Civil suit filed against Austintown trustee, Poland officials for alleged sexual assault of minor
A civil lawsuit filed in the Mahoning County Court of Common Pleas against Austintown Township trustee Steve Kent, the Poland Board of Education and Township trustees is shedding more light on the allegations of sexual assault and battery against him.
The lawsuit was filed Friday by an alleged victim of the current Austintown trustee.
The Poland Board of Education and Poland Township Trustees are accused of negligent hiring, training, supervision and retention.
According to the lawsuit, the Poland Board of Education and Trustees had a duty to investigate Kent's previous employment. It alleges that Kent was not properly trained and that they failed to investigate his employment history.
The lawsuit claims the defendants knew or had reason to know that Kent had a record of reckless or incompetent behavior and would likely use his position to engage with minor school students.
The civil lawsuit includes counts of civil assault and battery, negligent hiring, training, supervision and retention, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligence and negligence per se, and violations of 42 U.S. Code 1983.
The plaintiff also demands a trial by jury on all claims.
21 News reached out to Poland Township Trustees and received this statement on the situation:
"When it came to our attention he was placed on administrative leave. When BCI completed their investigation and sent it to the Attorney General we terminated him. No further comment at this time."
Poland Local Schools Superintendent Craig Hockenberry was unavailable for comment.
21 News also reached out to Steve Kent but has not heard back.
According to the lawsuit, the female victim was between 16 and 17 years old when the incidents occurred.
Court documents say the alleged relationship between Kent and the victim began in December 2019 when he started talking with her on Instagram. Over the next several weeks, Kent allegedly had casual conversations with the victim.
The lawsuit claims that Kent had a more extended conversation than normal with the victim in February 2020. He allegedly told her that he was in Columbus for his Austintown Trustee position and made a point to say to her that he was staying the night alone in a hotel.
After that night in February 2020, communication between Kent and the victim became more frequent, according to the civil suit. On one occasion, Kent sent the victim a picture of his truck's radio with the song "Back That A** Up."
In March 2020, the victim's friend saw a message on her phone from Kent leading to the friend's mother telling him and the victim to stop talking to each other.
According to the lawsuit, Kent and the victim stopped talking to each other for about a month until Kent had his daughter message the victim on Snapchat with a photo of him and a message saying hello. The lawsuit claims that Kent's daughter had never spoken with the victim prior to the message.
The civil suit says Kent and the victim reconnected after the message and resumed their conversations on social media. During this time, Kent allegedly became more suggestive and by May 2020, the two would hang out while Kent was working as a police officer for the Poland Township Police Department.
During this time, Kent would allegedly meet with the victim at numerous businesses in Poland and the surrounding area. The lawsuit says Kent would also make suggestive and inappropriate comments about the victim when she was wearing a bathing suit or shorts.
In following meetings, Kent would hug the victim and lower his hands, groping her. Around this time, their meeting moved over to Snapchat and Kent began to ask for explicit photos.
According to the lawsuit, Kent began sending explicit photos of himself to the victim, manipulating her to send photos back.
Kent allegedly stopped communicating with the victim for a short time because other Poland officers were "on to him."
According to court documents, the two began to meet outside of Kent's work hours. The lawsuit claims that the victim was brainwashed at this point and believed that she had real feelings for him.
Their meetings progressed to kissing and groping before moving to other sex acts. Kent also allegedly gave the victim gifts on Valentine's Day and tried to convince the victim to have him over her house while her father was out of town.
The lawsuit claims the victim was not the first student Kent had an inappropriate relationship with and had a reputation within the school for going after underage female students.
Kent was placed on unpaid administrative leave in June 2021 after the victim's father became aware of the relationship.
After being placed on leave, Poland Township voted to discharge Steven Kent from his position, specifically stating that he was being discharged for "illegal and immoral acts with an underaged student."