FRUITLAND, Idaho — A former Fruitland High School student filed a lawsuit this month against the former assistant track coach she says groomed and sexually abused her, as well as the school district she says failed to protect her.
The lawsuit filed against Kelly Rhinehart and the Fruitland School District alleges that the district violated the civil rights of the student by failing to train staff to recognize warning signs of sexual abuse and turning a blind eye to improper conduct by Rhinehart, allowing his "conspicuous predatory behavior to go unchecked."
The former student, identified in court documents as "Jennifer Doe," says she was 16 when Rhinehart first began grooming and singling her out in the spring of 2018, using a recent tragedy in her family to get close to her and gain her trust. Doe's lawyers wrote that he promised to get the girl a job and help her get into college, and began attending her soccer and basketball games.
By that fall, according to the lawsuit, Rhinehart began using the school basketball court to practice with the girl, and was permitted by Fruitland High to be alone with her on the school property after school hours. Doe says that Rhinehart "began making sexual innuendos" toward her during those practices.
Her lawyers say the coach would noticeably single out the student, sending her texts, giving her car rides, sitting alone with her, and publicly acting in a flirtatious way with the teen.
The inappropriate behavior continued after Rhinehart convinced the girl to join the track team where he was an assistant coach.
"Rhinehart publicly flirted with Plaintiff at track practice, at track meets, and after track practices. Rhinehart would single out Plaintiff at track practice to talk about sexual acts or flirtatious subjects. Rhinehart used track practice to get closer to Plaintiff," the lawsuit reads. "In April of 2019, Rhinehart expressed his sexual feelings for Plaintiff."
Doe says that on April 5, 2019 her coach "flirtatiously touched her leg" in front of other students and staff on a bus ride home from a track meet. The next day, according to the lawsuit, he sexually abused her on school grounds.
"After the incident, Rhinehart told Plaintiff that he knew she was 'good at keeping secrets,'" her lawyers wrote in the suit.
According to the lawsuit, Rhinehart the same month sexually abused the girl inside a storage shed during track practice. Another track coach saw the 52-year-old Rhinehart and the teenage athlete emerge from the storage shed alone afterward, but did not report the incident or do anything, the lawyers wrote.
During a different track practice that same month, the lawsuit alleges, the teen injured her ankle, which Rhinehart used as an excuse to get her alone.
"In the presence of the School’s coaching staff and athletes, Rhinehart pulled up his truck to the track field, and escorted Plaintiff to his truck. Rhinehart then commented 'they will think I’m taking you to the doctor, so this is perfect,'" the suit reads. "Rhinehart then drove Plaintiff around, while injured, and immediately turned the conversation sexual. Rhinehart then sexually abused Plaintiff. Rhinehart then dropped Plaintiff off at her car. No members of the School’s coaching staff checked on or verified Plaintiff’s wellbeing."
Attorneys for the former student allege that Rhinehart was openly flirtatious and inappropriate with the girl in front of other coaches and school staff, but no one at the school took any action or launched any investigation into his conduct.
School and district administrators failed to intervene despite having been warned that Rhinehart had previously had inappropriate relationships in previous volunteer positions or jobs before being hired as a coach at Fruitland High School, the lawyers wrote.
Ultimately, according to the lawsuit, Rhinehart had sexual contact with Jennifer Doe at least one other time after a track practice before a friend of the student found out about the sexual abuse and told her own parents, who called school administrators and the police.
Rhinehart resigned as assistant coach in May 2019. He was arrested in July 2019 and indicted on one count of rape, and four counts of sexual battery of a minor aged 16 or 17.
The former coach pleaded not guilty. In January 2020, the Idaho Attorney General's Office moved to drop all charges, but signaled in a motion that prosecutors may refile the criminal case against Rhinehart.
"The State recently received additional evidence and has determined that additional investigation is required before it proceeds with this matter," Deputy Attorney General David Morse wrote in the filing.
A spokesman for the Attorney General's Office told KTVB on Thursday that the investigation remains pending. Rhinehart is not currently facing any criminal charges.
According to the lawsuit, Doe is asking for compensation for her emotional distress, pain and suffering related to the abuse and the district's inaction. Her lawyers say the Fruitland School District violated the former student's civil rights, created a sexually hostile culture in violation of Title IX, were negligent, and allowed the student to be placed in danger.
"The District actively created and was deliberately indifferent to a culture of sexual hostility by its staff members towards its students," the attorneys wrote.
The lawsuit does not specify how much money the former student is seeking as compensation, and her attorneys did not respond to a request for comment.
Fruitland School District Superintendent Lyle Bayley also did not respond to a request for comment about the lawsuit.
The attorneys for Jennifer Doe have asked a judge to set the matter for a jury trial in federal court. A date for the trial has not yet been set.
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