Officials, parents, children testify against ex-Springboro gym teacher

The superintendent of the Springboro school district provided testimony Tuesday as prosecutors made their case against a former teacher facing 36 felonies accusing him of sexually abusing first-grade girls in his classes.

Prosecutors are attempting to prove John Austin Hopkins, 25, of Springboro, was sexually gratified in the incidents underlying the gross sexual imposition charges.

Carrie Hester, now the district superintendent, testified that as she reviewed four video fragments she saw Hopkins appeared sexually aroused during his interaction with the students.

Hopkins has denied the charges and his defense lawyers have stated they will provide evidence he is autistic and too sexually naive to have been gratified by the contact.

Hopkins was indicted in June after a lengthy investigation of the alleged classroom incidents from December 2018 to March 2019.

During the trial Tuesday, jurors were shown videos that primarily showed busy classroom scenes.

Seated closest to the large screen, Hopkins mostly looked down or across the courtroom.

During the first day of testimony, two alleged child victims and 10 parents also took the witness stand.

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Lawyers also questioned Carrie Corder, principal at Clearcreek Elementary School, about the investigations that led to the indictment of Hopkins.

Hopkins is a Springboro graduate and son of a longtime teacher who was in his first year as a full-time gym and health teacher.

Corder testified that she saw Hopkins touch the children and push them away when adults came into the classroom.

“The girls were immediately pushed off,” Corder said.

“I observed girls trying to get away from him,” Corder added. “Some were able to get away. Others were not.”

Prior to the charges Hopkins also coached swimming at Coffman YMCA in Springboro.

On Tuesday, one mother said she and her daughter knew Hopkins as a coach at Woodhaven Swim Club, before the daughter entered first grade and Hopkins’ gym class.

Like the others called by prosecutors, she described her feelings upon learning of the allegations and watching surveillance videos of Hopkins and her daughter.

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“I was very angry. I was sad. All the emotions,” she said.

Hopkins was placed on leave after a parent complained to school officials after talking with his daughter about sitting on Hopkins’ lap.

On the witness stand, the father testified it was “almost frightening as a parent to hear your daughter say what happened.”

“My daughter was very excited about it,” he added about what he described as “a parent’s worst nightmare.”

Later, the girl, 8, testified she never talked about it with her father.

The defense worked to point out such inconsistencies and offered different interpretations of the videos.

Investigators viewed close to 300 hours of surveillance video of Hopkins’ classes.

On Tuesday, Hopkins’ lawyers showed video of other school staff in similar positions with students. Some videos showed students greeting him with hugs as he entered the classroom.

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But most of the day involved testimony by witnesses for the prosecution.

Hester and Corder also testified that Hopkins appeared to panic as he was put on leave and made incriminating statements about the situation before he was told what the case was about.

“Oh no, Oh no, I knew I shouldn’t have taken this job,” Hester recalled Hopkins said.

There also was testimony about a doorbell Hopkins installed on his classroom door without permission from school administrators.

Other teachers installed doorbells to help in situations where doors were to be locked for security, Hester said.

The courtroom gallery was filled on the prosecution side with parents, supporters and a lawyer representing them in a lawsuit against the school district and Hopkins. Hopkins’ family and friends also were in the audience.

The trial is scheduled to end Friday.

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