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The Ashtabula BOE office
From as far back as 1985 and into the early 1990s, former Ashtabula Schools employee and board member Christine Seuffert groomed and sexually pursued at least a half dozen students, a new lawsuit claims.
The complaint, released late Tuesday, says that Seuffert, 73 and still living in Ashtabula, began inappropriately befriending five teenage boys and one girl—all athletes—sometime in the fall of 1985.
Seuffert's role as a volleyball coach, the lawsuit suggests, gave her leverage in winning the trust of the six, buying them booze, loaning them her red 1986 Toyota Celica, and eventually performing oral sex on them in her home on Michigan Ave.
Due to Ohio's statute of limitations, which effectively negates any criminal case involving sexual assault after 25 years has passed, attorneys for the plaintiffs are pursuing civil actions against Seuffert and at least ten current or former employees of the Ashtabula Area City School District.
Besides counts of sexual battery and sexual imposition, the lawyers are bringing accusations under Title IX of the Educational Amendments of 1972, arguging that Ashtabula Area City Schools "remained willfully ignorant of Seuffert’s abuse towards Chapman and the others," which is in essence a "form of sex discrimination."
"Seuffert, as the responsible adult and teacher, should have been looking out for the well being of her students, not grooming them for her sick and twisted pleasures and desires," the complaint reads.
As far as why the six did not speak up directly at the time, even after a football coach lambasted them for their behavior with Seuffert, the complaint is clear: "In the face of the threats of being suspended from the team, which could adversely affect their ability to attend college and their futures, the plaintiffs understandably denied that the allegations/rumors were true when asked by their coaches."
The complaint, which is years in the making, comes two years after an anonymous letter detailing years of Seuffert's alleged abuse reached the school board in November 2021.
The letter, which prompted an investigation by Ashtabula County Sheriff’s Office and then by a private investigator in late 2021, seemed to be what nudged most of the plaintiffs to finally come forward and pursue legal action against Seuffert, who was a member of the school board until she resigned
last year. (The statute of limitations prevented any criminal charges
Sean Allgood, one of the plaintiffs named in the suit, and an athletic director for Ashtabula Area City Schools, told the Star Beacon after the criminal investigation that he might not have come forward if the letter hadn't surfaced.
“Had that letter not came out, I probably never would have spoken. I probably would have taken it to my grave,” Allgood told the Star Beacon. “It’s kind of a tough deal now, being at the school. The atmosphere, it’s kind of a little difficult to work at times.”
With Allgood, as with the four other boys, Seuffert crafted herself as a sort of friend-to-all with a listening ear. Shelley Chapman, another plaintiff, had encouraged Allgood, Nathaniel Jones, Adrian Mathers, Andre Miller and Brian Scruggs to start hanging out at Seuffert's place on Michigan Ave., sometime in 1985. Alcohol was served, mostly after games. Seuffert, the complaint said, would "flirt" with the boys, "touching their buttocks," and "encourage them to touch her breasts."
On one occasion, Jones was invited over to Seuffert's. She told Jones to sit on her sofa, while she showered.
"When she was done with the shower," the complaint reads, "she came into the room wearing only a skimpy bathrobe. Seuffert sat on the couch with Jones, sexually touched and stroked Jones’ genitals, and performed fellatio on him."
With Chapman, who would come to coach volleyball at Ashtabula after her graduation in 1988, the relationship with her former coach seemed a lot more far-reaching.
First, it started with Seuffert's offering of rides home from matches. Then, it was dinner invitations to Seuffert's with wine served, then the free hall passes, late night phone conversations, out-of-down dinners, and, eventually, "cuddling on the couch."
The relationship soon intensified. Love letters were mailed. Concert tickets and a gold monogram ring were gifted. "On occasion, Seuffert hid in Chapman’s closet to avoid being detected," the complaint reads. "While at Chapman’s home, Chapman and Seuffert laid in bed together, cuddled, and engaged in sexual activity in the form of touching each other’s breasts and genitals."
Eric Long, one of the attorneys for Chapman, told Scene that he anticipates the allegations in the complaint leading to Ashtabula and Seuffert "being held accountable." (Mostly from a financial standpoint.)
Although Seuffert has denied the claims against her, it's likely that Long and team will attempt to prove that Ashtabula's vast mishandling of Seuffert's actions led to years of humiliation, post-traumatic stress, therapy, alcoholism and drug abuse for all of the plaintiffs.
"I'm confident in our case, and I'm confident that these things happen," he said. "I hope that this process allows the plaintiffs to get the resolution and to get justice."
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