St. Joseph High, diocese seek to name alum accusers, dismiss sexual misconduct lawsuit

South Bend Tribune [South Bend IN]

December 20, 2021

By Marek Mazurek

St. Joseph High School and the Diocese of Fort. Wayne-South Bend want a lawsuit brought by three former volleyball players accusing their volleyball coach of sexual misconduct dismissed, saying the alleged misconduct does not fall under Indiana’s statute of limitations.  

The school and diocese are also seeking to identify the three women — who graduated in 2018 and 2019 — in court documents. The women are currently filing the suit anonymously as Jane Doe plaintiffs.  

In a civil lawsuit filed in October, the former players alleged Justin Cochran “groomed” girls on the volleyball team with inappropriate sexual conversation and images, including sending nude pictures of himself, and that he retaliated against girls who complained about his behavior. 

The lawsuit also claims administrators at the high school — including principal John Kennedy and former athletic director Debra Brown — brushed aside parents’ concerns about Cochran’s behavior and failed to follow the 2002 Catholic charter “Safe Environment Training,” which was implemented in response to the wider Catholic clergy sex abuse scandal. 

South Bend: What happened to investigations of St. Joseph High School coach? Authorities aren’t saying.

One of the former players, Jane Doe 3, said Cochran sent her a nude photo of himself via the SnapChat app and talked about his sex life and the size of his penis. 

The suit also alleges Cochran was seen rubbing a player’s shoulders and calling her “babe” while consoling her, that girls were seen lounging or lying against Cochran on the sidelines, and that he was seen smiling and nodding as a girl “twerked” in front of him. 

Administrators at St. Joseph High School refused to meet with parents about their concerns and told them to meet with Cochran directly, the suit says. When confronted by parents, Cochran allegedly responded by telling them “the age of consent in Indiana is 16.”

Motion to dismiss

None of the three former players suing Cochran alleged he sexually assaulted them.  

In court filings, the diocese and St. Joseph High School argue the allegations do not constitute “sexual abuse of a child” and therefore the case should be dismissed based on Indiana’s statute of limitations. Your stories live here.Fuel your hometown passion and plug into the stories that define it.Create Account

Indiana law allows a two-year time period from when alleged actions occurred to file lawsuits. However, complaints involving the “sexual abuse of a child,” may be filed up to seven years after the alleged abuse took place.  

Fort Wayne attorney Michael Hall, who is representing the diocese and the school, declined to comment. 

Nicole Hahn, a spokeswoman for the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, did not answer questions when speaking on the phone with a reporter and provided a written statement saying only that “the basis” of the recent filings “is detailed within the documents.”

The motion to dismiss has not yet been ruled on, as St. Joseph Circuit Judge John Broden recused himself from the case in late November, saying he was a “personal friend with one or more persons” mentioned in the lawsuit.  

Marshall Circuit Judge Curtis Palmer was appointed to the case earlier this month.  

Jane Doe lawsuit

The defendants are also seeking for the three women bringing the suit to be identified in court records, saying they have not demonstrated a legally acceptable reason to remain anonymous. 

The former players’ anonymity will also make gathering witness testimony “near impossible and very burdensome,” the motion says.  

Attorneys for former players contend that publicly identifying the college-aged women presents a “risk of further emotional injury and embarrassment.” 

The plaintiffs’ attorney, Brandon Tate, did not return messages seeking comment Monday morning.

J. Thomas Vetne, is representing Cochran, who is being sued as an individual. Vetne also did not immediately respond to a phone call from a reporter.

Cochran spent the 2018 season as head coach of the St. Joseph varsity volleyball team before resigning at the end of that year. Before that, he was a junior varsity coach and varsity assistant coach.

After leaving St. Joseph, Cochran spent one full season as head volleyball coach at Bremen High School before resigning.

There are no criminal charges currently pending against Cochran in relation to the alleged sexual misconduct. The South Bend Police Department received a report regarding Cochran in June 2019 and forwarded it to the St. Joseph County Special Victims Unit, which investigates child abuse, sex crimes and domestic violence.

Email Marek Mazurek at Follow him on Twitter: @marek_mazurek