Four former Sumner High School players and their parents filed a lawsuit Tuesday accusing the Sumner-Bonney Lake School District of failing to protect them from ex-basketball coach Jacob “Jake” Jackson, despite at least two known complaints about his interactions with students.
Those complaints in 2018 and 2020 about Jackson barraging students with social media and text messages, first reported by The Seattle Times, posed no obstacle to Jackson staying on the job.
And while he did, the suit alleges, Jackson sexually abused students and shared nude photos when the students were between 14 and 16 years old. A school district spokesperson did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment.
The lawsuit is the latest development in a scandal that shocked and enraged the small, tight-knit community of Sumner, beginning when a group of Jackson’s former players shared their accusations with Sumner police just as school was about to begin last fall.
Two of the boys reported being contacted via social media and text messages for 300 continuous days. One boy told detectives Jackson allegedly masturbated in front of him in a walk-in closet at the coach’s former home on the shore of Lake Tapps. Another accused Jackson of persuading him to engage in mutual oral sex at least 10 times and intercourse in the same closet, according to court records.
The students’ accusations led to Jackson’s resignation, and he has since been charged in Pierce County Superior Court with felony child rape in the third degree, two counts of third-degree child molestation and five counts of communication with a minor for immoral purposes. He also faces a misdemeanor count of indecent exposure. Each of the felonies carries a potential penalty of five years in prison, while a misdemeanor conviction could result in a year in jail.
Jackson has pleaded not guilty to the criminal charges and is free on $25,000 bail, with his movements restricted and tracked by an ankle monitor. Recently, Jackson asked a judge to relax the conditions of his bail, but that motion was denied, according to court records.
Brett Purtzer, Jackson’s attorney in the criminal case, declined to comment Wednesday.
Jackson, 36, took over as Sumner High’s head boys basketball coach in 2016, after spending four years at Peninsula High School in Gig Harbor. No public allegations against him have arisen from his stint there.
The lawsuit filed against Sumner-Bonney Lake School District on Tuesday claims Jackson held sway over the players as the coach who decided their playing time, and showered them with gifts from his father-in-law’s sports apparel company as well as cash payments for work at the company’s warehouse and around Jackson’s residence. The suit alleges Jackson leveraged his power over the boys to coerce them to share and accept nude photos and, in some cases, engage in sexual acts.
The school district’s superintendent, assistant superintendent, athletic director and Sumner High School’s principal were all aware of complaints about Jackson that preceded the public revelation of a police investigation last fall, the suit, filed by Tacoma lawyer Loren Cochran, alleges.
In March 2018, a meeting between Jackson and an unnamed school district employee is documented in Jackson’s personnel file over “concerns” that had reached the district level involving “mind games,” “ego,” “manipulation” and “individual text messages” to students in violation of policy, according to the suit. “No follow-up was done by anyone at the district regarding these ‘concerns,’” the lawsuit claims.
In February 2020 a second complaint about Jackson was forwarded to the school district by the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association. The anonymous complaint raised concerns about Jackson’s frequent contact with students.
“This coach has personal contact in various forms constantly,” the complaint stated. “Texts, phone calls, DM’s [direct messages], and SnapChat.”
In April 2020, school district athletic director Tim Thomsen, who told the WIAA he would investigate the complaint, emailed Superintendent Laurie Dent, assistant Superintendent Bill Gaines, and Sumner High School Principal Kassie Meath with an “update on our investigation into the Jake Jackson allegations.”
It described a conversation between Thomsen and Jackson in which Jackson denied any wrongdoing. “I could find no evidence of any inappropriate personal contact,” Thomsen wrote, according to the lawsuit.” But the lawsuit alleges that the investigation ended there, without Thomsen interviewing students or parents about Jackson’s communications.
The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages for past, current and future treatment of medical and psychological harm allegedly caused to the boys and their families by Jackson.
Two players and their parents have also sued Jackson and his father-in-law’s sports apparel firm, Sterling Athletics. That case is on hold pending the disposition of criminal charges against Jackson; the case is tentatively scheduled for trial in January. Bertha Fitzer, an attorney representing Sterling Athletics, also known as Inspirit Athletics, Inc., did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment.
The player who alleged that Jackson subjected him to oral sex and intercourse has filed a separate lawsuit that names Jackson, his wife, Sterling Athletics and Sumner-Bonney Lake School District as plaintiffs. The suit, filed by the law firm Evergreen Personal Injury Counsel, alleges that Jackson’s wife, a school district employee, had an obligation to report the boy’s abuse. Purtzer, who represents Jackson and his wife in that civil suit, declined to comment.
No police or court records to date indicate that Jackson’s wife was aware of the alleged abuse before the allegations became public. Sterling Athletics was named in the suit because Jackson held the title of CEO for a time.
Sumner Bonney-Lake School District, in a separate lawsuit, reached a $7.6 million settlement with the family of a developmentally disabled student who claimed she was sexually assaulted at school by a classmate because school personnel failed to protect her.