Akron Beacon Journal (OH)

March 1, 1997
Section: METRO
Edition: 1 STAR
Page: A1

COLETTE M. JENKINS, Beacon Journal staff writer:

A Coventry High School teacher-coach and a football standout were charged yesterday with misdemeanor assault for allegedly shooting two football players in the buttocks with a BB gun.


Police say that Leon D. Hartman, 29, of Eagle Creek Road in Leavittsburg, and James Harrison, 18, of Noah Avenue in Akron shot the two football players in the locker room after a team practice in late October.

Hartman is also charged with child endangering and obstruction of official business. Police say he asked students to lie about what happened when questioned by investigators. All charges are misdemeanors.

Charges against Hartman and Harrison follow a monthlong investigation by the Summit County Sheriff's Department.

Although the investigation is continuing, assistant sheriff Lance Belka said police believe that Harrison brought the BB gun into the locker room and shot one football player in the buttock.

Belka said Hartman took the gun from Harrison and shot another football player -- a 15-year-old freshman -- in the buttock, then gave the BB gun back to Harrison. The gun has not been recovered, Belka said.

Belka described the incident as "horseplay" and said that both football players were shot through their clothing.

Harrison, a star senior linebacker and running back, was suspended from the team twice last football season. He transferred to Coventry his sophomore year from Archbishop Hoban High School.

He was suspended for the first two games by head football Coach Mo Tipton and the school for violating team rules.

His second suspension, by the Ohio High School Athletic Association, was for the team's final game, against Manchester. He had been ejected from a previous game for taunting the opposing team's sideline with obscene gestures and grabbing his crotch.

Harrison, who is considered one of the area's best players, has received a full scholarship from Kent State University.

Hartman's personnel file shows that he has been employed by the Coventry School District since January 1996 as a physical education teacher and assistant football coach. He is a 1992 graduate of Kent State University, where he transferred after a year at Youngstown State University.

His has also taught at Crestwood High School in Mantua, Hatton Elementary School in Akron and Chamberlin High School in Twinsburg, according to his resume. His file includes no disciplinary actions.

The sheriff's investigation into the BB gun incident started in late January, when the mother of the 15-year-old shot filed a report.

The mother, Connie Hoffman, said her son told her that he felt a sharp sting as something hit the back of his jeans when he bent over to pick up his football equipment. When he turned around, he saw one of the assistant football coaches holding a BB gun and laughing.

The youth told his mother that he ran from the locker room screaming, and that the shot left a large red welt on him. Hoffman said her son didn't tell her about the incident until January, after she was contacted by the mother of another football player who said he witnessed the shooting.

The boy said he kept quiet because he feared retaliation and because he wanted to protect his mother from stress, which contributed to health problems she had last year.

"I am very upset that this happened. It is inexcusable," Hoffman said yesterday. "My son had to leave Coventry High School because of this incident. He has gone through so much since it was reported. The doctor told me to get him out of Coventry or he would have to medicate him."

When Hoffman transferred her son to Manchester High School, she discovered that he had been given an "F" in physical education. She believes that his grade was dropped from a "C" in retaliation for filing the sheriff's report.

"These coaches have so much power with these boys," Hoffman said. "They must be held to a higher standard if they are going to be examples for our children."

Hoffman was accompanied yesterday by her attorney, Allen Schulman, at a news conference called by the sheriff to announce the charges against Hartman and Harrison.

Schulman asked school board President Richard Kutuchief when the school board became aware of the incident and when the school board first heard the allegations of students' grades dropping in retaliation for speaking out.

Kutuchief said the board became aware of the incident at about the same time Hoffman filed the report with the sheriff's department. He said he was first made aware of the allegations about grades dropping yesterday.

Kutuchief said Hartman would be suspended, with pay, effective Monday, pending the outcome of the criminal charges and an internal investigation by Superintendent Gerald Wargo.

Kutuchief said the internal investigation will resume "immediately, but we will defer it, if the sheriff's investigators ask us to." The school board's investigation had been put on hold pending yesterday's announcement of criminal charges.

Before the investigation was halted, Kutuchief said Coventry wrestling coach Randy Glover had been told by Wargo to question students about the BB gun incident.

Glover came under fire last week after WKYC-TV (Channel 3) in Cleveland broadcast photos of him holding a beer in the same room with wrestlers after the state tournament in Dayton in 1995. The school board is investigating allegations that Glover was drinking alcoholic beverages with his team.

Kutuchief said the internal investigation will address how the BB gun got onto school property and how it was used. He said the superintendent will also investigate whether students' grades were lowered in retaliation for naming Hartman as the person who allegedly shot the student.

If it is found that Harrison brought the gun to school and shot another student, he will face possible expulsion. If it is found that Hartman shot a student with the BB gun, he will face possible termination.

Hartman, who posted 10 percent of a $1,500 bond yesterday, was scheduled for arraignment this morning in Barberton Municipal Court. Harrison's arraignment is set for March 6.

Neither Hartman nor Harrison could be reached for comment.

The assault and child endangering charges, both first degree misdemeanors, carry a maximum penalty of six months each. The obstruction of official business charge, a second-degree misdemeanor, carries a 90-day jail sentence.



Copyright (c) 1997 Akron Beacon Journal