Latest sex abuse lawsuit adds new allegations against former Paramus Catholic hockey coach

PARAMUS (NJ) [Woodland Park NJ]

March 9, 2021

By Tom Nobile

Another former Paramus Catholic student has sued the high school over alleged sexual abuse by former ice hockey coach Bernard Garris, with the latest complaint adding the most explicit accusations yet.

The former player, identified only by his initials in the lawsuit, says Garris groomed him as a student and sexually assaulted him in the school, in the coach’s car and at hotels while they were traveling for competitions. 

Since August, 11 former students have sued Paramus Catholic, saying the high school and the Archdiocese of Newark knew of Garris’ abuse for years but did nothing to stop it. Garris, who has since died, was also accused of abuse in a 2011 lawsuit that was later settled for an undisclosed amount. 

The suits filed last year accused Garris of groping and inappropriate touchingThe latest complaint goes farther, alleging that the ex-coach forced the student to perform oral sex and engage in sodomy. Garris also took “pornographic” pictures of the underage boy, the suit says.

“The emotional and psychological trauma associated with his sexual abuse has haunted [the student] for his entire life. He has been and remains confused, traumatized, and ashamed as a result of the acts,” the lawsuit says. 

Garris coached at Paramus Catholic for about 20 years but departed in the late 1980s, after an incident that allegedly left a student injured and prompted the teen’s parents to demand that the school fire the coach, according to interviews last year with several former players and faculty members. 

Paramus Catholic High School -
Paramus Catholic High School –

They remembered Garris for his quick temper and a menacing demeanor that was accentuated by missing teeth, apparently lost during years of playing hockey. Garris was an “old school” coach with a style tolerated at the time but no longer acceptable in scholastic sports, they said. 

Some former players recalled Garris routinely putting his hands down their pants in the locker room and grabbing them, sometimes until it hurt. The abuse allegedly occurred during trips to a hockey camp in Minnesota when the coach was alone with players in a hotel. One former teammate said the assaults were pervasive and “common knowledge” among the team and other teachers. 

The latest suit takes the allegations against Garris a step further. According to the complaint, Garris sexually abused the minor student, identified as T.S., “hundreds of times over the course of three years” beginning in 1981. The abuse started with fondling but swiftly escalated to other acts, said T.S., who now lives in Arizona, according to the lawsuit. 

T.S “did whatever he could to avoid Garris’ abuse and as punishment for his avoidance, Garris refused to play [him] during hockey games,” the complaint says. Get the Coronavirus Watch newsletter in your inbox.

Attorneys representing T.S. did not responds to messages seeking comment. 

Garris had been a police officer in Paramus before he left the department in 1970 amid allegations that he stole cameras while investigating a burglary. He’d already been coaching at Paramus Catholic by then and would have been entering his 20th season in the fall of 1987, when one former teacher said he departed the school.

Garris said he planned to move to Minnesota, where he knew people in the hockey community, the teacher told The Record and last year. According to a database of public records, a Bernard L. Garris who was living in the state died in 1995.

The lawsuits filed since August fall under a new state law that took effect on Dec. 1, 2019, suspending the statute of limitations for civil sex abuse cases for two years. Each of those plaintiffs lives in New Jersey, according to court papers, and for all of them, the abuse allegedly began when they were 14 years old “on school grounds or while on school sanctioned athletic trips.”

Gerald McCarthy, an attorney representing 10 of Garris’ accusers in other cases, said depositions will start in the next few months. 

The Newark Archdiocese has declined to comment on the lawsuits, saying it would be “inappropriate” to release personnel files or data regarding a former employee. “Additionally, it would be inappropriate to comment on pending litigation,” the archdiocese said last fall.

The law firm representing Paramus Catholic and the archdiocese did not respond to requests for comment on Monday.