Prosecution rests its case as defense starts calling witnesses in trial of former Summit Middle School teacher accused of sexual assault

Over the course of the trial, the jury has heard three former students repeat their allegations in testimony and in forensic interviews

Summit Middle School teacher Leonard Grams, 62, was arrested Aug. 9, 2022, on several charges of sexual assault of a child.
Summit County Sheriff’s Office/Courtesy photo

Editor’s note: This story contains descriptions of an alleged sexual assault that could be disturbing to some readers.

The prosecution rested its case Monday afternoon, Sept. 25, as the trial of a former Summit Middle School gym teacher accused of sexual assault entered its second week.

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 scheduled to last through the end of the week.

Over the course of the trial, 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.

In opening arguments Thursday, Sept. 21, defense attorney Jake Lilly said Grams did not do what he is accused of doing. On Monday, the defense began calling witnesses to present its own case to the jury.

Last week, the prosecution called each of the alleged juvenile victims to testify and all three identified Grams in the courtroom as the individual who sexually assaulted them.

In presenting the prosecution’s case, Deputy District Attorney Lauren Crisera played video recordings of forensic interviews conducted with each of the alleged victims in November 2021 as well as audio of interviews that Summit School District human resources officials conducted with J1 and J2 in October 2021.

J1 — In testimony, her forensic interview and her interview with Human Resources — alleged that Grams touched her breast during a “high five frenzy” in a class he taught known as Project Initiative in September 2021 when she was in eighth grade.

J2 — in testimony, her forensic interview and her interview with Human Resources — alleged that Grams touched her butt on two separate occasions when she was in eighth grade in September 2021 taking a different Project Initiative class than J1 was in.

The first time J2 says Grams touched her was when she was spotting others during a climbing activity where students helped pull and boost each other over a wall, J2 said. She said Grams came up behind her, pushed his stomach and body against her back, and he reached down and put his right hand on her butt.

The second time was during a climbing activity involving a harness, J2 said. All of the buckles and safety features were on the front of the harness, not the back, but she said Grams came up behind her, yanked up her sweatshirt, grabbed her butt, yanked her sweatshirt back down and walked away without saying anything, J2 said.

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In a recorded interview with Summit School District Human Resources Director Grant Schmidt played Monday for the jury, Schmidt asked J2 what could be done to make her feel safer in Grams class.

J2 said she not only wanted to be taken out of Grams class but also to ensure no younger students would have to be subjected to alleged inappropriate touching in his classes in the future.

“By the time they get to eighth grade I don’t want them to go through that,” J2 said.

In response to questions from Schmidt about whether Grams could have just been checking the safety of her harness, J2 said, “I think he was intentionally trying to touch me.”

Later in the interview, J2 said she thought Grams needed to face “consequences” so “he realizes what he did was wrong.”

J3 — in testimony and in her forensic interview — alleged that Grams also touched her butt on two occasions while she was in seventh grade during the 2020-21 school year. Grams would sometimes be “flirty” with her, complimenting her clothes and makeup, touching her hair or rubbing her back, J3 said. 

She said the first time Grams touched her butt was during the fall and he swept his hand over it while she was on his team helping demonstrate a game for the class.

The second time was several months later, during a quiz when students had to do pushups for getting a question wrong, J3 said. This time, Grams came up behind her and grabbed her butt, causing her to shout “F— off,” at him, J3 said.

The first witness called by the defense was a classmate and friend of J3’s. The classmate testified that they did not remember J3 shouting at Grams and did not remember Grams ever touching J3.

Summit County Sheriff’s Office Detective Sergeant Mark Gafari, who was the lead investigator in the Grams case, also testified Monday. Gafari said he could not track down any witnesses who saw Grams touch J1, J2 or J3.

J3 had written she hates Grams in messages sent over Zoom to another student, Gafari testified. 

The defense also called Tom Leahy, who Judge Karen Romeo designated as an expert in experiential learning and challenge courses.

Leahy said he has a long career in experiential learning. He inspects challenge courses and trains instructors who use the courses in their curriculum. He testified he trained Grams 15-20 years ago.

Leahy testified that instructors have a “duty of care” for their students and that if “there is a physical challenge, then there is danger.” He said he was there Sept. 27, 2021, when Grams was leading the wall climb exercise and he saw Grams step forward to help the students “spot” a student who was struggling on the wall. 

“It’s critical. They have to be jammed in really tight,” Leahy said of those spotting for the wall activity.

Leahy also testified harnesses are an essential safety feature for challenge courses and that teachers are responsible for their students’ safety.

“It is the teacher’s job to ensure that the student’s harness is on correctly,” Leahy said.

Leahy said he previously published an article that advises instructors to always ask students before touching them to help with harnesses. He said he would have trained Grams not to touch students, “unless it’s absolutely necessary.”

The defense is expected to call more witnesses when the trial resumes Tuesday.

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