Lance McCoy took the witness stand for the second time in three years on Wednesday to relive the trauma of being sexually abused by a teacher and coach that he called “Pops”.
After little more than an hour of deliberation, a Baltimore City Circuit Court jury returned a $2.4 million verdict in favor of McCoy for assault, battery, false imprisonment and intentional infliction of emotional distress — $1.8 million against McCoy’s mentor-turned-molester, Bryant Newmuis, and $600,000 against the local Amateur Athletic Union track team that hired Newmuis.
McCoy’s attorney, Edward Smith Jr., had implored the jury during the one-day trial to “send a message” to sexual predators. Afterwards, he said he was satisfied with the verdict.
“I think that sends a loud and clear message …,” Smith said. “The little guy won over the bad [guy], and whenever that happens you always have to cheer. Lance’s future is ahead of him now and he can move on.”
Neither Newmuis nor the AAU’s Baltimore-based Freddie Hendricks Track Club showed up to defend themselves against the lawsuit Wednesday, which Smith noted during the trial.
“When somebody doesn’t do that, you have to wonder, are they afraid to look each one of you in the eye?” Smith asked the jury during his closing argument.
The jury found Newmuis liable on all four charges. The track club was only found liable for intentional infliction of emotional distress, which Judge Thomas J.S. Waxter Jr. said was inconsistent. Waxter gave Smith 10 days to file a memo regarding the outcome of the case.
A phone message left with a member of AAU’s legal department in Florida was not returned by press time. A phone number for Newmuis listed online played a recording that stated it was not receiving calls.
Newmuis was found guilty of sexual abuse of a minor in a Baltimore County Circuit Court criminal case in October 2008 for molesting McCoy a year earlier when McCoy was 15. He received a two-year suspended sentence and five years parole. The trial court’s verdict was affirmed by the Maryland Court of Special Appeals last month.
Newmuis, 49, taught computer science at Mergenthaler Vocational-Technical High School, where McCoy was a student. He also coached McCoy in track, and that’s where McCoy said they developed a close bond. Smith said Wednesday that Newmuis introduced McCoy to his mother and fiancée and even referred to him as his son.
“I confided in him,” McCoy testified. “I told him so much about my story, my life — secrets my mother didn’t even know.”
But Smith argued Wednesday that Newmuis’ mentorship was all a ploy to prey on McCoy, who did not have regular contact with his real father and was economically disadvantaged.
The relationship turned criminal in July 2007 when Newmuis was preparing McCoy for a district track meet in Delaware and the national meet in Tennessee. Against AAU regulations, Smith said, Newmuis was allowed to drive McCoy home from meets and practices by himself. On two occasions he brought McCoy to his own residence instead and gave him massages that ended with sexual contact.
In court Wednesday, McCoy said he was traumatized by the incidents but did not fight Newmuis because Newmuis was an authority figure, Newmuis was taller and stronger and Newmuis had hinted that he owned a firearm.
“He knew where I lived,” McCoy said. “I was afraid that if I didn’t go along, he would hurt my little brother.”
McCoy confided in a wrestling coach and eventually told his mother, a moment he said still haunts him.
“My mom just started crying,” McCoy testified. “I felt bad because she felt bad. I felt bad because I let these situations happen. To this day, I’m fighting myself.”
During Newmuis’ criminal sentencing, McCoy testified that he had spent days crying and was harassed at school after the abuse.
On Wednesday, McCoy said he thought Newmuis’ criminal sentence was a “slap on the wrist,” which is in part why he filed his civil lawsuit. Now a student at Johns Hopkins University and in a serious relationship, McCoy is outwardly thriving. But he said he is still in counseling, still has vivid nightmares about harming Newmuis. When he recently saw Newmuis at Hopkins, McCoy “just locked up.”
“It’s something I have to overcome by myself,” McCoy said outside the courtroom after the verdict. “Juries, courtrooms, the whole legal process can help me, but I guess it’s more of a spiritual, whole inner thing that I’ll need to get over it.”
When asked if he had any message for minors currently suffering abuse, McCoy’s advice was simple.
“Just keep their heads up,” he said. “They’re their own mentor.”