SOUTH KINGSTOWN (AP) — A former Rhode Island high school basketball coach who authorities say for years asked male student-athletes to remove their clothes while alone with him so he could check their body fat pleaded not guilty to criminal charges Friday.
Aaron Thomas, 55, the former successful boys' coach at North Kingstown High School, was released on $10,000 personal recognizance after pleading not guilty in Washington County Superior Court to second-degree sexual assault and second-degree child molestation. He was also barred from teaching or coaching.
Although Thomas is alleged to have performed the tests on multiple students over many years, the charges relate to just two, authorities said. One was under age 14 at the time of the alleged crime between September 2000 and February 2002, authorities said.
The other case dates to some time between September 2019 and February 2020, they said.
Thomas did not answer questions from the media outside of court but has repeatedly denied wrongdoings through his lawyer.
“He’s dedicated his professional life to the students of North Kingstown," defense attorney John E. MacDonald said after the hearing. “He adamantly denies any criminal conduct whatsoever. Scores of students have been interviewed by North Kingstown police to say that they have participated in this program voluntarily, they benefited from this program and nothing of a sexual nature ever took place."
Thomas coached at North Kingstown from the 1990s until he resigned last year.
Students have said the tests were an open secret at the school and would start with Thomas asking a student if he was “shy or not shy." If he said “not shy," Thomas asked the student to remove his underwear and tested him using calipers near intimate areas.
The criminal investigation started in November and involved interviews with more than 30 former students, as well as teachers, coaches, administrators and medical professionals, according to the state attorney general's office. Charges were brought in July.
The case has scandalized the town and resulted in lawsuits from several former students against the coach and the school, as well as a federal civil rights investigation.