Matthew Johnsen was arraigned on felony sexual battery charges Friday in Stark County Common Pleas Court, accused of sexual conduct with two swimmers between 2005 and 2007.
CANTON Longtime Hoover High School swim coach Matthew Johnsen pleaded not guilty Friday to felony sexual battery charges in Stark County Common Pleas Court.
Johnsen appeared in court before a magistrate at his arraignment hearing, which took less than one minute. With attorney Anthony Koukoutas at his side, Johnsen entered his plea. The charges stem from allegations made by two former swim team members.
A pretrial is scheduled for Aug. 23. The case was assigned to Judge Chryssa Hartnett.
Johnsen was indicted by a Stark County grand jury on two felony charges of sexual battery, both third-degree felonies. Johnsen, if convicted, faces up to five years in prison on each of the charges.
Assistant Stark County Prosecutor Fred Scott said the indictment stems from allegations that Johnsen, 40, engaged in sexual conduct with two swimmers between 2005 and 2007. The two girls were 16 or 17 when the "grooming and inappropriate physical contact" occurred before progressing to sexual acts, Scott said.
Scott said it's not uncommon for victims to step forward several years after the incidents.
"In general, in these types of cases, given the age and maturity level of the victims at the time of the offense and the position of authority that the perpetrator has over his or her victims, it's not uncommon that the victim later discovers or realizes that the perpetrator has used his position and authority to manipulate them," Scott said.
Following the arraignment, Johnsen declined to comment.
Koukoutas said that he has not yet examined any evidence in the case. "Right now these are merely allegations," the attorney said.
"I hope nobody rushes to judgment on this and believes he's guilty simply because he's been indicted," Koukoutas added.
Under state law, 16 is the age of consent but not when you are in a coaching relationship or teacher-student relationship, Scott said.
Johnsen has been an English teacher and swim coach at Hoover for roughly 15 years.
North Canton Superintendent Jeff Wendorf has said the district is investigating the situation in consultation with its legal counsel.
Johnsen, who lives in Plain Township, has a long history with Hoover High, achieving All American swimming honors as a student there before graduating in 1996.
As Hoover's coach, the swim team has had more than 160 state qualifiers and more than 55 All American swimmers; the Vikings also have won 10 Federal League boys titles and seven girls titles during his more than a decade as coach.
Last year, Johnsen was inducted into the Stark County Swimming and Diving Hall of Fame.
Johnsen's school personnel file shows no complaints or incidents of discipline. He received good marks on all of his performance evaluations and achieved the highest designation in his most recent performance evaluation.
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