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Popular Fairfax teacher on trial for sexual assault of 6th grader

Testimony began Tuesday in the trial of popular Fairfax County school teacher and soccer coach Sean Lanigan, who is charged with the aggravated sexual assault and abduction of a 12-year-old girl in his Centre Ridge Elementary School gym in January.

Lanigan, 43, is married with three children and taught at Centre Ridge for 12 years, until he was arrested on Jan. 29. He has been suspended without pay from the school system. He also coached various travel soccer teams and the boys soccer team at Herndon High School.

The 12-year-old accuser took the stand Tuesday morning and testified for nearly two hours, much of which was under cross-examination from renowned defense attorney Peter D. Greenspun.

The girl testified that on Jan. 12, with three other sixth-graders in the gym, Lanigan picked her up by the hips, and that his hand was briefly on her breast. She said he then carried her into an equipment room and laid her down on a mat, where his hand briefly slid on to her buttocks.

In the equipment room, the girl said, Lanigan massaged her shoulders and said he was "going to treat you like a queen." She said when she tried to get up, Lanigan pushed her back down. She said Lanigan asked her where she had to go, and she said she had safety patrol duties. He then let her leave.

The original allegation, contained in a Fairfax police press release, that Lanigan laid on top of the girl was not mentioned. The girl denied that allegation in a March preliminary hearing.

On cross-examination, the girl told Greenspun that she held something of a grudge against Lanigan, and had told other kids that "she hated Mr. Lanigan." The girl acknowledged that she had bullied and cursed other children on her bus while in her role as a safety patrol, that parents had complained about her, and that Lanigan had spoken to her twice about her conduct.

The girl acknowledged that Lanigan told her she faced possibly being removed from her duties as a captain in the safety patrol, and that another teacher told her she could be removed from an in-school video news team. She also could have lost her special role as a "PE Pal" who cleans up the gym and gets to play in the gym without supervision.

The girl acknowledged another grudge against Lanigan: He wouldn't play her music, specifically from the group Chop Suey, during gym class. Lanigan had downloaded and played the music in class, but didn't like it, and other kids voted against it too, the girl said.

The girl said she did not report the touching incident until after she mentioned it to two of her friends, who threatened to report it themselves. She has since told the story to a social worker, a police detective, a prosecutor, at a preliminary hearing, and now again in a Circuit Court trial. She acknowledged also telling the story to schoolmates, and that she had downplayed the event to them.

Greenspun noted in his opening statement that for the jury to convict Lanigan, they had to find that he had sexual intent as well as inappropriate touching. Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Katie Pavluchuk said that in addition to the touching, Lanigan "carried her into that room against her will and he kept her there."

An entire day was spent on jury selection Monday. About 40 supporters of Lanigan were present, and a Facebook page supporting Lanigan has nearly 750 members.

-- Tom Jackman

By Tom Jackman  |  May 25, 2010; 2:05 PM ET
Categories:  Fairfax , From the Courthouse , Schools , Sex Crimes , Tom Jackman , Updates  
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Let's hope this isn't some perverted get-back scheme by the young girl, that would be just awful, as if this alleged situation isn't enough.

Posted by: lulu202 | May 25, 2010 2:45 PM | Report abuse

Sounds like she made it up, to get back at him. In the process her petty vendetta has cost this man and his family his reputation and his livelihood. I don't see how they get people to teach kids now, they are all such little spoiled, entitled liars.

Posted by: chesserc | May 25, 2010 3:58 PM | Report abuse

This is tough based on what he did vs what she claims. Just curious what the 3 other 6th grade kids saw? Where were the other students? other gym teachers?

Posted by: larry40 | May 25, 2010 4:09 PM | Report abuse

The student sounds like a brat. It doesn't sound like the teacher had been wooing her. I'd like to hear the teacher's side of the story.

A few years ago, a bunch of girls tried to take down a teacher they didn't like with a story about him touching them. Prosecutors should be a little more skeptical of kids. They aren't as ingenuous as we'd like to believe.

Posted by: pundito | May 25, 2010 4:43 PM | Report abuse

If the teacher is innocent, and the jury finds him so, he will still be saddled with tens of thousands of dollars of legal fees and his reputation will be stained forever. Deals don't get much more raw than that.

All on the word of a 12 y.o. who kept her clothes on, against a long-time teacher who kept his clothes on, inside a school? The child's parents MUST convince her to tell the full truth, if she has not already. The child recanting the charge is the only way this guy has a chance at real vindication, even if he is acquitted.

Posted by: RealityCheckerInEffect | May 25, 2010 4:58 PM | Report abuse

I think we have a lying 12 year old. I work with middle school kids and they would rather lie than tell the truth 99% of the time. She is stuck in her lie now. I hope the teacher wins this and sues the hell out the FCPS and the parents.

Posted by: mortified469 | May 25, 2010 5:09 PM | Report abuse

Things do happen to kids, sadly. BUT, kids DO lie or embellish their stories. And when someone is clearly trying to get back at a teacher (or parent or neighbor, etc., etc.) they have figured out the most heinous complaints to make. Sounds like Lanigan has no other similar complaints ever, so perhaps this girl made it up. It also shows why teachers (and sometimes counselors)should NEVER be alone with a student and should ALWAYS keep classroom/office doors open with a student.

Posted by: DecafDrinker | May 25, 2010 6:49 PM | Report abuse

Remember the Roberto Clemente Middle School case? Same thing except in that case it was a group of girls who made up a story to get the PE teacher arrested. They all later confessed that they were lying but it ruined the career of the teacher.

Posted by: MKadyman | May 25, 2010 6:50 PM | Report abuse

The other children that first stated things have recanted their statements. As others have said, even if and when Sean is cleared, this is something that will always be with him even if his record is cleared because people talk.

I wish the family would just get their daughter to tell the truth. This man has passed two polygraph test.

The truth should come out in the end. :)

Posted by: Football45 | May 25, 2010 8:27 PM | Report abuse

Sean Lanigan has just been aquitted of all charges.

Posted by: AL15 | May 27, 2010 2:05 PM | Report abuse

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