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Abuse alleged in lawsuit against Clearwater Central Catholic and its former wrestling coach

Published Sep. 22, 2016

A Clearwater Central Catholic High alumnus is suing his alma mater and former wrestling coach, alleging he suffered two years of physical, emotional and sexual abuse at the school.

A complaint in Pinellas County Circuit Court details how Scott E. Stern, the school's wrestling coach from 2003 to 2014, was also assigned to monitor at-risk students with known or perceived drug or addiction problems without proper training or experience.

The plaintiff, identified as John Doe, was a member of the school's wrestling team in 2013 when, according to the lawsuit, Stern began using physical harm and threatening to tell others the student was using illegal drugs. The suit alleges that, for two years, Stern required and "taught" the student to assume sexual positions and simulate sexual activities "for Coach Stern to observe, critique and salaciously enjoy."

Jason Whittemore, an attorney representing the plaintiff, said the sensitive nature of the case contributed to a delay in filing the lawsuit. The plaintiff graduated from the school in 2014; the action was filed Sept. 9.

"It's a decision that had to be made on his end, and one he decided to move forward with," Whittemore said. The former student is seeking $15,000 for negligence on the part of the school and Stern, and intentional wrongful conduct by Stern.

Stern spent 60 days in Pinellas County Jail in 2015 after he pleaded no contest to two counts of misdemeanor battery. He was accused in that case of hitting two Clearwater Central Catholic students after forcing them to strip naked in 2014. One student said Stern forced him to take off his clothes, grabbed him by the throat and groin, and yelled at him. The other said Stern forced him to strip naked and struck his buttocks with a ruler.

Whittemore would not say whether the plaintiff in the lawsuit is one of the two boys involved in those cases, however one of the lawsuit's allegations is similar.

The lawsuit suggests the plaintiff was not the only student subjected to Stern's behavior.

Stern was investigated in 1999 after he was accused of ordering a Pinellas Park High student to strip naked and hold a ruler over his head before calling the student an idiot. At the time, he was a volunteer at the school. Prosecutors declined to file charges against Stern, who went on to find employment at Pinellas Park High and Clearwater Central.

The lawsuit cites the school's negligence for hiring Stern after the allegations at Pinellas Park High and for placing Stern in charge of "at-risk" students without appropriate training.

Records show Stern, 47, now lives in North Carolina. Reached Wednesday, he declined to comment.

Chris Pastura, superintendent of schools for the Roman Catholic Diocese of St. Petersburg, declined to comment on the active case.

"We can assure everyone that all of our people will fully comply with all the rules and laws that we're supposed to comply with," he said. "We hope for a resolution that can help move everybody forward."

Researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Contact Colleen Wright at cwright@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8643. Follow @Colleen_Wright on Twitter.

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