Alleged juvenile victims continue testimony in trial of former Summit Middle School teacher accused of sexual assault
The prosecution presented forensic interviews and witness testimony from the alleged victims as the trial reached the end of its first week
Editor’s note: This story contains descriptions of an alleged sexual assault that could be disturbing to some readers.
Testimony from alleged juvenile victims continued Friday, Sept. 22, in the trial of a former Summit Middle School gym teacher accused of sexual assault.
Leonard Grams, 62, has pleaded not guilty to five Class 4 felony charges of sexual assault on a child and three Class 3 felony charges of sexual assault on a child by a person in a position of trust, according to court records. His trial is expected to last through the end of next week.
Over the course of two days, three of Gram’s former students — who were identified in court as J1, J2 and J3 to protect their anonymity — testified that Grams sexually assaulted them when they were about 13 years old.
Defense attorney Jake Lilly said in opening arguments Thursday that Grams did not do what he is accused of doing. That same day, J1 testified she was in eighth grade in 2021 when Grams touched her breast during a “high five frenzy,” during a class he taught called Project Initiative.
On Friday, J2 — who is now 15 — testified she was also in eighth grade in 2021 taking Project Initiative, though in a different class than J1, when Grams pressed himself against her during a climbing exercise and touched her butt.
The climbing activity involved students helping each other climb over a wall, with three students on top of the wall helping pull and two on the ground helping lift a student up and over the wall, J2 said.
J2 said she had just taken her turn and had joined the semicircle of students “spotting” the climber in case they fell when she felt Grams come up behind her. J2 said Grams’ body and stomach were pushed against her back, so she took a step forward to get away from him, but Grams shifted forward too.
Then, Grams lowered his right hand and placed it on her butt, according to J2. None of the other students saw because they were focused on helping a student climb over the wall, and when the next student came down the wall, he removed his hand and walked away without saying anything, she said.
“I was scared and still registering what happened,” J2 said, when she was asked why she didn’t tell anyone.
J2 testified Grams touched her again a few weeks later during another climbing activity, this one outdoors. A harness was required for the activity, and J2 said she had put it on properly and had her friends check it was tight when Grams came over without saying anything, yanked up her sweatshirt and started touching and grabbing her butt.
All of the buckles and main safety features of the harness were on the front, not the back, J2 said. She added Grams didn’t usually check students’ harnesses, and he only checked her harness that day.
After a moment, Grams yanked her sweatshirt back down and walked away without saying anything, leaving her “shocked and surprised,” J2 said.
The day before her next class with Grams, J2 said she had a panic attack, during which she told some of her friends what happened. Eventually, J2 said she told the school counselor, Maraunen Flannagan, about what happened.
J2 said she felt that Grams treated her poorly compared to other students but testified she was not making allegations because she had a grudge against him. She also said she did not plot any allegations with J1 or J3.
J3 testified after J2 and also said she did not raise allegations against Grams because of a grudge and did not plot with J1 or J2.
J3 said when she had Grams as a gym teacher in seventh grade, he would sometimes act “flirty” with her, complimenting her makeup or clothes, running his hands through her hair, touching her back or sitting too close.
“I thought it was really creepy and kind of weird,” J3 said.
J3 recalled one time Grams ran his hand through her hair in a way she had only experienced before when her mom was braiding her hair while the students were writing in their “gym journals” during class.
Another time, during a game where students would kick a ball over a net, Grams did a demonstration with J3 on his team and two other students on the other team, she said. During this demonstration, Grams swept his hand over her butt while walking by, “which was not OK,” J3 testified.
“I was scared because I didn’t think anyone saw me,” J3 said. “I didn’t think anyone would believe me.”
Several months later, around February, J3 said the class was taking a quiz and anytime someone in the class got a question wrong, Grams made the whole class do push ups. When the class was doing these push ups, Grams came up behind her and ran his hand across her butt again, kind of squeezing it, J3 testified.
This time, J3 said she yelled at Grams, “F— off.” She testified that Grams played it off and pretended not to know what she was talking about. The entire class would have heard her swear at Grams, she testified.
After this, J3 said Grams began being meaner to her. She said she eventually reported the incidents to Flannagan, the school counselor.
J1’s dad also testified Friday, as did a classmate who consoled J2 during her panic attack the day before Grams’ class. The prosecution also presented recorded forensic interviews — a peer-reviewed process for gathering details about an alleged crime from children — with J1 and J2.
The forensic interviews were completed Nov. 6, 2021, just weeks after the alleged sexual assaults. In separate forensic interviews, J1 and J2 each recounted the details of the alleged sexual assault similar to what they presented in testimony.
The trial is scheduled to resume Monday at 9 a.m.
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