A former local school teacher with ties to both Rossford and Toledo Public schools has been sued in Lucas County Common Pleas Court by two men who said they were sexually abused as teenagers.
Harold J. “Gerry” Mash, 68, currently of Chicago, was accused in the lawsuit filed Thursday with “grooming” the two men when they were about 14 years old for sexual abuse, and did “sexually abuse, molest and exploit” both men multiple times as teens. The incidents allegedly occurred when Mash held positions of authority, including teaching and coaching, and as a Boy Scout leader.
He has taught for the last 22 years in Chicago Public Schools. Mash was removed Thursday from Foreman High School in Chicago, a Chicago school official said.
The lawsuit was filed by Lucas County resident Ronald C. Tremp and an unnamed Wood County resident. According to the lawsuit, both men were abused and the true name of “John Doe” will be disclosed in confidence to the court and to the defendant upon request.
Mash was teaching in Chicago, despite an abuse conviction involving “John Doe” in 1976 while he was a teacher at Rossford School.
Attorney Konrad Kircher of Mason, Ohio, who filed the complaint, said that although the claimed abuse occurred decades ago, the men believed they had to come forward now to protect other children and to hold Mash accountable.
“I think the Jerry Sandusky thing triggered an awful lot of survivors to come forward,” Mr. Kircher said of the recent scandal and conviction of the former Penn State University assistant football coach. “It’s too late for these two gentlemen to press criminal charges because of the statute of limitations, but if there are others who have more recent abuses, then they can move forward with criminal charges,” he added.
The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests helped the men file the suit.
“That took a lot of guts and courage,” said Claudia Vercellotti, coordinator of SNAP’s Toledo chapter, about the filing.
Mash was sentenced to a six-month suspended sentence for the 1976 conviction. The suit alleges that in the 1970s he started “grooming” a then-14-year-old Mr. Tremp for sexual abuse.
“Defendant is known to have sexually abused at least one other child in the Toledo area in the 1970s and is believed to have abused many others,” the lawsuit said. “He was forced to resign from Toledo Public Schools due to suspected sexual abuse of a child and then was hired by Rossford Schools. He eventually left Ohio for Georgia to escape further accountability, punishment and prosecution. Defendant later had two assault convictions in Iowa under very suspicious circumstances.”
Mash resigned in 1976 from Rossford after allegations arose about possible sexual abuse of a student; he quit before he could be fired, said a then-school board member who did not wish to be named.
Mash was a ninth-grade English teacher at Rossford High School and a sports trainer when he resigned. Previously, he taught at Rogers and DeVilbiss High School in Toledo Public Schools; TPS has no disciplinary records or evidence of allegations made against Mash while he was a district employee, said Cheryl Spieldenner, chief human resource officer for TPS. He resigned from TPS in 1974.
Mash was later convicted in 1985 in Iowa of assault and battery, according to court records.
It’s not clear how Mash obtained a teaching license in Illinois and to work as a teacher, despite his convictions. When he was hired by Chicago Public Schools in 1990-91, his Illinois background check came back clear, according to a Chicago district spokesman.
Mash told Rossford board members when he resigned that he intended to leave the teaching field. The former Rossford school board member said the board wanted to ensure Mash could never teach again and directed that his records with the Ohio Department of Education be flagged.
It doesn’t appear, however, that was done.
“I don’t know if it was tagged properly in Columbus, or the ball was dropped here in Rossford,” the former Rossford school board member said.
John Charlton, an Ohio Department of Education spokesman, said there are no records of Mash’s conviction or any communication about any allegations of child abuse in his file. Mash again received a teaching license in Ohio in 1987, though it wasn’t immediately clear from the department records if he ever taught in the state after his conviction.
Ohio’s background-check laws did not come into effect until 1994, Mr. Charlton said. But Ms. Vercellotti argued that what the law required shouldn’t matter, that the state education department had a responsibility to check Mash’s background. She also criticized Rossford officials at the time for not being aggressive enough in pursuing that Mash never taught again.
“These licensing entities should be about protecting kids,” she said. “Otherwise, these licenses ... are just a license to prey on the vulnerabilities of kids.”
Bill McFarland, interim superintendent for Rossford schools, said he had no way of knowing what, if anything, Rossford did to alert the Ohio Department of Education of Mash. “That probably would have taken place between the superintendent and the ODE,” he said, “and I doubt there is any record of that anywhere.”
Mash was prosecuted in Wood County Juvenile Court, where adult criminal records are public record although not as easily found as cases prosecuted in Common Pleas Court.
Tim Brown, executive director of Wood County Juvenile Court, said he couldn’t say for sure whether an adult conviction would show up on a background check done for employment purposes.
“The possibility of finding this record in a background check depends upon the type of background check,” he said. “The most thorough background check, which are the types we have access to as a court, may or may not show us a 1976 criminal conviction, but I am confident that with lesser background checks that might be employed by private industry, that might be problematic because of the age of that case.”
The lawsuit filed Thursday seeks damages in excess of $25,000. The case was assigned to Judge Gene Zmuda.
Staff writers Nolan Rosenkrans and Jennifer Feehan contributed to this report.
Contact Erica Blake at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-213-2134.