ALLEGAN, Mich. (WOOD) — A lawsuit filed against former Allegan Public Schools administrators accuses them of failing to act against an accused child predator despite several allegations of sexual harassment.
Now, 43-year-old James Baird could face decades in prison for allegedly sexually assaulting four girls at schools on the east side of the state from January 2018 to February 2020. Prosecutors say he molested girls while working as a vision specialist at schools in Garden City and Westland.
Baird had already been accused of sexual abuse more than a decade ago by multiple girls in Allegan County.
In Allegan from August 2005 through March 2010, Baird was a part-time teacher, aquatics director and swim coach, the school district confirmed.
The lawsuit, filed by a former student and attorney Ven Johnson, says former school administrators knew as early as 2007 that Baird was sexually harassing multiple girls on the swim team, with some quitting as a result.
Johnson named former superintendent Kevin Harness, former APS director of operations William Hammer, former high school principal Jim Mallard and former athletic director Gary Ellis as defendants in the lawsuit, accusing them of “fraudulent concealment.”
Despite an internal investigation in 2007, Baird was allowed to remain in his position. Johnson says the investigation only resulted in a written warning that “forbid” Baird from working along with female students. No Title IX investigation ever happened, Johnson said.
“It’s a systemic abuse by a predator,” Johnson told News 8. “We know that if we don’t get them out of those positions it will repeat until ultimately something very bad happens. They clearly didn’t make it as known as it should’ve been about what they were concerned with and his behavior, translation, he’s a predator.”
Current Superintendent James Antoine disputed Johnson’s characterization in a statement to News 8.
“We do not agree that Mr. Johnson has accurately described the relevant facts and circumstances,” Antoine said. “The school district through its attorneys has filed a motion to dismiss the current lawsuit with the Court which we anticipate will be granted.”
Antoine would not comment further on the allegations, noting that legal counsel advised the school district should not talk about pending litigation.
The former student in Johnson’s lawsuit became associated with the swim team in 2008. Baird was her coach and later director of the aquatic center.
She said Baird frequently sexually harassed her, groping her and making inappropriate and harassing comments through her sophomore year.
“There was grooming clearly going on,” Johnson said. “For us, it’s horrible that it happened. It took too long to respond to.”
The former student said she decided to resign from the team to avoid further harassment. Baird was eventually fired by the district for inappropriate behavior in March of 2010.
“Finally, they did take definitive action,” Johnson said. “We got to make it where school districts have to let other districts know that a person was fired with anything that has to do with inappropriate behavior with children.”
The lawsuit alleges the former school administrations were “indifferent” to harassment reports, saying it forced the student to be in a “sexually hostile environment.” The student also says the former administrators never contacted her about what happened with Baird.
“(The former administrators) had a duty to disclose and to warn and protect the female students who were coached, taught, instructed, or otherwise interacted with Defendant Baird,” the lawsuit says. “(They) concealed this information from female students at APS and the public at large, which had the ability to investigate, sanction, prevent, and/or otherwise prosecute Defendant Baird’s misconduct.”