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A former cheerleader is suing the University of Tampa for negligently hiring her former coach, who pleaded guilty this year to raping her in 2004.
She says the university erred in its background checks and supervision of the cheerleading coach.
Heather Wienclawski, a former Spartan cheerleader and economics major, says she could not finish her studies at UT because she was raped by Thomas Andrew Hall, who had previous battery charges including one on a police officer, when he was hired part-time at UT.
Furthermore, one of the stipulations of his hiring was that an assistant female coach would be provided, but no one was, Wienclawski said. While he was coach, the then 41-year-old Hall began what the complaint called “mentor-mentee” relationships that Hall later took advantage of. UT also failed to act on earlier complaints against Hall, the plaintiff said.
As a result of the rape, “Ms. Wienclawski has suffered emotional distress, bodily harm, and emotional and psychological injury,” the complaint states. “Ms. Wienclawski’s injuries are continuing in nature. Her emotional distress was so severe that she was unable to complete her studies at, or graduate from, UT.”
Details of the Suit
According to Wienclawski’s attorney, Christopher S. Knopik, the suit is in the discovery phase during which both sides will exchange information. The suit comes four years after the incident, but only months after Hall, now 44, pleaded guilty to sexual battery and was given eight years of supervision and probation.
“Heather wanted to be careful, to not interfere with the criminal procedures,” Knopik said of the delay in the suit. “She wanted to let the criminal proceedings run.”
Knopik said that since Hall pleaded guilty to the charge of sexual assault, it is not a matter of “He said, she said.”
On May 22, Wienclawski and her lawyer filed a complaint suing UT on three counts: negligent hiring, negligent retention and negligent supervision.
In the negligent hiring complaint, the plaintiff says the coach’s close contact and travel with squad-members warranted a thorough background check. Instead, Hall was able to gain the trust and support of the squad members, allowing him to later take advantage of Wienclawski.
The negligent retention occurred when UT did not act when Hall was making inappropriate comments towards the cheerleaders, the complaint states.
“UT failed to take any action to investigate, reassign, or discharge Coach Hall from the cheerleading squad when it became aware, or should have become aware, of a variety of indications of Coach Hall’s unfitness to serve as cheerleading coach, including his questionable treatment of, and highly inappropriate comments to, some of UT’s student cheerleaders,” the complaint states.
The count of negligent supervision states that UT did not properly supervise Hall and that officials did not go to his practices or observe his other interactions with the cheerleaders.
“Had UT properly supervised and monitored Coach Hall, it would have become aware of a variety of indications of Coach Hall’s unfitness as cheerleading coach,” the complaint states, adding that UT also did not provide the female assistant coach or ensure that practices were only being held at facilities approved by UT.
The case is similar to one filed on almost the same day in Bridgeport, Conn., in which a 22-year-old woman is suing the school board for not properly supervising a teacher who she says raped her after giving her alcohol at a party and taking her back to his apartment.
“[The teacher] was new to the school system and a new teacher, and clearly no one in the Westport school system was supervising him or protecting the students from him,” said the attorney in that case.
The Night of the Incident
In 2004, Heather Wienclawski told Coach Hall she was leaving the cheerleading squad to work as an intern in Orlando. Hall asked if he could take her out to celebrate and introduce her to some business contacts. Thinking it was a good opportunity to network, Wienclawski agreed.
On Dec. 10, 2004, Hall picked up Wienclawski at her dorm and took her to the Blue Martini bar, located at the International Plaza. He introduced her to the manager and escorted her to the V.I.P section. Later that night, a friend of Wienclawski’s arrived to take her home. The friend spent some time with them and then offered Wienclawski the ride home, but Hall refused, saying he was responsible for her and felt obligated to look after her.
Hall and Wienclawski later left, but she repeatedly asked Hall to take her to the friend’s house or her dorm. Instead Hall brought her to his house.
There, Wienclawski was raped, the complaint said. According to the criminal arrest affidavit, she was “intoxicated and sick” when the assault occurred.
After that, Hall drove Wienclawski to her friend’s house where she notified the Tampa Police Department.
Wienclawski is currently living out of state. Knopik describes her as bright, energetic and motivated and a couple of credits shy of completing her degree.
The Arrest and Trial
Hall was arrested the next day and released six days later on $15,000 bond.
According to the complaint, upon news of the arrest UT suspended and/or relieved Hall of his coaching job.
In February of this year, following an October 2007 arrest for and sexual battery, he pleaded guilty to sexual battery (slight force), a felony. Judge J. Rodgers Padgett gave him two years of community control and six years of probation. He had to pay $1,335 in court costs. Between his October arrest and Feb. 18 release on probation, he had served 130 days in jail
At the time of his 2007 arrest, he was listed in police reports as owner of Hall Equipment and Products. His 2004 arrest report listed him as doing sales for an awning-cleaning company. Hall’s most recent address is in Clearwater, according to the sex offender registry.
In 2007, a second charge of sexual battery was also placed against him along with one for possession of cocaine. He pleaded not guilty and the charges were later dropped.
When universities hire someone to work closely with students, thorough background checks should reveal the types of crimes in Hall’s past, the plaintiff argues.
For example, Ft. Lauderdale police arrested Hall in 1993 on four counts: aggravated battery on a police officer, resisting an officer with violence (both are felonies) and two counts of battery. He pleaded no contest and was sentenced later that year to 18 months probation.
In March of 2002, the Tampa Police Department arrested Hall for on a misdemeanor battery charge related to domestic violence, but a month later, the charges were dropped.
Background Checks at UT
Even since the rape, UT and its contractor Sodexho have run into problems after hiring workers with criminal pasts.
Eureka Patterson, a popular Einstein Bros Bagels (Sodexho) employee was arrested in April of 2007 on two felony fraud charges. She was handcuffed and removed from the Vaughn Center. She had also been arrested on multiple charges ranging from petty theft to aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. At the time, her previous arrests and charges were not known by Dining Services because background checks were not done. After the incident, Sodexho promised to more closely examine the backgrounds of its current and new employees.
However, last fall when deli prep worker Erika Nicole Dennis was ar
rested, her past had only consisted of misdemeanor arrests and not the felony charges needed for Sodexho to take action against its employees, officials said.
UT’s Human Resources office was closed Friday, but in 2006, officials said they would do background checks only if warranted after initial reference checks.
There is no word yet, how UT investigated Hall’s background.
“It is University policy not to comment on pending litigation,” said Eric Cardenas, University spokesman.
Athletic director Larry Marfise did not respond to the email questions sent to him by The Minaret.
The last high-profile case in which a student sued the university came last year when a senior sued the school and her professor for a plagiarism charge. The suit was contentious and drawn out. (See The Minaret’s plagiarism case coverage here.)
Editor’s Note: The plaintiff, Heather Wienclawski, gave consent through her attorney to have her name included in this article. It is not the Minaret’s policy to name rape victims or alleged victims. Also, note that news editor Ellery McCardle contributed background reporting to this article.