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Ex-coach accused of sexually assaulting Gwinnett student he recruited to work for football team

GWINNETT COUNTY, Ga. — A former Berkmar High School football coach is in the Gwinnett County Jail, accused of having sex with a student he recruited to work for the football team.

Jonathan Sanks was arrested July 5, seven years after a civil lawsuit claims Gwinnett County Schools learned about an inappropriate relationship with a student.

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A civil lawsuit from 2020 alleges that between 2011 and 2015, “Sanks frequently forced [the student] to have sexual contact on district grounds. When she would resist, Sanks would overcome her physically and through manipulation.”

“District personnel frequently observed Sanks touching [the student] in ways that were clearly inappropriate as between a teacher in his mid-30s and a teenage girl,” the lawsuit alleges.

Attorneys for the accuser say they settled with the district but a criminal investigation led to Sanks’ arrest in July.

A Gwinnett Schools spokesperson released a statement to Channel 2 Action News:

“Gwinnett County Public Schools (GCPS) is committed to ensuring its schools are safe, secure and successful. Inappropriate relationships between GCPS staff and students is not only against district policy, it is also against the law and will not be tolerated. The district can confirm Johnathan Sanks resigned from Gwinnett County Public Schools in September of 2020 and is no longer is employed by the school district. Because there is an active police investigation, we cannot share further details.”

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Sanks resigned from Berkmar in 2015 and then resigned again from Grayson High School as a coach in 2020.

The lawsuit alleges the district investigated allegations of a sexual relationship with a student in 2015 but found no evidence. The accuser was 16 at the time of the alleged sexual assault, according to the lawsuit.

“I don’t believe that students can consent to a relationship with a person in authority,” said Mike Rafi, an attorney not connected to the case who has experience with similar cases.

He says it’s unusual for a lawsuit about sexual assault by an educator to include allegations that district leaders knew about a sexual relationship between an educator and a student.

“The school usually says, ‘We didn’t know, we had no idea,’” he said, “but here, the focus was on the investigation, or again, the lack thereof by the school.”

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