A third student has sued St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Overland Park in connection to a former teacher charged with secretly videotaping students undressing at the school.
Catch up quick: Joseph Heidesch, 46, St. Thomas Aquinas’s one-time choir director, faces 30 felony counts, including sexual exploitation of a child and breach of privacy, for allegedly secretly videotaping students undressing in his office.
- Three students have now filed civil suits against Heidesch and St. Thomas Aquinas, including the latest filed Friday, Nov. 18, in Johnson County District Court.
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Why it matters: All three suits are now seeking monetary damages from the school, alleging Aquinas officials failed to adequately protect students from Heidesch’s predatory behavior and prevent the violation of school policies against sexual misconduct by teachers.
Details: The latest lawsuit filed last week is on behalf of a woman who says she enrolled at Aquinas in August 2017 and is referred to in the suit by the pseudonym Jane Doe.
- The plaintiff was a member of the school’s choir and show choir.
- She says during practices and dress rehearsals, Heidesch required female students to make outfit changes in his office.
- The suit says Heidesch often forced students to go through “multiple rounds of outfit changes in his office under the guise of trying on different sizes” even though students knew their own size and would question his insistence on multiple changes.
- The suit says Heidesch “secretly placed video cameras in his office… recording minor female students in various stages of undress.”
- He “collected and curated” these videos, organizing them in files on his computer with folders bearing the students’ names, the suit alleges.
Key quote: “Heidesch has been secretly recording female choir students at Aquinas for years and Heidesch and Aquinas were silent,” the lawsuit says.
Another thing: The lawsuit says it was also well known that Heidesch often communicated directly with students on his personal cell phone without their parents’ or other adults’ knowledge.
- “Aquinas failed to stop Heidesch from contacting students on their personal cell phones … a known warning sign of grooming behavior by child sexual predators,” the suit says.
Impact: The plaintiff is seeking damages from the school as she “continues to suffer … physical, psychological, and emotional pain and suffering; mental anguish and emotional trauma, including anxiety, depression and panic attacks, and loss of enjoyment of life.”
Response: Lawyers representing the school filed a brief in response to another student’s civil lawsuit against Aquinas in April.
- They argue the school cannot be found liable for Heidesch’s behavior on Aquinas’s campus since “the alleged acts are not within the course and scope of his employment, done for purely personal reasons and/or were not otherwise done to further [the school’s] interests.
- In addition, Aquinas’s response brief argues that “no one at Aquinas knew or reasonably should have known that he was secretly recording anyone.”
State of play: The next court date in Heidesch’s criminal case is scheduled for Dec. 12.
- He is currently under house arrest and has been ordered to stay with family in Georgia.
- He was released from the custody of the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office in June after posting $250,000 cash bond.