooperation with law enforcement, and underscored there has been no evidence presented that Studer shared the videos or improperly touched a student or athlete.
Studer has surrendered his state coaching certificate and must register as a sex offender for 25 years after he gets out of prison. He is barred from contacting any victim and banned from being a coach or attending Jackson school or athletic events.
Forchione also fined Studer $5,000. The money will go to families in Newtown, Conn., site of Friday’s school massacre.
“ ... Something good is going to come out of this very awful situation,” the judge said.
Studer’s plea was a public admission of conduct he confessed to investigators after the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and Jackson Township police searched his home at 5141 Pin Oak Ave. NW on Nov. 14.
The federal investigation is believed to concern the alleged purchase of child pornography, but during the search authorities found the shower videos Studer had been recording since 2005, sometimes more than 30 times per basketball season.
Based on the evidence, Studer made the final decision Wednesday morning to plead guilty, defense attorney James Haupt said.
Stark County Prosecutor John D. Ferrero said the victims and their families also wanted to bring the case to a quick end.
“I think these kids and their families need to move on and this is a good way to resolve it,” Ferrero said.
Police have identified more than 70 student-athletes from the recordings, mostly freshman basketball players and some baseball players.
Page 2 of 3 - However, given the length of time over which Studer made the recordings — each indictment count represents a basketball season — county prosecutors estimate there were 112 victims in all, said Assistant Stark County Prosecutor Chryssa Hartnett.
Only one victim stepped forward to speak in court.
The entire Jackson community has been devastated by Studer’s selfish and twisted behavior, the young man said.
“No apology could ever take this pain away, but everyone here can make it through this tough time,” he said. “It will only make us stronger.”
Hartnett read a handful of short letters from former players and their parents. Disappointment and betrayal, along with sadness and anger, were the overwhelming themes of the case, she said.
A former player, who signed his letter “Anonymous,” recalled how “Coach Stu” was once his inspiration.
“I thought you were a great man but now all I see are lies and deceit,” the former player wrote. “You have tainted the program I love and tarnished the memories we all hold most dear. You were my hero, now you are my demon.”
The father of a former player choked up while addressing the media after the hearing. He said Studer betrayed everyone.
The man, who wished to remain anonymous, didn’t accept Studer’s apology. He said the former coach was merely trying to escape more prison time.
“I really hope he sees these kids’ faces every day he’s (in prison),” the father said.
Studer began as an assistant with the freshman team in 1984, just months after he graduated from Jackson, and was the freshman head coach by 1997. The district hired Studer in 2000 to monitor visitors to the high school. He resigned both positions after his arrest.
Jackson Local Schools’ Superintendent Chris DiLoreto commended district staff, police and the prosecutor’s office for their work. He said school employees have not allowed Studer’s actions to define them or to overshadow the district’s accomplishments.
“We applaud Chryssa Hartnett on her willingness to meet and communicate with the stakeholders in this case,” DiLoreto said, noting the assistant county prosecutor’s meetings with victims during the process.
Hartnett said authorities feel confident Studer didn’t record players prior to 2005, a conclusion based, not just on his admissions, but on labeled tapes, and the fact that the small camera he used wasn’t readily available before then.
But Studer’s plea doesn’t prevent local authorities from pursuing new allegations that might surface, and he could presumably still face federal charges. Messages seeking comment for this story were left for the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Cleveland.
Page 3 of 3 - Jackson Township Police Lt. Rick Mitchell said detectives continue to review images and tape provided by federal investigators. They are also looking into an anonymous email, received by the school district and given to police almost two years ago, about Studer fondling a basketball player more than 15 years earlier.
Police are trying to find the identity of the sender, Mitchell said.
“If there is anything that comes forward we will be prepared to file additional charges,” Ferrero said.